“If you asked me three years ago, I would have never imagined being in dental school,” says Mr. Jun Hwang, a third-year dental student at Boston University (BU) Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. “I was at the career’s end of being a student. I had less than a year left until graduation, and I had no plans to continue my education. Being a music and biological sciences double major, I was deciding between a career as a concert pianist or something biology related.”
Now finishing his junior year at BU, it’s apparent which path Mr. Hwang ultimately chose. Born in Seoul, South Korea, and then relocated nine years later with his family to Calgary, Alberta, Mr. Hwang is no stranger to new experiences. Interested in both science and music, he pursued his undergraduate degrees at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. An accomplished pianist and musician, he collaborated with many renowned artists and has played across both Canada and the United States. So why the sudden turn into dentistry?
“My sister was a junior at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine and I discovered from her that dentistry is something where I would feel rewarded by using my hands— just like playing the piano,” he said. “Helping people to have better smiles was very appealing. However, playing piano had been something that I really enjoyed since childhood. It wasn't an easy decision, yet at the end I chose to apply to BU at the very last minute … and I got in!”
Mr. Hwang is like many dental students today, constantly on the go. He has served as a representative on the ADEA Council of Students, Residents, and Fellows (ADEA COSRF) for the last two years and is now serving that council as a member of the Task Force on Governance. Within the last two years, he also initiated a Teaching Assistant (TA) program within Goldman, based on his observations of similar programs at other area dental schools. “We have implemented TAs in a limited number of preclinical courses. Many were happy with the improved student-faculty ratio. With faculties to guide new TAs, it provides a great opportunity for future dental educators to get hands-on experience at teaching,” he said.
And the program has been well received by students and faculty alike. “The faculties at BU have been very receptive of this pilot program, and we hope to expand to include all preclinical simulation courses,” he explains. “It is our hope that TA programs will enhance the learning experience for dental students by improving faculties-to-student ratio and also to spark interest for future dental educators.”
His enthusiasm for dental education is obvious. “I really want to be involved in academia,” he explained. During the 2011 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition in San Diego, he spent several minutes eagerly discussing the new TA program with Dr. Shelia H. Koh, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Dental Branch. Dr. Koh congratulated him on his success so far, and gently teased him about burning out. “He’s a very bright student,” she told the BDE later, “And he has great aspirations. He’s a great snapshot of the future of academia.”
Mr. Hwang is quick to recognize his own limitations. “I think I am like most students: stressed out. I try to do my best with keeping up with school work, but procrastination is unavoidable,” he said. To combat such stress, he looks to courses that give a more hands-on approach. “I really enjoy the hands-on courses where you can talk to your professors and discuss and learn together in a small-group setting. We have at BU a course in practice management; sometimes this class feels like I am attending one of the ADEA break-out sessions, where the professor gives us a topic of discussion and everyone brainstorms together and reconvenes to discuss ideas.” It’s this interaction between students and faculty where Mr. Hwang finds learning the most rewarding and a great defense against procrastination.
One of the paths Mr. Hwang has followed in his pursuit of academia is attending various ADEA meetings. “I have attended every ADEA meeting since fall 2009,” he remarks. “Every session I have attended, I came back with new motivation and a new perspective on where the future of dentistry was headed. After seeing how so many dentists and dental students were so proactive in their communities to help populations in need of oral health care, I was also inspired to become more involved in my community.” He has especially found the ADEA COSRF meetings and get-togethers beneficial. “Each year, students from all across the country convene in one room to discuss the issues that dental students face during their studies and throughout our career. We are able to bring fresh perspectives from other schools and able to use those ideas to apply to our own schools.”
It also allows time for students of the three Boston-area dental schools (BU, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard School of Dental Medicine) to meet and network. With the time demands on many students today, it can be difficult for aspiring dental professionals, even at institutions within the same city, to connect and collaborate.
Mr. Hwang attended the 2011 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition in San Diego, California, and came away renewed and invigorated. “I think the plenary sessions were very informative and entertaining, and the receptions for networking were definitely memorable,” he recalls. “It was very enjoyable to see all our faculties in a casual social setting, including BU’s own Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter and William J. Gies Award winner Dr. Michelle Henshaw.”
In a little over a year, Mr. Hwang will be continuing on his journey down the path of dentistry after receiving his degree at BU. Where does he see himself headed, even just five years after graduation? “I hope to be teaching in dental school several days a week, work at a private practice several days a week, and probably devote one day a week for community outreach programs,” he says confidently. “I know it sounds ambitious, but I believe I have the motivation and the willpower to do all.”
And in 25 years? Mr. Hwang laughed at the question. “Hopefully out of debt!”