Studying by Faith: My Dental School Journey
Published on 03/01/2019 |
The time had finally come. It was the summer of 2014, and after seven years of searching for the career God had planned for me, I finally stepped foot on the campus of Loma Linda University for the culmination of a 16-year-long academic journey. Kindergarten as a homeschooler was far in my past; I was now in dental school. Armed with idealism, optimism, and a dose of realism, I set out with the firm determination to leave dental school as a missionary general dentist, ready to go to the far reaches of the earth with the gospel. Yet, at the same time, May 2018 seemed a long way away, and I wasn’t sure that it would find me a graduating senior, let alone that the world would still be around as I knew it. But I chose to trust that God had led me to dental school, and so I plunged right in.
Little did I know the journey that lay ahead.
Dental school wasn’t easy. There was a whole set of skills that I needed in order to be a dentist that I wasn’t aware of until actually in dental school. There were countless exams to pass and skills to master. Many late nights and early mornings I spent studying, or in lab. Inadequacy, fear, and (sometimes) desperation hit me when my abilities were not what I felt they needed to be. Though stretched and pushed I was also encouraged along by friends, professors, and family who told me that I could succeed. Prayers ascended to Heaven for success, and God often answered in amazing ways.
I remember one of the biggest miracles occurred at the end of third year. It had been a rough semester for me. I missed a week of school due to an outpatient surgical procedure, and I was not doing well in Pharmacology. To complicate matters, I had to fly across the country the weekend before finals for a funeral. When I arrived back in Loma Linda on Sunday afternoon, the week promised to be grueling. I had two final exams, a final paper, and clinic. Yet God blew me away! That week, I got the highest scores I had received all semester in Pharmacology and passed my other final exam and paper with flying colors. Experiences like this strengthened my faith by reminding me that the same God who had called me to dental school was with me as I pushed on through.
As I journeyed through dental school, AMEN touched my life at regular intervals. The spiritual VP for my class, Elaine Bersaba, was a big fan of AMEN, and early on in our first year she helped set a solid spiritual tone for our class. I attended two AMEN conferences and two AMESA (Adventist Medical Evangelism Student Association) retreats, which helped to fan the flame of ministry through dentistry. But one of the most influential aspects of AMEN was the mentorship I received from an AMEN member, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who, before I was even in dental school, encouraged me to attend the 2013 AMEN conference. Then throughout dental school, he encouraged and inspired me to keep pushing through the difficulties because the end goal was worth it – having skills that could be used to relieve suffering and point people to Jesus.
Indeed, it was the joy of service, and the glaring needs of the less fortunate, that changed my educational course during my fourth year of dental school. In November 2017 I had the opportunity to be a dental provider for an AMEN Free Clinic in San Bernardino organized by two local Adventist churches. Over those two days, I treated patients (under the supervision of my faculty) who, in some instances, had not been to the dentist in over 10 years! I found joy in performing cleanings, fillings and extractions for patients who could not afford them otherwise. It struck me that in only an hour or two, I could help them with problems that they had been living with for years. It came at a time when I was contemplating the trajectory of my career, and I was again inspired to make decisions that would enable me to help the less fortunate. I had a long-time fascination with surgery, and it was around this time that a Mercy Ships YouTube video about maxillofacial conditions overseas spurred me to meld my two interests of missions and surgery into one. I began to seriously consider specializing in oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMS). But first, I spoke with my mentor, who, although hesitant about my going into his field said, “Adrien, if there’s any doubt in your mind about whether God is leading you in this direction, consider this: God can’t do anything with an application you don’t submit, or with an exam you don’t take.”
I took that to heart, and during one of the busiest times in dental school studied for and took the Comprehensive Basic Science Examination, which is a required board-style examination for OMS applicants. My score was far from stellar, but I knew that God helped me get the score that I did. God helped me finish my clinical graduation requirements on time as well, and miraculously, a week before graduation, I was accepted into a 1-year internship in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Transitioning from dental school in California to a hospital on the East Coast was anything but smooth. Work was hectic, and I still had to apply for a full residency program. Things didn’t go how I had planned, and at times it seemed humanly impossible for me to match. But through God’s providence I did match; to Loma Linda University’s combined OMS/MD program! Truly, as Paul says, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” – Romans 11:33 (KJV)
By God’s grace, one day I will be a missionary surgeon, healing bodies and bringing hope to those who otherwise would not meet Jesus.
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