"Everybody is so happy and positive at Pacific. It’s like everyone is in it together and working towards a common goal. It’s an environment that helps you grow rather than one that breaks you down."
Kristin Heller embarked on her journey towards dentistry before she had even graduated high school. She began working in a dental office when she was 14 years old, starting with general office work and eventually taking on more responsibility such as assisting. Realizing that she enjoyed going to her job every day, she took classes at a community college at night after school and became a registered dental assistant (RDA) by the time she was 16.
"I loved being around the people and everything I was doing," recalls Kristin. "I figured that if I was happy going to work every day, then I had found what is right for me."
However, as much as she enjoyed cleaning and polishing teeth, she began to realize that there wasn't much variety in her job. She had the desire to do more and do something different. Kristin wanted to be her own boss. She also liked the relationships that the dentists had with their patients - she got to see those relationships develop over time. She was also attracted by the problem-solving aspect of dentistry - since each case is different and interesting.
So when she began researching dental schools, Kristin took a close look at ones with an accelerated program, particularly the Dugoni School. The three-year program along with the humanistic model was very appealing to her, she says. As an undergraduate student at Pacific's main campus in Stockton, she could already feel the family atmosphere. She felt it even more at the dental school, where she would frequently go to visit friends. So there was no hesitation when she received her acceptance letter welcoming her to Pacific Dugoni.
"My favorite thing about the school is the environment," says Kristin. "Everybody is so happy and positive at Pacific. It's like everyone is in it together and working towards a common goal. It's an environment that helps you grow rather than one that breaks you down."
Another aspect that she loves is that the school encourages students to get involved. Kristin is involved in numerous activities and has taken on a number of roles. Currently, she is Class of 2014 president, a leader in the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) and an active member of Student Community Outreach for Public Education (SCOPE).
"I feel like I'm actually making a difference," Kristin said. "I can see something that I'm doing today can affect my class and the classes after me. Everything we do can create long-lasting change. It truly does matter that we're involved."
She's found that the dental school's faculty and administration are supportive of extracurricular activities, whether organized dentistry or community outreach. Kristin recalls a time that she and some of her classmates missed an entire week of classes to attend a national conference — and faculty members volunteered to teach after normal school hours to keep those who had gone to the conference on track.
"Before I attended these conferences, I didn't realize how much our school contributes to ASDA and how a lot of other schools use our school as a model," said Kristin. "Nationwide, dental schools aren't the same. What we have here is special - we have that humanistic aspect. We're accelerated and yet we come out with so much more clinical experience than a lot of other people."
As for her plans after graduation, she isn't currently sure what she'll pursue. She's thinking about specializing but is keeping her options open at the moment. One thing Kristin is sure of is staying involved with organized dentistry and community outreach. At some point, she'd like to work in an underserved area to help those less fortunate.
"I feel like there's a huge population of patients who don't have a dentist," Kristin says. "I'm going wherever life takes me, and I think it'll be where people need help."