Published on Oct. 28, 2020
Name: Ali Farhadi
Undergraduate university and year of graduation: University of Missouri-Columbia, 2019
Major: Biological Sciences
Dental school and expected year of graduation: University of Michigan School of Dentistry, 2023
What Led to your interest in dentistry?
When I was thinking about what I wanted to do as a career back in high school, I knew I wanted to work in a well-respected field and choose a career that would allow for me to take care of my family and give them the life that they worked so hard to provide me. Even though we were lower middle class and had our own struggles, my parents always took care taught me the importance of giving back to those who are in need if you can, family or not.
Through my pursuit in the field of dentistry I learned I’d be able to fulfill these desires, but I found so much more that I wanted to accomplish as time went on. A smile is a beautiful thing that carries so much weight in the eyes of others, and most importantly our own. It can be the difference of someone getting a job to be able to provide for their family, giving someone the means to live their life with confidence and positivity, and so much more. As a dentist you can give back to the community which you’re apart with the work you do, but you can also work with those outside of your community while also broadening your scopes of different diversities and cultures.
I have always enjoyed working with my hands. By playing the piano and guitar, drawing in my free time throughout the years, and in the past two years developing a passion for pottery has reinforced my wanting to work with my hands and in the arts. Dentistry made perfect sense as it is a field rooted in the arts and would allow me to continue to work with my hands. When I was considering a career in health care, I knew I enjoyed connecting with others and building strong/lasting relationships. Getting to know my personal dentist over the years and eventually shadowing him had been one of the biggest factors in my decision, the characteristics I observed for him is what I aim to exemplify with my own character throughout dental school and once I graduate. I also worked in a dental laboratory back in undergrad, which strengthened my decision to pursue dentistry since I was able to make contributions toward patients in my own community through manufacturing dental prostheses for them.
What experiences did you have that confirmed dentistry was the right career for you?
I worked in a dental laboratory back in undergrad, which strengthened my decision to pursue dentistry since I was able to make contributions toward patients in my own community through manufacturing dental prostheses. A close family member of mine is one of the many who have been so appreciative of the life changes that these dental prosthetics can accomplish. Being able to see how someone you know well can become a completely different person just by losing their smile was monumental in teaching me the importance of the field of dentistry. Restoring, improving, or changing a smile that someone once had or envisions is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, and after my relative received their dental prosthesis it was like they got their life back. They went back to being the happy go lucky person they once were, and from this experience I once again saw how wonderful the field of dentistry can be.
I was able to travel to another country on a medical/dental/water brigade through the Global Brigades organization at Mizzou back in undergrad. A group of pre-health profession students and I traveled to Estelí, Nicaragua to volunteer with some of the underprivileged communities there that needed dental and medical care the most. This opened my eyes for the need of dentistry outside of my own community, and that most of the patients in the clinic could have prevented their oral health issues through proper dental preventive care if they had the tools and knowledge to practice them.
Growing up as the first generation Iranian American in my family, I was fortunate enough to experience culture and diversity from my parents and their friends of different ethnic backgrounds. Volunteering in Estelí also broadened my scope of understanding and appreciating other people’s unique culture and experiences by meeting and speaking with the patients receiving care. I felt my passion growing stronger in the days that I spent at the clinic and knew then that I wanted to also give back to the underprivileged who need dentistry the most in my own community and across the globe.
Who or what inspired you?
At 14 years old I would unknowingly meet one of the biggest influences in my decision to pursue dentistry, and that person was my dentist. Before that time, I had very few experiences with dentists due to my family’s insurance plan having limited coverage for dental care. I was cautious as I sat in his dental chair for the first time, but my uneasiness soon faded away once we started to talk. I noticed that he was trying to get to know me more on a personal level, along with showing a genuine and sincere interest in my oral health. As the years went on my relationship with him grew stronger, and at 16 I started to consider what my career was going to be in life. I decided to shadow him to see if dentistry was a path for me, and the characteristics I observed from him were passion, empathy, and honesty/trust, which he gave to each patient no matter who they were. Seeing each patient leave with a new-found smile struck a resonating chord with me, and I realized as a dentist I would be able to provide so many people with that same happiness each day. This was the moment I knew I wanted to become a dentist and having a role model who exemplified such characteristics needed to help and connect with his patients lit the flame for my passion to learn more about the field and the patients involved.
