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The Michigan Dental Foundation proudly presents a recipient of the 2012-13 Academic year, Michigan Dental Association Foundation Robert D. Mitus Scholarship, to  Emily Smajda from Spring Arbor, Mich. The Foundation had the opportunity to chat with the recipient and would like to share some of her thoughts and inspirations regarding dentistry: 

Where do you go to school, which schools have you attended on your journey to becoming a dental professional?

I attended high school in Escanaba, which is in the Upper Peninsula. I went on to attend Michigan State University, where I was a pre-dental student majoring in Nutritional Sciences. I left MSU after three semesters due to a bit of anxiety about what I would do with my degree if I did not get accepted to dental school. I thought it was a good idea to take the semester off and kick start my dental career by applying to dental hygiene programs in order to see if it was what I truly aspired to do with my life. I now attend Kellogg Community College for dental hygiene and could not be more relieved with my brave decisions in regards to my schooling. I absolutely love dental hygiene and am so excited to work as a hygienist while I finish up my bachelor's degree and pre-requisites for dental school!

Why did you want to become a dental professional?

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a dental professional. My sixth grade yearbook quotes me saying I wanted to grow up to be a dentist at The Ohio State University! I just always have had positive dental experiences. I got braces in the sixth grade and was absolutely fascinated by them and loved my orthodontist. Ever since then dentistry was the only career field I was remotely interested in, especially orthodontics.

Who inspired/mentored you along the way? (Include any names.)

I owe my parents the world. My mom and dad have been the biggest cheerleaders in my life and have supported every decision I have ever made with my schooling. My parents have never doubted me and have always wanted me to be happy, whatever that entailed. They constantly reassure me that I can do anything I put my mind to. They believe so much in me and I do not think I would be where I am today without their encouragement. I am extremely blessed to have them by my side.

What is the best advice you have been given while in the pursuit of your career?

Whenever I am discouraged or unsure of my capabilities, I have been told that the best I can do is all I can do. I think the best advice I’ve been given is to just take things one day at a time and to quit doubting myself because the fear of failing will only cripple my success.

What advice can you give to students thinking about pursuing a career in dentistry?

Make sure you are in love with it! Join a club or a student organization involving dentistry! My participation in MSU’s Pre-Dental Club and my role as KCC’s Student American Dental Hygienists’ Association treasurer has reassured me in my career choice.

I have kept the following quote from Andrew Carnegie in the back of mind: “Anything in life worth having is worth working for.” If you are truly passionate about dentistry, it takes a lot of dedication and hard work. However, the pay off is, by far, worth the effort. There is nothing more rewarding than entering a career field and knowing that it is EXACTLY what you should be doing with your life.

What do you enjoy the most about dentistry?

I love the field of dentistry because it is such a personable field of health. You see patients regularly and build relationships with them and want to help them help themselves. Dentistry is not solely about visible aesthetics of the mouth; it correlates with the whole realm of human medicine and health. It interlinks all the other systems in the body; good oral health contributes to good overall health. It just fascinates me how it is constantly evolving and changing.

Can you share a story or experience that made you realize that dentistry was the right profession for you?

One of my very first patients in clinic was an older man with Alzheimer’s. He often forgot important details of his stories and told them repeatedly. When he told me he could not remember where he went to college, despite wearing his college class ring, I immediately broke down into tears. He was such a kind and gentle man; he just tore at my heart strings. It was after I dismissed him that day in clinic that I knew I wanted to be in this profession. I wanted to help others. I realized I was in a position to get to know patients on a personal level and build relationships with them. By making a connection with patients, it is easier to educate them and help them achieve optimal oral health.

Is there one procedure you enjoy the most?

The procedure I enjoy the most is taking radiographs. I love being able to see what is going on with a patients’ mouth that we would not be able to see clinically. It is a really important tool for patient education. I like showing patients their radiographs and explaining what the bone support looks like and where there are areas of decay; this helps the patient realize that their mouth may look and feel healthy, but there could be issues that go unseen without x-rays. It is nice to be able to educate the patient with visible evidence of their oral condition and compare and contrast their radiographs with healthy and unhealthy examples.

How has winning the Michigan Dental Association Foundation Scholarship helped you?

This Michigan Dental Association Foundation Scholarship will help pay for my books and reduce the cost of tuition! I could not be more grateful for this honor and feel that this has been a reminder that hard work pays off!

Where do you see yourself in six months after graduation?

I hope to be working part time in a dental office, possibly a pediatric office! I love kids and think it would be really fun to help them learn about their oral health. I will also be going back to Michigan State University starting this summer, where I will be finishing my bachelor’s degree and pre-requisites for dental school.

Where do you see yourself in three/10 years after graduation?

Ideally, I would love to see myself in dental school (preferably the University of Michigan!) Otherwise, I definitely can see myself working in a dental office part-time while also working as a clinical instructor at a dental hygiene school!

Have you attended any local, state or national dental meetings?

I have attended the Michigan Student American Dental Hygienist Association meetings these past two years. I have also attended the ADHA’s Dental Hygiene in a Changing World this February in Chicago.

If so, what did you enjoy about attending the meeting? If no, why not?

I really enjoy going to these association meetings because I like learning about my options in dental hygiene. I like how dental hygiene is an ever-changing career field and constant education is needed in this profession. These meetings left me feeling empowered and excited for my career.

Do you see yourself participating in organized dentistry, serving on a committee on either a national, state or local level? If so which one interests you?

I definitely could see myself participating on some sort of committee in organized dentistry, especially due to my current role as treasurer of my program’s SADHA. I like being a leader and being involved in my schooling and career. 

What do you like to do beyond dentistry (hobbies, talents, etc.)?

I enjoy watching Michigan State University and Green Bay Packer football games and spending time with my two nieces. I also love to go to musicals and go on road trips!

Thank you for a glimpse  into the life of a Michigan Dental Association Foundation Robert D. Mitus Scholarship recipient. Your hard work and efforts are clearly demonstrated.  You will be an asset to the dental profession.

The Michigan Dental Association Foundation awards scholarships annually to dental, dental hygiene and dental assisting students.  We believe that the people of Michigan deserve exceptional oral health professionals.  All scholarships are given to Michigan residents attending Michigan universities and colleges.  The Michigan Dental Association Foundation is devoted to becoming the philanthropic leader of the oral health  community in order to fund student scholarships, provide oral health initiatives and access to care.


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