Headed down the open road unknown

3e8694d3ccb7ce03100ce0888943eed2It feels like junior/senior year of high school all over again.  I didn’t officially decide where I was going to college until late April/May right before I graduated.  I remember being so unsure all year while all my friends were committing and like I was being pulled in five different directions while searching for the one that God had for me.  Now to think about how my life would look if I would have gone to the University of Texas, Southwestern, or Texas A&M (ok, WHAT was I thinking – sorry, Aggies) is such a strange and funny thing.  I know I am EXACTLY where I’m supposed to be right now.

I bring up these old feelings because I’m now talking about the current confusing, exciting, anxious, limitless, and overwhelming season of researching dental schools and trying to figure out just where I belong.

Obviously I’ll apply to the three schools in Texas – UT Houston, UT San Antonio, and Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas (which is actually owned by A&M now – confusing I know).  However, I don’t want to limit my future, and I’m really considering applying to several out-of-state schools all over the country.  I have a deep desire for adventure, branching out, and exploring different places.  I also am a little fed up with the Texas heat after 20 years of sweating, and I really want to experience new cuisines, outdoor activities (snowboarding, hiking, etc), and just a different way of living for awhile.

It’s hard to dream big, though, when the reality of debt and massive student loans is staring me in the face and slapping me with a blow of the necessity of practicality.  In-state tuition, while still sky-high, is significantly less than private and out-of-state schools.  The thought of graduating with $200,000+ in debt is down-right mind-boggling, even when I hear people say, “Don’t worry, your future income will pay it off  before you know it!”  I’ve heard some say go as cheap as you can for dental school, but I’ve also been encouraged by others to go where I really want and be adventurous while I’m young and not tied down to anything (if I were in a relationship right now, it’d probably be a different story).  You can see the dilemma here.

Some of the other dental schools I’ve been looking into (if I ignore the hefty price tags for a moment, and truly think about the kind of professional/clinical/research education I’m looking for as well as an appealing location) and were on the list of where my DAT scores were sent include:

University of Colorado (Denver)

University of Washington (Seattle)

University of the Pacific (San Francisco) *the only 3 year program in the country*

University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)

Boston University

Tufts University

Columbia University (NYC – I really don’t think I could see myself living there though)

Oregon Health Sciences Center (Portland)

Harvard University (actually don’t see myself there)

University of Illinois (Chicago)

I’d say the first five I listed are probably the ones I’m more interested in researching further as well as the three TX schools.  Not only are the locations somewhere I really would love to live for four years (or longer if I specialize and get into the same school’s program), but these are also some of the most respected schools.  Some of the things that make a dental school “one of the best” (even though it’s very different than undergraduate because there are no REAL rankings) are  a strong clinical focus, high research activity, great faculty, diversity, stats/educational background of enrolled students, community/philanthropic involvement, etc.

I know my future is in God’s hands, and I am confident the story he’s writing for my life will be a good one that I can’t even IMAGINE right now.  As I slowly figure this thing out (or still am clueless), I’ll give updates on my application process in the summer and then next year’s interviews!

*Title is lyrics from Switchfoot’s new single, Love Alone is Worth the Fight. BUY IT NOW.

New month, new goals

I love the first day of a new month.  This one marks the beginning of my absolute favorite time of year.  November through January is what I look forward to all year because of the holiday season, “cold” weather, my early January birthday (which happens to be a really fun one this year), plus countless other little things that just make me smile this time of year .  I also am guilty of being bound to the concept of orderly time and only thinking I can take on new projects, goals, etc. with a calendar turn of a page – whether it be yearly, monthly, or weekly. That being said, with the first of November here, I have lots of little things to add to my monthly bucket list (in no particular order)…

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1. Write my personal statement.  This is a major component of my dental school applications, and it’s my chance to show schools what makes me ME.  I get to put an actual personality with those boring (but hopefully attention-grabbing) statistics that they’ll see first.   5300 characters to express why I want to be a dentist, and basically why they should give me a spot in their class over all the other applicants.  Also, because I want to apply to competitive out of state schools as well, this can be what makes them find it impossible to reject me simply because of my residential status.

