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Pursuing My Dreams Against All Odds: Refugee to Dental Hygienist

Posted by Muntather Alameedi, B.S., RDH on July 21, 2015

Growing up as an Iraqi refugee during Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime, I was definitely put at a disadvantage in my education. My parents did not greatly value education, as they were more focused on safety and staying out of harm’s way. I was 6 years old when I came to the United States, and I struggled to learn the different language and adjust to my new home. My family and I lived in an impoverished area of Detroit, where most of our relatives lived. We did not know how dangerous the area was until we started to see constant fighting in the streets and our car was repeatedly robbed. Additionally, the Detroit public schools were not giving me the strong educational foundation I needed. In the fourth grade, I started going to a charter school to get a better education. The teachers there noticed I was not at the same level as my peers, so I started seeing tutors to help me catch up.

During high school, my family moved to Egypt for a year to reconnect with my Arab roots. The education system in Egypt, though, did little to prepare me for college. When we moved back to the United States, I graduated from high school and went to my local community college, the most feasible option for me at the time. I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to choose a prestigious university that would prepare me for the profession I wanted to pursue—dentistry. 

In college, I started taking prerequisites for the dental hygiene program. I had always received compliments about my smile, which had given me confidence growing up. The idea that just a smile could instill confidence led me to explore dental hygiene and my desire to help others have smiles just as healthy as mine. By pursuing dental hygiene as a foundation, I could test the waters to see if I would eventually like to become a dentist. A friend of mine in the dental hygiene program helped me choose the courses I needed and mentored me through my journey applying to various programs. In 2011, I was admitted to the dental hygiene program at the University of Michigan. 

As a new student in the rigorous dental hygiene program, I faced a number of challenges. During my first semester, I worked four days a week as a kitchen worker to help pay for my cost of living while in school. Other personal life events also threatened my performance, but I managed to overcome these challenges and succeed.

During my second semester, my passion for dentistry grew. I started regularly seeing patients for cleanings, I had nurturing and knowledgeable instructors, and I took summer courses to finish my prerequisites for dental school. During my summer courses, I also was observing Ramadan, a month-long religious holiday that required me to fast from sunrise to sunset. Trying to focus on school work while fasting was hard to endure and affected my academic performance. My heavy course load also left me little free time, which took a toll on my social life. But I pulled through and, in turn, my study habits, drive and cognitive skills improved drastically. Over time, I found a study method that worked for me and used tips from my colleagues to perform better overall. 

My hard work paid off, and during my senior year, I had the chance to work with a research group studying patients’ perceptions of clinicians with halitosis. My colleagues and I were awarded an ADEA fellowship to continue and present this research at the 2015 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition in Boston. I completed my bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in May 2014, and my life in the real world started from there. 

Over the next year, in addition to looking for and landing a job as a full-time dental hygienist, I also finished my last prerequisites for dental school, got engaged, began planning my wedding, bought a house, continued my research project, prepared for the DAT and started the application process for dental school. In light of all of these milestones, I decided to take a year off before attending dental school so I could be focused and fresh for the difficult journey ahead. 

During my year off, finding a job as a dental hygienist was difficult since I had little experience outside of my program and am a male in a predominantly female profession. I began to get discouraged until one day I found a job posting on Craigslist for a dental hygienist to begin immediately. I drove to the practice to hand in my resume in person and received a working interview that same day! The interview was nerve-wracking because my first patient was very anxious and difficult to work with. However, I stayed composed. I was really friendly and made sure the patient felt he was in good hands. After the procedure, the patient was happy and told the staff that I was very professional. The dentist of the practice was impressed that I kept my cool and hired me full time. To this day, that is the cleaning I have been most proud of. 

Being male in a female-dominated field, I expected some patients to be surprised to see me as their hygienist. My experience as a male dental hygienist has shown me that patients are not concerned with the gender, ethnicity or religion of their hygienist. Patients care about the relationship they have with their hygienist. Once you build that relationship and demonstrate excellent clinical practice and ethics, the patient will greatly value your work and effort. 

My patients often remark that I would make a great dentist and ask me if I plan to become a dentist in the future. These comments drive me to reach my ultimate goal of becoming a dentist. With the support of my patients, friends, family and wife, I know I will succeed and make my dream of becoming a dentist a reality. 

About Muntather Alameedi, B.S., RDH:

Muntather Alameedi

Muntather Alameedi, B.S., RDH
University of Michigan School of Dentistry Alumni
Dental Hygiene Department

Mr. Muntather Alameedi received his Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene from the University of Michigan in 2014. He was also awarded the TheraBreath Fellowship award from ADEA in 2014 with his colleges to continue their research after graduation. They presented their findings at the 2015 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition. He is currently working as a dental hygienist at a dental office in Waterford, MI, while pursuing his goal of becoming a dentist.