Bulletin of Dental Education

From Cafeteria Worker to Dentist, UMMC SOD Grad Stands Out for Work Ethic and Research Experience

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Alper Coban, D.M.D., applies a crown
to patient and wife, Seval Ozkan.

Alper Coban, D.M.D., began his career in the United States in 2001 with the Perry Cafeteria at Mississippi State University (MSU).

Nearly 20 years later, he graduated from the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry (UMMC SOD) and heads to Texas to practice general dentistry with a friend and colleague who was instrumental in his path to dentistry.

Dr. Coban, who grew up in Turkey, wanted to move to the United States when he was a child.

“Growing up, I would watch Western movies and think, ‘Oh, I want to be there one day,’” he says, laughing at the memory.

In addition to the allure of John Wayne, Dr. Coban was also drawn to the well-respected research and availability of funding in the United States.

So, when a friend of Dr. Coban’s from Turkey who was working on his Ph.D. at MSU encouraged him to come to Starkville, MS, Dr. Coban applied for a visa, planning to work and earn a master’s degree.

After making the big move in 2001, he started English classes at MSU, where he met Vladislav Loshkarev, D.D.S., Ph.D., a dentist who had recently moved from Russia. Both quickly realized the English they were being taught in the classroom was different than the Southern dialect they heard around campus. 

To help learn the language better, Dr. Coban decided to apply for a job as a food server in the cafeteria to immerse himself. He worked there for a year and a half, and even helped Dr. Loshkarev get a job there.

After more than a year at the cafeteria, Dr. Coban was accepted and completed his master’s degree in environmental toxicology at MSU, studying and researching the effects of environmental toxins such as pesticides. He began work on his doctorate degree in 2008, intending to stay in academic research after defending his dissertation.

However, during the recession of the2000s, Dr. Coban noticed many of his friends looking for jobs in research were having difficulty. Thinking he might need a more stable career, he visited Dr. Loshkarev, who had moved to Texas to practice at a clinic. 

“I visited him several times [before I started dental school] and shadowed him, watching how he interacted with people and helped people, and I really enjoyed it,” says Dr. Coban, at that point, a husband and father.   

Aside from dentistry offering more stability, Dr. Coban had always loved working with his hands. “I’ve always been a detail-oriented person, and I love fixing stuff, doing things like working on cars,” he shares. 

Dr. Loshkarev encouraged him to apply to dental school and Dr. Coban was accepted on the first try, though he first would have to complete 22 hours of undergraduate credits that did not transfer from his university in Turkey. He also spent his first year in dental school while his wife, Seval Ozkan, a researcher who is also from Turkey, and sons, Furkan and Kayra, remained in Starkville.

“[Dental school] wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had the support of my wife. She was going through tough times,” particularly that first year, he says. 

Since beginning school, Dr. Coban has stood out to his professors. Aside from being the oldest student in his class—a fact his classmates often joke with him about in the clinic—his work ethic, humor and unique background are qualities his professors and colleagues admire. 

“We have never, to my knowledge, had anyone with that [research] background, and in addition, excellent undergraduate grades,” says John Smith, D.M.D., Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at UMMC SOD. 

Dr. Coban’s family in Turkey will visit him in his new role as a practicing dentist in Texas this summer. 

Courtesy of Kate Royals, Editor/Writer in Public Affairs, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Published on July 10, 2019

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