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2. Fall in love with running again (Run 3x a week and get my base mileage back up for Bearathon training). I’m not officially starting my training “plan” until after Christmas (again, with the calendar concept), but I have GOT to get my endurance back to where it needs to be to even begin to think about doing those long runs on the weekend.  I also want to supplement with the Insanity workouts that I absolutely loved this summer.  Last year when I ran the half marathon for the first time, the fall semester before I was enrolled in a “running class” for a fitness credit for my degree plan.  I know I haven’t done as much consistent running this semester, but I’m hoping that since I’ve at least done the training before and am a lot stronger than last year, I can get back in the groove in a little less time.  This afternoon I actually went on my longest run of the semester along the Brazos, and it sparked that fire I have deep down that makes me believe I can call myself a “runner.” More on that later…

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3. Prep for healthy meals during the week all month long to counteract the upcoming holiday caloric craziness.  I’m vowing to spend some more time to actually plan and put together well rounded, veggie focused meals on a daily basis.  Also, I’ve got to nip my sweet tooth in the bud slightly for the next few weeks so that when the time does come during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the anticipated baking and desserts will be moderately indulged. We all know I’ve got to still be rocking the skinny jeans for my favorite wardrobe season.  As for those pumpkin cookies still sitting on the counter, well, they’re sort of healthy from all that Vitamin A, right?

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 4. Start thinking about Christmas gifts earlier. I’m always that last-week shopper for my family and friends since I’m consumed with [the dreaded *F word* for stressed, GPA obsessed, pre-health science majors] at the end of the semester in December, and no matter how much thought I put into trying to give a thoughtful gift, it always turns out as some variation on a theme from previous years.

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5.  Brainstorm fundraising ideas for ASDA mission trip next semester. I’m so excited that the organization I’m an officer for, American Student Dental Association, is in the process of coordinating a dental mission trip for spring break.  Right now we’re looking at Costa Rica! 3 of my biggest passions – dentistry, missions, and travel – all in one trip! However, all things worth having/doing call for making big sacrifices (in this case, financially).

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6. Be intentional with my professors for the remaining part of the semester. I’ve already asked for my first two letters of recommendation (yay progress! The oral surgeon I worked with this summer and my current religion professor who actually knows me as more than a seat in his class), but I’m still struggling with what two science professors to ask as well as one other non-science faculty member.  It really is difficult to form meaningful relationships with professors that have 200+ other pre-health students with the same intentions as me and limited office hours.

I just thought this was funny :) I mean, I know they love me, but do they really KNOW me?

I just thought this was funny 🙂 I mean, I know they love me, but do they really KNOW me?

7. Increase my yearning for God’s Word.  I’ve been praying that God would find new ways to stir my heart to fill myself with His truth and promises in the Bible EVERY morning.  Sometimes I find myself just going through the motions of reading what I’ve read so many times in my life before, but not being fully present and expectant of the new things that God wants to reveal to me each day.  I really want to experience His presence in a fresh and deep way this month (and every month after).  

Word. Literally...

Word. Literally…

I could go on forever (if you should know anything about me, it’s that I’m a very goal-oriented girl), but I’ll stop there, because I really like the number 7. Yes, it’s the biblical number of perfection, but also because I’ve got to get back to enjoying my crazy wild Friday night. What? Homemade broccoli cheese soup, magazine reading, and TV on the couch isn’t your idea of a typical college kid’s weekend? Well, maybe I’m not your typical college kid…

Since when is it almost November?

This past month has been one of the most eventful, sleep-deprived, and challenging times of my college career. Here’s a snapshot of all things October:

Adding pumpkin pie spice to coffee grounds before brewing is a glorious and much cheaper way to celebrate the arrival of fall (well, Texas fall).

