Meet an Alum: Dr. Malieka Johnson, Class of 2011
Dr. Malieka Johnson, DDS Class of 2011, is a San Diego-based private practice dentist focusing on general and adult special needs dentistry. Prior to UCLA Dentistry, Dr. Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC San Diego in 2003. During dental school, she heard the call to specialize in caring for people with special needs. Following the completion of her DDS degree, she completed a general practice residency at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, CA. While there, in addition to learning how to treat people with special needs, she also focused on patients with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Although her career is filled with many highlights, Dr. Johnson is especially proud of her humanitarian works abroad including dental mission trips to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Jamaica, volunteering in her local community with various events, and helping lead a ministry building homes in Mexico. In 2016, she established the Humanitarian and Educational Relief Operation Project (H.E.R.O), a non-profit organization that helps professional graduates from underserved backgrounds pay off student loan debt.
Due to her efforts in the field, Dr. Johnson was named a “Top 40 Dentists Under 40” Award recipient by Incisal Edge Magazine in 2018. She gained fellowships through the Pierre Fauchard Academy in 2018, the San Diego Leadership Alliance in 2016, and the American Dental Association's Institute for Diversity and Leadership in 2015.
UCLA Dentistry recently caught up with Dr. Johnson who shared with us an inside look into her day-to-day routine:
Q: Why did you choose dentistry & what do you most enjoy about being a dentist?
A: “I chose dentistry for the humanitarian connection. I began my journey as a volunteer in a free dental clinic in San Diego, CA, where I was exposed to mission trips in Mexico as a pre-dental student. I saw the power of God’s work through the simple hands of dentists to change the lives of human beings. Those experiences deeply impacted me. Now that I practice caring for the oral health of our nation’s most vulnerable, adults with special needs, I have a deeper appreciation for the skill that I have been fortunate to obtain and the people who I serve. This is truly what I enjoy most about being a dentist, knowing with certainty that my work makes a difference.”
Q: What are your favorite kinds of cases to work on?
A: “My favorite cases are full mouth rehabilitation, under general anesthesia, for adults with special needs. Even if it is not full mouth rehabilitation under sedation, just seeing the immediate change that we make in an office visit is so gratifying. Many of my patients cannot adequately care for themselves and it is so much fun (albeit sad as well due to the extreme needs many have) to see them come in with disease and go out with a more healthy and restored smile.”
Q: What do you do when you aren’t practicing dentistry?
A: “When I am not practicing dentistry I am either volunteering with my non-profit (The H.E.R.O. Project), my ministry SWA:REI Life, or at my church in various ministries. I also enjoy working out (I am certified in personal training and nutrition, so health and fitness are very important to me), and you will likely find me creating, writing, singing, and playing my instruments. I am a singer/songwriter and published author. I have music on all major streaming platforms. I love to encourage people and give them something to think about through art, music, and writing.”
Q: If you could share one piece of advice to current dental students, what would it be?
A: “If I could share one piece of advice with current dental students, it would be to approach people with compassion and to be very cautious with debt, student loans, credit cards, and otherwise. Don’t get caught up. Life is too short to be burdened with debt and it can suck the life out of you and your passions. Just pay it off and live your life to the fullest!”
Q: What is one of your fondest memories while you trained at UCLA School of Dentistry?
A: “It’s hard to pick one fondest memory. I will say my fondest memories while I trained at UCLA Dentistry are living in Westwood and walking to school. I really enjoyed everything being at my fingertips or footsteps. Also, the people I met, the patients I served, bible studies and mission trips with the Christian Dental Fellowship, great professors like Dr. Richard Stevenson, Dr. Ed Hewlett, Dr. Bill Morgan, Dr. Bruce Sanders, Dean Emeritus No-Hee Park, Dr. Carol Bibb, and, of course, the friends that I made and still have today. I am so proud to be a Bruin and I am thankful for what this field has done for me.“
In the first year of my deanship, I found myself surrounded by faculty, students, staff, and fellow academic leaders wanting to introduce me to the beauty of this campus, this city, and this outstanding dental school – UCLA Dentistry. I have been warmly welcomed by the entire community to what has now become my home.
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