• Aierress Hanna

My Unique Journey To Dentistry

I decided I wanted to become a dentist at 14 years old. I vividly remember being a freshman in high school, in a career development course where we were challenged to decide what we wanted to be when we grew up. I knew I was always interested in science, and drawn to the medical field - but I also knew I did not want to deal with (or potentially be responsible for) death on a frequent basis. I also had a large gap as a child that I was extremely insecure about. Getting braces changed my life & improved my confidence, and I had always had great dental experiences. I cemented my decision after the teacher provided us with a list of common professions and their average annual salary. Those six figures at the time seemed like more than enough for me to live the life I dreamed of. -So from that point forward, I professed "I'm going to be a dentist."


Following graduation, I attended the University of Central Florida in the Fall of 2010 (whew - I'm old now y'all). I was a first generation college student, and in retrospect, I understood nothing about what I was getting myself into. I knew nothing about loans, and had little to no guidance on what I should and shouldn't accept; I just chose a major based off my favorite high school subject and NOT what would actually prepare me for dental school, & I even had no clue what I needed to complete in order to apply for dental school.


As lost as I was, I didn't realize it until my Junior year. I spent most of college making decent grades, being super involved in campus leadership and having a social life. I did not join pre-dental clubs and study groups, or shadow dentists in the area and network for mentorships. It didn't hit me that I had a laundry list of tasks to accomplish to even position myself to apply for dental school - let's not talk about being a competitive applicant. My aha moment came when I visited my pre-professional advisor at the beginning of my Senior year. I don't remember her name, but she was a young, white female who simply pulled up my profile, viewed my GPA, and told me I should consider a different career. SO MANY PEOPLE experience this situation, especially black pre - professional students, with not so perfect resumes. She encouraged me not to apply for dental school and to apply for a masters program to strengthen my GPA in the meantime.


BABY DENTIST AIER VOLUNTEERING DURING MY JUNIOR YEAR IN COLLEGE


I had told myself for so long "I'm going to be a dentist". I wasn't a perfect student - but I knew I was smart enough to become a dentist; I had no mentor or family members who were dentists, or even held a doctorate degree - but I knew I was smart enough to navigate through challenges and become what I truly wanted to be. Aier's Take: When you KNOW your personal passion and goals in life, don't allow ANYONE to deter you from what you've promised yourself; Only you truly know what you're capable of.


SO, I updated my CV, walked into dental offices begging to shadow (and was told "we don't do that here" countless times), finished out as strong as I could academically, and decided I would apply to the ADEA AADSAS cycle in spite of what my advisor suggested. I garnered strong letters of recommendation and I composed a very honest personal statement. My thought was, even if I don't get in, or even get a interview, at least I'll have experience with the cycle.


Now by the end of my Senior year, I was a broke soon - to - be graduate, working at the front desk of a dental office, struggling to pay the few bills I had. I gathered enough money to pay for my exam, but not enough to get a prep course (10/10 recommend for my pre - dents reading this). I self studied and used a Kaplan book my mom brought me & an old free DAT exam I found online as study references. I applied only to two schools, Meharry Medical College & LECOM School of Dental Medicine. I had always wanted to apply to Meharry, but was afraid of moving to Tennessee, and LECOM was a new school & ideal because it meant I could stay in Florida, close to family & friends.


UCF GRADUATION 2015

B.S. Health Sciences

Double Minor: Chemistry & African - American Studies

Even with all of the negativity and doubt I consumed from my pre - professional advisor, I received an interview with LECOM and was extremely hopeful! Meharry, on the other hand, denied me on December 1st - well alright then! I ultimately landed on the waitlist at LECOM and could do nothing but pray something would happen for me. My husband often reminds me of how I would call him in tears, stressed about money and depressed with my job. But he mainly highlights the fact that I would constantly say, "I'm going to start speaking over my life that I will be a dentist". Aier's Take: There is truly POWER in the tongue, even at your lowest points speak with authority over your life.


In April of 2015, after a miserable day at work, I received a email from Meharry extending me an invitation to interview for their Masters in Health Sciences program. It offered a Masters degree and if you maintained a certain GPA and scored a certain DAT score (a 17 to be exact), you were guaranteed a seat in the following dental class. That one email changed my life. But wait, let's not forget - I was broke. HOW was I going to get to Nashville, TN for a interview when I could barely cover my half of the rent. All it took was one conversation with my mother and my family did what they do BEST - supported me. My uncle paid for my flight, my aunt covered my hotel room, I scrapped up some money for a rental car & the rest is history!


I was offered admission into the MHS Class of 2017 and completed that program with High Honors & was officially accepted into Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry following the completion of my Masters. Now I'm sitting here typing a blog as a licensed Dentist.


MHS GRADUATION 2017


When I reflect on my journey, I'm in awe of how God took someone like me and graced me to achieve a goal I had set for myself since I was a teenager. There are so many ups and downs I experienced because of the fact that I was a first generation EVERYTHING, and a black woman. I still face challenges to this day and I've officially entered my profession. I just want my story to represent the fact that the world may tell you you have to be the perfect applicant to even consider reaching for your goals - but don't listen! APPLY anyway! If you have the drive and dedication to achieve your goals, because you know its what you genuinely want to do, let that fuel you. It may not be perfect, but I'm a firm believer that everything will fall into place.


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