Singing my first big theatrical solo for Baylor’s Pigskin Revue was a blast, and I’ve never been happier to be able to wear no makeup and have zero product in my hair.
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Writing about my entire life’s experiences and motivations to be a dentist for our pre-health committee application is exhausting, but surprisingly insightful. Actually putting words to my passion for my future made it feel that much more real.  Next stop: personal statement.
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Not having time to make an actual well-rounded and delicious meal really bothers me.  Time to put an end to odd hour scavenging for brain-food and get back in my healthy, “flexitarian” routine.

The season Baylor Football is having is getting a little ridiculous.  I’d like to actually have to stay and watch a game be decided in the final minutes, but until then we’ll take the blowouts I guess.

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IMG_0864Running in perfect weather through lovely places does wonders for the soul.
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Painting a perfectly nerdy coffee mug can turn a case of the Mondays around.  (For all you non-organic chemists, that’s the structure of caffeine.)
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Finally finishing my thorough biblical research paper on the messianic secret is a feeling like no other.  After weeks of hacking my professor’s brain, researching, organizing, writing, editing, footnoting, and struggling, it’s behind me at last.  I now classify myself as a budding scholar.
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Sleep is a beautiful thing, so that’s what I plan on doing this weekend.  Also, I’m looking forward to having time to clean the whirlwind that is my apartment as well as catching up with my professional mentor who was nice enough to invite me to dinner with his family.  On top of that, guess who’s going to see Switchfoot on campus for their Fading West tour?

Only God could have carried me through this once-thought impossible couple of weeks, and I’m ready to sing a new song of thanks to Him as I rest in His peace this weekend.

God of the Impossible – DAT Edition

I’m still finding myself in disbelief that I’m actually on the other side of the pivotal thing that had seemed so far off in the future for basically the last two years. The Dental Admission Test is DONE! Wow. That’s pretty much my only thought right now.  I initially couldn’t define my emotions about it when people asked how I felt because I was simultaneously experiencing every emotion possible.  Elation, disbelief, relief, joy, shock, you name it.  After two months (and ultimately two years of working my tail off in my freshman and sophomore classes) of sacrificing free or social time for most of the summer in order to focus on my studying, the test that determines my future is finally behind me!

I am literally BLOWN AWAY by God’s favor in my life.  My results were nothing short of a miracle.  Yes, I did put in COUNTLESS hours of studying my entire college science curriculum, taking full length and notoriously difficult DAT Achiever practice tests, working through the DAT Destroyer book of problems (that actually “destroys” your confidence in the process) two times, and trying to perfect my strategies and timing for the Perceptual Ability portion of the test that can basically be described as thinking and visualizing entirely in 3-D given ambiguous 2-D information (but to be honest, you either have the aptitude for it or not). Apparently this has something to do with teeth and indirect vision, but I’m pretty sure that will be an entirely new challenge to face that will resemble nothing of a test about pattern folds, hole-punching, angle-ranking, cube counting, and keyholes.  Let me start my saying that all my averages for my prep material I used were significantly lower than my actual scores on test day.  Yes, the real thing was for the most part MUCH simpler/conceptual/broad/straight-forward than my difficult prep material I used that kicked my butt.  That being said, my scores I received would simply have not have been possible without God right there beside me, giving me peace of mind, recall of all my studies, and confidence to do better than I ever thought possible.  Also, I had an incredible support system all around me of my amazing family, friends, fellow pre-dental classmates, and mentors – all lifting me up in prayer on Thursday.

Taking the test and finding out my results was one of the most surreal and out-of-body experiences.  It didn’t even really hit me until I got back in my car to leave the testing center, and looked at the printout one more time before commencing to text everyone in my life that was rooting for me (and they all went above and beyond to support, encourage, and celebrate with me).  It was actually MY name and information at the top.  These were MY results that would be sent across the country to dental schools of all caliber.  “Prestigious” and out-of-state schools that were once some far-off unrealistic option now seemed completely tangible.  My first thought that entered my mind after the initial praising God for ALWAYS being so faithful to keep His promises to me and proving to me that He really has called me to be a dentist was “I can get into any school of my dreams.” I really, really don’t at all want to come across as arrogant as I write this, but being completely honest, this statement is pretty accurate.  Given the unbelievable percentiles that I saw on that little unassuming sheet of paper, I felt as if an entirely new world was at my fingertips.  The Lord knew my heart and my desires to dream big and shoot for a chance to get accepted into some competitive schools that I have been researching as possible options if I decide not to stay in Texas forever.

