"SHPEP provided me with the tools, knowledge, and experience to be able to succeed as a pre-health student and navigate my way into applying to dental school."
Ms. Natha graduated from Occidental College in 2019 with a degree in biology (a focus on cell and molecular) and a minor in kinesiology. Today, she is a dental student at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, graduating in the Class of 2025. She is also a part of the RIDE (Regional Initiatives in Dental Education) program, an educational track focused on training dentists in rural and underserved populations in Washington. She participated in the SHPEP program at the University of Washington in 2017.
What led to your interest in a health profession?
In the community and environment, I had grown up in, the concept of giving back to others and service had been a huge part of my life and it was something I wanted to continue and pursue in life. What I learned from my environment, coupled with watching my family struggle to access proper dental care influenced my decision to pursue a career in the health professions, specifically within dentistry.
What are some of your recent milestones?
While attending dental school, I am grateful for receiving the 4-year National Health Service Corps scholarship and to be an NHSC dental health scholar. I also have been elected as the President of my dental Class of 2025.
How did SHPEP influence you?
SHPEP provided me with the tools, knowledge, and experience to be able to succeed as a pre-health student and navigate my way into applying to dental school. However, most importantly, it provided me with the opportunity to expand my network and meet like-minded individuals, some became my mentors and close friends. The people I’ve met through SHPEP are some of my biggest supporters and continuously supported me as I navigated being a pre-health student, dental school applications, and now dental school.
Because of my SHPEP family, I’ve had people to lean on during very isolating times in my dental education journey. Additionally, my time during SHPEP was especially enriching to have the opportunity to learn and observe interprofessional collaboration to help expand my understanding of dental care with respect to overall health. All of which helped further my desire to pursue being a dentist working in community health. I also had the opportunity to learn and grow in an environment that had similar stories, upbringings, backgrounds, and journeys as myself. Being in this environment helped strengthen my confidence in pursuing a career in healthcare and it also provided the opportunity for me to learn more from my other SHPEP scholars and colleagues, who I continue to learn from them to this day. As a dental student today, SHPEP still has an impact on me, as I continue to connect with friends, colleagues, and mentors from the program, as I navigate my way through dental school.
What has been your favorite part of the process? The most difficult?
The most difficult part of this process was navigating my way as a pre-health student in undergrad and applying to dental schools but having the support and help from mentors and students I had met through SHPEP has helped tremendously for me to navigate this process. But also, as someone who is neuro-atypical as well and who wears hearing aids, that also made it daunting at times when trying to pursue a health professional career that is already a process that is not inclusive and open to folks to pursue. But the people I have met and the connections I have been able to make have made it all worth it. And having the opportunity to now learn and practice dentistry in grad school has made this whole process worth it and has by far been my favorite part of it all.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a health professional career?
Take your time, take breaks, and be engaged in hobbies and activities outside of academia.
I am a non-traditional student, who took two gap years before entering dental school and needed some extra time to finish up my undergraduate courses. My path was not like others and that is not an issue at all. Everyone’s path and journey toward a health professional career can look different. But above all, be sure to take care of yourself before taking care of others. Your health and well-being are way more important and can easily get lost as you’re trying to make sure you have done everything before applying to a health professional program. Even while in school, it is super important to be able to balance both your academics with the hobbies and activities that you love. Take that break and take that time, as it really will really help in the long run, especially with applying this towards balancing your workload as a student in your health professional program.