Meet an Alum: Dr. David Avenetti, Class of 2010
Alumnus Dr. David Avenetti found his calling in public health while he was still an undergraduate at USC. Faced with the inevitable question of what’s next, he applied to both dental schools and master’s degree programs in public health, knowing he eventually wanted to pursue both. When UCLA Dentistry accepted him into their Class of 2010, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Dr. Avenetti hasn’t let a lot of grass grow underneath him since completing dental school more than a decade ago. He is currently a tenure-track full-time faculty member and Pediatric Dentistry Residency Program Director at the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Dentistry.
After UCLA, Dr. Avenetti went on to pursue his pediatric dentistry residency at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital where he concurrently earned a master of science in dentistry and participated in one year of advanced training to earn a master of public health degree. He maintains extensive leadership roles with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and participated in the Leadership Institute through Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, music, and spending time with his wife and young daughter.
UCLA Dentistry recently caught up with Dr. Avenetti to hear more on why he chose to pursue academia:
Q: Why did you choose dentistry and what do you most enjoy about being a dentist?
A: There was no particular “aha” moment or individual in my life that urged me to consider the field of dentistry. I was always drawn towards the health professions, and after careful evaluation of my options while in high school, I learned that dentistry would be a good fit. Everything about the profession was intriguing! It was service-oriented, teamwork-oriented, and the technical aspects of delivering quality care was appealing. Navigating the path was challenging at times given that I was the first generation to attend college, but with my family’s support, I knew I could get through the rigorous training.
Like many future dentists, I always assumed being a dentist would involve direct patient care for my entire career. I was ecstatic to gain acceptance to UCLA Dentistry and knew I could NOT pass up the opportunity. Others advised that pediatric dentistry would be a great field to apply a public health mindset. I love being able to practice my profession through the lens of the public health training that I received and trying to make a difference on a macro level as well as with the individual patients I encounter every day.
Q: What interests you about pursuing an academic career?
A: It was not until I arrived at UCLA Dentistry that I realized there are several career paths one can consider beyond private practice, such as academia. Academia provides unique opportunities to merge clinical care, didactic teaching, research, and service, among others. What I enjoy most about my career in academia is that my weeks are filled with amazing, unique opportunities and interactions with colleagues, patients, and their families. It’s rewarding to participate in training the future generation of dental students and pediatric dentists and to participate in NIH and HRSA-funded research.
Q: In what ways did UCLA Dentistry prepare you for your professional practice and endeavors?
A: Attending UCLA is among the most amazing opportunities I’ve been given. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that I didn’t get perfect grades in undergrad, and my DAT score was “average.” This led me to wonder if I would be able to succeed and whether I would face “imposter syndrome,” but I knew I had to take a chance. I knew UCLA attracted excellent students with strong service orientation — people who would become leaders in the profession. From the first week of orientation, I was amazed at the diversity and caliber of my colleagues and the faculty – people who would elevate my experience. I was left with no choice but to “rise to the occasion.” In retrospect, dental school was hard, but it was not stressful, which might sound surprising to some. It was due to the supportive environment where, if we helped one another, we would all succeed!
Naturally, UCLA Dentistry offered a solid didactic foundation to support strong clinical training. But I found that it was opportunities such as research, service, and becoming aware of many of the social issues facing oral health care that were important to my growth. To be specific, Dr. Clarice Law and others had grant support to encourage people to pursue academic careers. A full-time academic career meant that I could pursue many of the aspects that interested me, in addition to direct patient care.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t practicing dentistry?
A: This has evolved over time, but in general, I always make sure I have an outlet. When I lived in Seattle for residency, I really became intrigued by the Pacific Northwest and boating. Growing up in Southern California, I’ve always loved water and the beach. Now that I live in Chicago, I like exploring the various neighborhoods and the culture/people that comprise the city. I’m lucky that my pediatric dentistry colleagues (and dentists in general) are some of my favorite people, so I am able to seamlessly bridge my personal and professional life by surrounding myself with great people.
Q: If you could share a piece of advice to current dental students, what would it be?
A: Stay open-minded. Sometimes people go into the profession thinking they know exactly what they want to do after graduation. Allow yourself to consider other options that may be a good fit. In my case, I went into dental school knowing that I wanted to explore public health and pediatric dentistry. I gave other areas my fullest consideration but ended up coming full circle where I started. What I didn’t expect is that I would pursue public health and pediatric dentistry under the umbrella of full-time academia.
An extra piece of advice, competition can be healthy when you are surrounded by amazing, high-performing individuals, this can be incredible motivation to push yourself to realize your full potential.
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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