My parents are another big inspiration in my life. They both immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in the mid-late 1980s, and just like with most families that immigrate to the U.S., they had their own difficult journey to endure if they wanted to establish themselves in this country. My father is the hardest working man I know, he continues to provide for his family and challenges himself to learn new things every day despite the struggles and challenges he’s faced throughout his life. Hearing his stories from his life in Iran and when he was working on providing us with a life full of opportunities in the U.S. barley knowing any English was a big motivator for me.
Even though I’ve worked hard and dedicated many hours and days to get to where I am today, I have a lot more days and hours I need to dedicate if I want to be half the man my father is, so he is a wonderful source of inspiration to me in anything that I want to do in my life. My mother, just like my father, is a huge source of inspiration for me. She worked so hard to raise my brother and I alongside my father, while also studying for and later receiving her nursing degree during our childhood not knowing much English either. To see her take on so much responsibility and accomplish it all with such passion and positivity no matter how hard things got is a reminder for me to value and live up to the responsibilities I have in my own life and do it with a smile on my face. They’ve taught me these things and so much more, but all of which motivated and inspired me to pursue my goals with leaving no regrets behind.
What challenges or obstacles have you faced in pursuit of a dental career?
I’ve had many humbling moments in my life and continue to have them as life goes on. One of the most important and humbling experiences in my life is how failure has allowed/allows for me to grow and develop not only as an academic, but also as a person. When I began my high school career, I never prioritized academics or even cared about my education, even though my parents worked so hard for me to be in a position where I could work for any goal I had to come to fruition. None of my teachers ever reached out to me and I never went to get help because I thought that failure was the extent of my abilities. “I had never done well in school, why would that ever change?”, “I’m not smart, I wish I was”, “I’ll just fail anyways” these were phrases I constantly said to myself, even though my parents were very encouraging of me and always told me I would be great, failure was all I knew because I never applied myself or had help to push me in the right direction from my academic institutions. It wasn’t until my junior year where my chemistry professor told me to stay after class and we went over the following days homework assignment together, he told me, “read this paragraph, then answer this question” I did so because I just wanted to go home as soon as possible, but then we repeated that process for 9 questions. He graded the assignment, and I got a 100%, he said “Now why can’t you do that? If you do this in all your classes you will do great and get As, all the information for the answers are in front of you. All you have to do is put in the effort to find them.” It was that simple! I immediately started to apply myself in all my courses, I went from a D and F student, to a C and B, all the way to B and A student in my junior and senior year. I finally qualified for a scholarship that would pay for 2 free years of community college tuition, which required a 2.5 minimum GPA that prior to my senior year I did not have, and I would eventually attend St. Charles Community College to begin my college career. Through all the wonderful people I met at community college, I continued my path to become my definition of successful. I was getting all As by working as hard as I possibly could and sacrificing everything in order to achieve my goals. Two years later I attended the University of Missouri where I would essentially have to restart my academic career because it was very different from my community college in many aspects. Even though I was working hard, my grades faltered after my first round of tests at Mizzou. but I never gave up though. Whenever someone fails at anything, I believe that person has every right to be down or feel sad for themselves in that first 24 hour period in my opinion, but my philosophy is, after that time if you still are feeling sad and depressed that is when you are truly failing. The only time you have truly failed is the moment you’ve given up, that is when all probability of success becomes 0%. I won’t let my story end with “he failed” no that’s a bland story that would never sell. My story will be “He failed, he grew, he learned, he was humbled, he met so many wonderful individuals along the way who changed his life for the better, and then he succeeded more than he had ever hoped” that is how my story will end because failure is my friend.
Another obstacle I faced was being so behind in volunteering, extracurriculars, and undergraduate research experiences. I didn’t have a mentor in community college, and I finally met other pre-dental students when I came to Mizzou, but that’s when I learned how far behind of an applicant I was. Transferring from a community college sometimes even made it harder from to get the same opportunities as someone who started at a four-year institution. I didn’t let anything hold me back and never made excuses, if the opportunity wasn’t there for me, I’d create my chance to get that opportunity then. Having a mentor and guidance is instrumental in pursuing the dental or medical field, even once you get there you will need a trusted mentor to help guide you along the way. This is outside of dentistry as well, for life in general we should all have someone we can call a mentor to lean on and learn from during our trying times. This made things difficult regarding personal statements, opportunities I should pursue, application process, and what I could do to be a competitive applicant with the short amount of time I had left in undergrad. I ended up finding some individuals to help me with certain things, but overall, I was on my own for most of my journey towards applying to dental school. Lastly, was receiving a Health Professions Scholarship (HPSP) through the United States Air Force. This was a very competitive scholarship to get, and although I was a very competitive applicant towards the end of my college career, I got waitlisted for the scholarship. This was hard news to hear and was a bump in the road for me because I was achieving all my goals I set for myself up to this point through my dedication and hard work. I kept staying in contact with my recruiter and continued to do things that made me stand out as a strong and committed applicant, and at the end of it all I finally received the scholarship. I ended up graduating with a 3.9 GPA with honors and received a scholarship that would pay for my entire dental school tuition, so I will always be thankful for the humbling experience that failure is because it has helped and continues to help me grow as a person and allows me to work hard to make all my goals come to fruition.
