Swagger: My Story Of A “Have To” Attitude

victory-in-dental-school-processI have had a few requests to share the story of how I got into dental school. I hope those of you who are struggling with your grades are inspired by this post. For those of you with decent grades, I hope this inspires you to keep up the hard work.

Ever since I could remember, I wanted to be a dentist. When I was six or seven years old people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would answer sternly, “a dentist”. Often times they would be caught off guard and say “oh, that’s nice”. My desire to become a dentist stemmed from my uncle. He was one of the only family members (mom has 5 siblings and dad has7 siblings) that I knew of that went to college, let alone professional school. By the time I was in middle school I would write papers about controversial issues such as fluoridation or amalgam fillings. In fact, every time I was given the opportunity to write about something of my choice that’s what I would write about. I did this all the way through high school. I was confident that is what I wanted to do. If I had to shadow, I would shadow a dentist. I racked up a lot of shadowing hours at the local dental office throughout high school. I would ask a lot of questions like “what does it take to get into dental school?” The reply was always to get good grades and do extracurricular activities. My high school grades were decent but I was more into wrestling, water skiing, and motocross than anything else. By the time I was a senior I had taken AP classes, not because I was smart but because I wanted to be smart. I started taking classes at the community college, thinking I was getting a jump start on being a dentist. I chose classes like general biology, general chemistry, physics, history, and English. The system was quarters (3 quarters = 2 semesters of credits). By the time I graduated high school I had a handful of credits. Yes, I pulled off an A- in history and a B- in English. The science classes is where I struggled. I didn’t understand the concept of studying or going to class. Because I was taking classes at high school and driving 25 minutes to a class or two, I would often just skip thinking that an hour worth of driving isn’t worth an hour of class. Being a foolish highschooler, I assumed once you go to college you choose if you want to go to class. Not the case in my physics class. I was marked down 15% on my final grade for not attending. Despite getting a 92% grade on the tests and labs. This was the beginning of my C grades.

The following year (my first full year of college) I took classes, worked, and road dirt bikes. You can guess which one I spent most of my time doing. Yes, you got it! I road dirt bikes. In fact, while in my plant biology class we had a test coming up. I saved the day before the test for studying but an unexpected call came. I received a phone call from a guy that I had wanted to ride with for a long time. He wanted to go the afternoon before my test. You can only guess what I did. No, I did not study. I went riding. A lame attempt at studying included a short break in the woods looking at plants and jokingly naming different terms that applied to the test. Needless to say, I did not do well in the course. I received a B- in one of the three general biology courses and a C in the other two. At the same time, I was getting Cs in biology, I was getting Cs and Bs in Chemistry. I can’t forget to mention the F that I received in an online psychology course. Namely, due to the fact that I did not realize I was enrolled in it. At the end of the year, I had a little over 35 credits under my belt and a 2.9 GPA. Keep in mind that is my overall GPA, not my science which was much lower(science classes was what brought my GPA down).

Friends and family would occasionally ask me if I still planned on becoming a dentist. I would still answer with confidence and say “of course!”. But deep down I knew the path I was taking would not lead me to dentistry. I took a two-year break, which was spent in the Philippines. During this time I not only got a break from school but I was able to grow and contemplate my future plans. I knew that when I returned that I had no room for error.

I never was a straight A student. In fact, throughout elementary and middle school I took special learning classes. I was always a “wanna be” smart kid. When I returned it went from a “wanna be” to a “have to be” smart kid. My first semester back I chose non-science courses that I thought I could get As in. Sure enough, I put a lot of hard work into studying which resulted in straight As! This was the first time in my entire life I had ever gotten straight As.

The following semester I took Math, English, Statistics, and a few other smaller courses. With the same determination, as the semester before I received straight As. I was getting pumped! Taking a break from school did not make me any smarter. In fact, taking a break from school did not make want to be there more, it made me want to be there less. So what changed? It was my attitude! I went from casually going through school thinking that it would all magically come together one day, to realizing that my LIFE depended upon it. I still to this day believe this 100%. Without that attitude, one will be tossed to and fro and will end up where ever the current takes them. I was not that person that would be taken with the current. I had a destination and I knew that I had to reach it. I changed my attitude to a “have to” attitude.

With my new “have to” attitude on, I knew I was ready to tackle some of the upper-level biology courses. Yes, it had been 2-3 years since my last biology course but those were already done and I was ready to get on with my education. I began with a physiology course, histology, psychology, and a few filler courses. The physiology course was the one that was stand alone from anatomy. In fact, it was one of the most demanding classes at the school. Each test I “had to” get as many points as possible. There was no “oh well, I can get a few points back next time.” I spent 4 hours outside of class every day studying for this. We got to muscle physiology and the talked about an action potential. “Whats an action potential”, I asked myself. I did not know anything but I managed to score top 10 overall in the class on the tests, which was no easy feat. I “had to”. It was my only option. I tried just as hard in my other classes. I came out with all As and a B+. The B+ was physiology and was due to the lab portion of the class. I fell short of my goal, but in hindsight, it was a victory. That class prepared me to succeed in all other classes.

I knew that if I could get a B+ in one of the hardest courses at the school, then I could get in A in any other class that I take. And that was the truth! I took a long list of upper division courses including but not limited to; physiology, anatomy, histology, neurobiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, molecular cell biology, genetics, evolution, and I am sure more.

I excelled at biochemistry. By the time I took this, I was no longer at the “have to” stage, although I still felt the need to do well, but at the want to stage. I wanted to learn the material. At this point, the grades came easier. Finished at the top (top 3 or 4) of the biochemistry classes for that semester. I was hired as the one and only tutor at our school. The next semester I took a load of 17 credits and tutored on average 18 hours a week. I enjoyed just about every minute of it. Along with getting feedback such as “He is the best tutor at this school”, I was able to accomplish straight As. Note that by this time I was married and had a baby girl at the beginning of the semester.

That is a huge change from being single, taking 10-11 credits per semester, and receiving some Cs and an F. My GPA improved from the 2.9 to a 3.61 GPA. My overall science GPA ended up at a 3.42. My GPA at the four-year university was a 3.93 (in that ballpark). What changed? My attitude changed, and yours can too! There is nothing stopping you from getting the grades you need. Yes, we may have kids or unnecessary distractions but do you have the “have to” attitude? I have it and now I am in dental school!

Good luck to all of you who are still on your way to becoming dental students and dentists! I do realize everyone has different experiences in life, some more difficult than others but it is ultimately up to you what you make of it and what you want in life.



***I did not proof read this at this point. I will do so and make additions or subtractions as needed. Hope you enjoy!***

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