Seven Second-Year Students Strive for Dental Equality
Seven is widely considered a lucky number, but for a septet of second-year UCLA School of Dentistry students, self-determination and an intrinsic desire to reduce disparities in oral health care superseded any stroke of good fortune.
While applying to dental schools, these seven D.D.S. candidates from the class of 2025 concurrently applied for – and were awarded – full-ride scholarships through the National Health Service Corps, administered by the Bureau of Health Workforce. Now in its 50th year, the NHSC Scholarship Program ensures a consistent pipeline of primary medical care service providers working in historically underserved geographic areas, populations, or facilities. Upon matriculating, NHSC scholars agree to begin their careers at federally-designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), with years of postgraduate service equaling the years of scholarship support received.
It’s one of many financial support pathways available to aspiring Bruin dentists, who collectively received $59.7 million in scholarships from public and private sources this past academic year.
With a total of 11 NHSC scholars among the SOD student body and only 43 across all California dental schools (among 470 nationally), seven hailing from a single Bruin class makes this collective achievement all the more remarkable.
The diverse cohort – which includes first-generation college students, graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and those who began their higher education journey at a community college – is comprised of:
- Yanina Patricia Diaz (B.S., General Biology, Cal Poly Pomona ’19)
- Amour Elliott (B.S., Biology, Howard University ‘21)
- Yujia Fan (B.S., Biology, UCLA ‘21)
- Daniel Juarez (B.S., Biology, UCLA ‘19)
- Cristal Landa (B.S., Biology, Cal Poly Pomona ‘20)
- M. Trenice Mayfield (B.S., Biology, Howard University ‘21)
- Sarah Nagamine (B.S., Communication Disorders, University of Massachusetts ‘19)
The classmates have formed a close bond, maintaining a group text to exchange information about their involvement with the National Health Service Corps. Read below as these NHSC Scholars from the School of Dentistry’s D2 class share their collective story.
1) Discuss your personal experience with dentistry (and medicine in general) growing up, and how it motivated you to pursue an NHSC scholarship.
Diaz: Growing up, I would often translate my parents’ bills and letters, and sometimes even accompany them to medical appointments in order to help my parents communicate with doctors. Access to quality health care as a non-English speaker is a challenge I experienced growing up and it is a challenge many people face to this day. My life experiences enabled me to develop an understanding of both the emotional and financial strains that underserved communities experience daily. My motivation for pursuing the NHSC scholarship stems from the desire to help those who have come from a similar background.
Elliott: Growing up, I witnessed first-hand how health disparities affect the health of a community. At a young age, seeing family members and friends not have access to quality care is what inspired me to pursue a scholarship with the NHSC. I’ll now have the opportunity to serve a community just like the one I came from, and I am both grateful and honored to be a part of such an impactful organization.
Fan: I deeply believe dental treatments should be made available to everyone. Unfortunately, many people are barred from the treatments they need due to location, insurance status, spoken language, financial status, and so on. Pursuing an NHSC scholarship allows me to provide treatments to underserved patients.
Juarez: The NHSC’s mission of improving care in underserved communities resonates with my upbringing and is a primary motivation for pursuing a career in dentistry. Growing up in an immigrant family, I observed how low socioeconomic status and limited English proficiency impeded access to care; thus I am committed to involvements that helped these bridge barriers. As an undergraduate, I assisted the UCLA School of Dentistry at a week-long health fair in the rural community of Lone Pine, Calif., where the population experienced similar barriers to dental care as my family has. Although our stay in Lone Pine was brief, we fulfilled our goal by implementing preventative interventions such dental sealants, oral health instruction, and topical fluoride to over 100 children. As a future dentist and NHSC scholar, I will have the opportunity to provide quality, affordable, and accessible care to people in need.
Landa: Growing up in an underserved community has shown me what access to limited resources looks like, including education, jobs, and healthcare. As someone who did not have access to consistent dental care, I cherished the moments my mother would leave work early to take my sister and me to the dentist, which was often difficult for her as a single mother; this is an example of one of the many social determinants of health that people from underserved communities must overcome. It is common for those unfamiliar with these barriers to lack understanding of these populations, which often results in a disconnect between a patient and a provider. Unfortunately, I have experienced this disconnect. As a daughter of Mexican immigrants, I noticed the interactions between healthcare providers and my parents. The experiences that were not great left my parents feeling in the dark and blindly following whatever their healthcare provider told them to do, but the best interactions were the ones that ultimately inspired me to become a dentist and serve disadvantaged communities alongside the NHSC.