How did you prepare for the dental school application process?
I extensively researched all the schools I wanted to apply to and found out what their requirements were regarding courses, volunteering, extracurriculars, shadowing, and values/characteristics they believe their school represents. I tried to tailor my involvements around these factors, but I did so loosely, I still followed my intuition and did the things I believed would create or reflect the type of change I’d like to contribute to. Things I did to prepare for the application process are: Having a wide range of volunteer experiences that didn’t really follow a theme as much as they were opportunities I believed I could make the most change in; I shadowed most of the specialties in the dental field with at least 15-20 hours in each office; I held many executive board and leadership positions with my extracurriculars, mentored and did some public speaking for students at Mizzou and my community college, worked in undergraduate research, pursued the dental field early on by working in a dental laboratory; getting strong letters of recommendations from professors who actually knew me as well as doing well in their courses; applying for and receiving academic awards and scholarships with my time spent in college; studying myself and all my experiences as a potential applicant; writing a strong personal statement through a lot of trial and error; finding and practicing potential interview questions I might get during my dental school interviews; researching online about what I needed to do to be prepared for the varying types of interviews I’d see from the schools I was applying to, along with what these schools value in their applicants; and finding out more about the schools aside from what they have listed on their websites such as with affiliate organizations they work with for volunteering opportunities, the types of research that school is conducting in regard to the dental field, etc. The list goes on, but the most important thing I can summarize this all with is working towards being someone who is a life-long learner, a leader who can bring out the best in others, and a well-rounded applicant who exemplifies empathy, diversity in their experiences and interactions with others, responsibility, honesty, trust, and the ability to communicate and work well with others.
What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in dentistry?
There are a set of principles I try to actively live my life by that I’ve put together throughout my journey to getting into dental school. The principles are: dedication, focus, tenacity, failure is your friend, and being someone who is affable, honest, trust worthy, and empathetic. Always stay dedicated to the goals you’ve set for yourself, make the sacrifices you need to in order to achieve the success that’s out there waiting for you. Do so in a healthy manner, your mental, emotional, and physical health are priorities that sacrifices should not be made from. You need to have laser like focus, what I mean by that is not be easily distracted or thrown off from your tasks and goals. Be able to focus to a point where your background starts to blur away, and you’re solely focused on what’s in front of you or the task at hand, with nothing that is able to distract you. Have the tenacity to never give up, no matter how hard or challenging things. This ties into failure being your friend, both represent the ability to accept your mistakes, failures, short-comings and turn them into valuable lessons you’re able to grow and learn from to become better than you were the day before. Being someone who is affable is a skill you must also actively work on if you aren’t already someone who is like this. To be affable is to be friendly and easy to talk to, and having trust and honesty is the foundations for any relationship to develop and prosper. In dentistry, the patient doctor relationship may be one of the most important aspects of our careers, to maintain and always work to improve that takes someone who is an expert at communication. Having empathy is the last principle and is another important characteristic all dentists practice and show to all their patients. Aside from dentistry, empathy goes a long way in how we should all live our lives in respect to how we treat and get to know others from different backgrounds, areas, or cultures that you or I grew up with. I believe if a pre-dental student follows these principles, they will be prepared to apply to dental school with the confidence knowing that they’ve developed into the person they needed to become in order to reach their definition of success. My last piece of advice is to all students in college, no matter what institution or program you’re in, don’t fall into “destination happiness” and enjoy your time in undergrad. Find fulfillment and happiness in your own journey throughout life. We call it the present because it’s a gift, right? Work hard, make the sacrifices you need to, and reach your goals. Just don’t let your goals consume and shape your idea of what happiness is to you. Stress and anxiety can be great for motivating us to get things done, but don’t let them consume and shape how you handle everything. Life is a beautiful journey, so stop and smell the roses actively, not just once in a while.