Turning Dentist’s Office Trauma Into a Career Path

San Francisco State senior Valerie Escobar finds motivation both in a harrowing experience with the dentist and her sorority’s community service.

valerie_escobar_dental_student_profileOur positive memories often drive our career goals. The influence of an encouraging mentor or a history of success in a subject makes us feel ready to take on the challenges ahead. San Francisco State senior Valerie Escobar, however, discovered her path in a very different way: she wanted to right the wrongs she went through.

A terrible experience at the dentist’s office as a child made Valerie determined to do better for her future patients. She’s managed to turn her trauma into the drive to contribute positively to others. But Valerie is not defined only by her past; she also recognizes the importance of where she is today. She holds a deep appreciation for the growth she’s experienced as a part of the SF State community. Above all, she’s learned independence. Valerie reflects, “Coming to school, moving to the city without my parents, my dad and my mom actually not even living in California anymore–I’m here by myself, basically, and I’m doing everything for myself. And it really just makes me feel good.”

With an eye to her past and a goal in mind, Valerie is positioned for success. She is thriving in her classes and contributing to her community, but she never takes for granted the obstacles she’s overcome or the progress she’s made.

Recently Valerie joined us to share more about how she realized her aspirations.

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What inspired you to attend dental school?
There are a few reasons why, but the biggest reason was that, when I was maybe 5 or 6, I had some really bad cavities and I had to go to the dentist so they could put these little caps on my teeth that prevent you from getting a cavity again. I was young, and because it’s technically a surgery, they tell you that you should put your kid to sleep. When I was getting the anesthesia, I had to get shots in my gums. I was biting the shots just because, obviously, it hurts, and I’m just a little kid. So when they gave me the shots they actually kind of pinned me down and tied me to the chair. And at this point my parents are waiting in the waiting room. They had no idea what was going on. After that surgery I had some bruises on my wrists and my ankles, and my parents were freaked out because they had no idea where they came from. When they looked at the cameras they had in the room, the dentist had been telling me to shut up and everything. It was a mess. I was so young, but I still remember a lot of the details. I had such a horrible experience that I never wanted anyone to go through what I had to go through. So it was kind of traumatizing, but it ended up with a good outcome.

What is your relationship with education?
Education is super, super important to me. There were some points while I was a freshman or sophomore when I was questioning if I really wanted to go to dental school, because it’s really tough. And it’s hard to stay motivated for four years, especially when the classes are getting harder. But with education, I feel like I can make an impact. Even though it might seem like I will “just” be a dentist and “just” be cleaning people’s teeth, I am making a difference that I can feel good about myself for. It makes me feel like I’m doing something to not only better myself but to better my community.

How do you feel about how education is evolving–with more technology being incorporated?
I love it. Honestly, it’s so helpful. Just last night I was studying for a Bio exam, and I had a study guide with questions that could possible be on the exam. The first thing I think of when I see a study guide question that I don’t know? Look at the slides the teacher shared with us. We have this platform called iLearn where teachers can post assignments and slideshows. So, let’s say I didn’t take great notes in class one day. The slides are there, and I can go back and reference them. And when I found out about Course Hero I started using it for my Physics class. All the worksheets I was doing were coming up there, and they have all the step by steps of how to do it. Not necessarily the same numbers, which is great because I was able to teach myself how to do the problem, not just get the answer. That’s the one thing about technology. Some students–they’re just looking for the answer. They’re just trying to get the grade. But it’s not about that, because at least with my major, you take one class, the class next semester corresponds, and then the class after that corresponds. And you have to be able to retain that information. So when I was using Course Hero, it was nice because they showed me all the steps, how to do everything. And I actually got an A in Physics.

Outside of your career goals, what are some ways you like to serve your community?
Thankfully my sorority gives us opportunities throughout the semester to volunteer, which is super rewarding. I love seeing simple things that I take for granted make others so happy. My favorite so far is called the Princess Project. It collects prom and homecoming dresses for high school girls from lower income areas. They don’t have money to buy prom dresses. But they come in, and we help them pick out dresses to try on. And just seeing their faces completely glowing when they get to take home that dress–it’s so rewarding. I took that for granted when I was in high school. When I wanted a prom dress, I just went with my mom. A lot of people don’t think about that. You take a lot of things for granted that are just given to you.

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In many ways, Valerie is defined by gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunities she’s discovered. Gratitude for the tools at her disposal. Gratitude for the experiences–both positive and negative–that have shaped her into someone who can succeed even within the rigors of a challenging institution. And her gratitude inspires her to give back, and do everything in her power to make things better for those around her.

About the author

Alex Witkowski

Alex is a former high school English teacher and non-profit Community Manager who's now living the dream building Community with Course Hero. Beyond the walls of the office you can find him listening to music, seeing live music, seeking out new music, writing about music, composing music, and defending his obsession with music.

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