Mayfield: Growing up it was normal for me to visit the dentist every six months and as I grew older, I began to realize how much of a privilege it was to receive regular oral care. Many of my peers and their parents were only able to receive emergency care when they were in pain, which resulted in numerous extractions and extensive care that could have been avoided with earlier treatment. Numerous factors such as time off of work, finances, and health care illiteracy prevented this from happening, and these disparities have only worsened as the cost of living increases. These issues affect all communities but those of color are affected at higher rates and I wanted to find a way to combat these trends. When pursuing dentistry, I knew I wanted to make patients affected by these disparities my priority because their needs are astronomical. The NHSC scholarship was the perfect opportunity for me to do this because it will help me connect with these underserved populations while taking the stress of loan repayment away. This provides me with the platform to learn all I can and give my patients the best care no matter the circumstances.
Nagamine: During college, I participated in a dental outreach trip to a poverty-stricken mountain village Dominican Republic. Seeing how impactful dentistry could be on someone's life, I was inspired to seek out clinic work and discovered Dientes Community Dental in my hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif., where I saw similar cases to those in the Dominican Republic. Many of Dientes’ patients were migrant Hispanic agricultural workers and came from a similar background as the employees who supported my family farm. As I got closer to the doctors during my internship, they informed me about the NHSC scholarship which led them to this wonderful opportunity. From that point on, the scholarship was always something that I wanted to strive for once I got into dental school.
2) How does the NHSC initiative align with the UCLA School of Dentistry’s core principles of innovation, altruism, inclusiveness, and excellence?
Diaz: Both the NHSC and UCLA strongly advocate for a sense of community. Everyone at UCLA is very willing to help one another out because, at the end of the day, we all have one goal in mind: To become the best provider we can be for our patients.
Elliott: The NHSC initiative is congruent in several ways with the core values we promote at UCLA Dentistry. UCLA even has opportunities for externships and rotations focused on serving specific communities in need.
Landa: It’s clear the NHSC and UCLA strive to develop health care professionals that are compassionate and empathetic by providing resources that will help us become the best dental professionals for our patients. Both institutions instill the core value of altruism by providing unique ways to give back to our communities, while it is apparent that both are committed to creating an inclusive and equitable environment for health care professionals and patients.
Mayfield: At UCLA, we learn about the most traditional ways of approaching cases as well as innovations. In my opinion, this is how you educate students who will challenge themselves to provide the best care no matter the circumstances. This is how you create problem solvers and that’s exactly what the NHSC scholarship program needs: Providers who will include all patients and leave no stone unturned when serving our patients.
3) What are your professional goals in dentistry, both during and after completing your NHSC service?
Elliott: Right now, I hope to focus on providing the best care for whichever community I serve. Beyond that, I hope to one day start a charity fund or nonprofit focused on breaking down barriers many communities face when accessing dental care.
Fan: My goal in dentistry is to make quality dental treatments available to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds. I believe everyone should be treated right and receive quality dental care regardless of their social and economic status. I plan to keep improving my skills as and strive to provide treatments at a more affordable cost.
Juarez: By addressing oral health disparities and access to higher education, I can help alleviate the cycle of poverty affecting disadvantaged communities. I intend to encourage upward mobility in underserved communities by addressing oral health disparities in a clinical setting and combating inequalities that impede access to four-year degrees.
Mayfield: During my service, I hope to be as accessible as possible because I know hours and location are big barriers that keep many patients from obtaining care. I hope to create a space where patients feel seen and heard and genuinely cared for. After completing my service, I am still undecided as to whether I will continue working or if I will return to school and complete a residency.
Nagamine: My goal in dentistry is to serve as a compassionate dentist who gives back to her community and makes a difference. I would not be able to be where I am today without the support of the migrants that supported my family. I want to support my community by offering affordable and accessible healthcare where patients feel comfortable, respected, and humanized, as they should.