2011 SMDEP Columbia University

Ms. Karina Valentin participated in SMDEP at Columbia University in 2011. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelors degree in Psychology, and received a master’s degree in Biology from Roosevelt University.

Ms. Valentin will be attending the College of Dental Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences in August 2016.

What led to your interest in dentistry?

When I was younger, my mother and grandmother believed that there was no need to visit the dentist unless decay or pain was present. Their inaccurate view was commonly shared by others in my community. My family did not understand the importance of oral hygiene, yet this was through no fault of their own. My entire community suffered from inadequate access to dental care and oral health knowledge.

Growing up in a community where people’s economic standing deprived them of quality dental care, I feel as though I have been granted an opportunity to give back. I understand the oral health related barriers confronting the poor because I have witnessed them first-hand. That is why I am committed to helping my future patients maintain their oral health by educating them on proper oral health practices.

Who or what inspired you?

After discovering my passion for dentistry, I decided to shadow dentists in various specializations. One of my shadowing experiences was with Dr. Noya in Puerto Rico. While I was shadowing her, my grandmother came in for her appointment to get her dentures replaced. I was surprised since I was unaware that she even wore dentures. When I asked about them, she told me that when she was younger she was obsessed with candy and her parents never explained the importance of oral hygiene. After she became a diabetic, she slowed down on the sweets but it was already too late. A dentist had removed most of her teeth because the damage was too extreme and the treatment was too expensive. Unfortunately, her poor nutrition had led to diabetes and excessive tooth decay. It was her situation that helped me understand the relationship between oral health and overall health.

What obstacles have you overcome in your educational and career journey?

I was born to a young single parent in Barrio Obrero, an impoverished community in Puerto Rico. My mother was also raised in this town, and though she did not receive her bachelor’s degree until I graduated from high school, she always worked. In addition to my mother and myself, my home also included 4 members of my extended family- most of whom did not attend college or speak English. As a result, they were only able to offer limited support for my educational pursuits. My family’s low socioeconomic status and limited involvement in my education made my journey to dental school more challenging. However, I feel that my personal struggle to perform well in school and understand subject matter has made me a more active learner. I have learned to seek assistance and resources when needed and to take initiative in my own learning. These skills have been very useful to me so far and will continue to be beneficial in dental school.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate student pursuing a career as a health professional?

During orientation week in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at Columbia University, I received a great piece of advice from Dr. Dennis Mitchell. It was simple: “Always ask questions.” While I did not understand the importance of this task at first, I have come to realize it over time. Asking questions ensures and helps clarify anything you did not understand. In addition, it shows your professor that you are making an effort in his/her class. I know it can be uncomfortable to raise your hand in a 300-person lecture, so I completely understand if you rather wait until office hours. The important thing is to get your questions answered. And if the first person you talk to does not know the answer, then reach out to others who do. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed by your questions. You are in class to learn, so I encourage you to ask any questions you have and persevere until you find your answer.