Laura E. Rushford – Dental Medicine

NU 2012 - B.S. Chemical Engineering; Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2017

1. What led to your interest in a career in dental medicine? Who or what inspired you?
 As a chemical engineering graduate, my path towards choosing a career in dental medicine was untraditional. Working as a nursing assistant on an oncology floor at a local cancer center and volunteering with Best Buddies and food pantries sparked my initial interest in a career within the medical field. Before matriculating at NU, I decided to major in engineering because I knew it would be a great foundation for a career in medicine. While acquiring critical thinking skills as an engineer, I kept careers in the healthcare profession on the back of my mind.

Exposed to the dental profession since age 2, I always had pleasant experiences with my family dentists. While at NU, I discovered that they were both engineers prior to entering the field of dentistry. Their background in engineering inspired me to realize that I had the potential to integrate my love of patient care and my critical thinking skills as a dentist. When I started shadowing at their office, I began to realize that dentistry was a perfect fit for my professional goals.

2. How did you prepare yourself for dental school? The application process?
 My undergraduate coursework in engineering and biological sciences prepared me for coursework in dental school. As for the application process, I did not decide to apply to dental school until my 5th year at NU so my undergraduate experiences were not planned with dental school in mind. When it came time to apply, I was fortunate that I had chosen to participate in research, volunteer and other extracurricular activities, and shadowing. I believe that research experience and participation in extracurricular activities strengthened my application and contributed to my acceptances at competitive dental schools.

3. What undergraduate experiences were most instrumental to your success?
 The cooperative education program was the most instrumental to my success. During my co-op experiences, I developed professional relationships with enthusiastic mentors who challenged me intellectually and encouraged creativity, team problem solving, and innovation. These skills are invaluable and will be essential for my future career.

Working as an engineer in research and process development also yielded insight into the world of working in a laboratory. Though I enjoyed conducting research, I began to realize that I was also interested in being a clinician. As of right now, I am hoping to have a career in both patient care and research. Overall, the co-op program was integral for my professional growth and influenced my decision to pursue a career in dentistry.

4. What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your dental school journey?
 The biggest challenge that I faced was the application process itself. Acquiring recommendations, writing my personal statement, and filling out the application for the committee interview was a long journey. Preparing for the DAT while working full-time (over 40 hours/week) was also challenging. Time management was key for balancing my work, studies, and personal hobbies. It was hard work but well worth the effort.

5. Did you did matriculate directly from NU to dental school or did you have a gap year? 
 I had one gap year between NU and dental school.

6. If you did not matriculate directly from NU to dental school, how many gap years? What did you do during your gap year(s)?
 For one year between NU and dental school, I worked as a process development engineer at a medical device company in Cambridge, MA.

7. Whether you entered dental school directly from NU or had a gap year (or more), looking back, are you happy with the decision you made? Why or why not?
 I am 100% happy with the decision I made to take a gap year. During this year, I prepared for my dental applications while working full-time. It was a great opportunity to gain work experience and focus on my personal goals.

8. Is dental school what you thought it would be? Would you share your thoughts?
 When applying to dental school, I had no idea that I would have the privilege of being a “dual citizen” at both Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School. Most dental school curriculums do not have a medical school component so I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to spend my two didactic years with the medical students. Dental and medical school has been rigorous so far, as I have been challenged intellectually by some of the most brilliant individuals in the medical profession. Though I have not spent any time in the dental clinic as most students do in their first year, I have had invaluable opportunities to conduct patient interviews at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and learn about both oral and systemic health.

9. What are your career goals right now? Have they changed since you begin your dental school studies.
 I am keeping an open mind and have not selected a particular area of focus in dentistry. Once I discover my strengths and interests within the dental profession, I believe that my preference for a specialty will be evident. Right now, both General Dentistry and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery seem like great options!

I will have minimal exposure to dentistry until the end of our 2nd year since most of our courses are within the medical school for the first two years. I will likely have a better idea of my career goals in two years once we begin our time in the clinic.

10. What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?
I have 3 pieces of advice:

1. Take advantage of the co-op program and acquire as much research experience as possible. This is important for professional development and will establish the framework for a career in the medical profession.

2. Take time to shadow and speak with as many dentists and/or physicians as possible to understand what a career in each medical specialty entails. At one point, I was certain that I wanted to be a pediatrician or oncologist, but my interests shifted once I began exploring other medical specialties.

3. Have confidence in yourself and apply to your dream school. Two years ago, I did not picture myself at HSDM and never thought that this was an attainable goal. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you just put yourself out there and try.

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