I could write for days about my feelings about all this right now, but I just wanted to write a quick snapshot of how all this unfolded.  Thanks to everyone in my life that has believed in my success and has covered me with genuine love and support.  Here’s to an incredible next two years of college that I anticipate to be a LOT less stressful after this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  I can’t wait to see where all this will take me in my journey and how God will use me as a dental professional!

You open horizons in my life
Of limitless
And cloudless hope

You defy the gravity in me
And give wings to
My flightlessness

Christ has set me free
From negativity
From impossibility

Christ has set me free
All hope has been released
O Christ has set me free

(from Rend Collective Experiment’s “Christ Has Set Me Free”)

Oh, and I love how I posted that Habakkuk verse on my post a few days ago, and it could not be more perfect for summing this all up.

Rejoice in the Suffering (An opportunity, not an obligation)

I want to start off by explaining the lack of blogging for almost two weeks.  In the past I’ve tried to post a couple times a week at least, and I really hate not keeping my new little project consistent and fresh.  I promise I’ll make an effort to catch up a little this week now that I’ve had time to take a breath and re-focus.
Let’s just say I’ve experienced a recent turn of events that made me drastically rearrange my priorities for the moment.  Long story short (and I mean long), I’m now scheduled to take the DAT (Dental Admission Test) August 29th after originally planning on waiting until either January or June to ensure I’d have a free month of no other obligations before the test to devote to all-out studying. However, as usual, God sent me a wake-up call that I’m not in control of every last detail of my life despite my excessive planning and striving to stay on top of all my deadlines and schedules.  His sense of humor is something else because I had explained to a few people that my summer was seeming a bit on the boring side.  I know this is all in His time and not mine, so I’m turning it over to Him and trusting in His crazy awesome (even if sometimes overwhelming) plan for my life.  August turned out to be the only (semi) realistic time I could try to take it because I knew with a full load of upper-level classes, a new demanding job, and an ASDA officer position I could not manage to make time to study during the fall semester for a test that covers three years of undergrad science material.  I’m still taking six hours of summer school starting Wednesday, so finding several hours a day to study for the DAT on top of that for about two months will be a challenge, but I’m more than ready to get this ball rolling as the first step of a long process to get into my choice of dental school (which is just another first step of an even longer process).  This picture pretty much explains my life right now.
IMG_3910 I’ll be sure to update how my studying is going as I trudge through all this massive amount of information and share what God is doing in my life in this time of fully relying on Him for my strength and perseverance.  When I grow weary from writing organic chemistry reactions, memorizing every step of embryonic development, or when I find myself discouraged thinking of how much emphasis this test has on my future, here are some of the verses that always refresh my point of view:
1 Corinthians 15:58
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always ABOUNDING in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Romans 5:3-5
“More than that, we REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Psalm 142:3a
“When my spirit faints within me, You know my way!”
Colossians 1:11
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all ENDURANCE and PATIENCE with JOY.”
Galatians 6:9
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will REAP, if we do not give up.”
Psalm 20:4
“May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.”
Romans 8:28 (AMP)
“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.”

P.S. Portobello burger recipe will be going up tomorrow, so don’t worry – I’ll still make time to eat good and share!

Oral Surgery Shadowing

What could be a better way to spend my summer Friday mornings than breaking out my scrubs and watching bone grafts, complicated extractions, dental implant surgeries, and sinus lifts? I have had the opportunity to shadow a local oral and maxillofacial surgeon the past few weeks, and I have really enjoyed the experience. I know I want to go to dental school, but there are so many options to pursue other than general dentistry, and this has really influenced me to think more about specializing in surgery.

Even though I’m only observing and not technically qualified to do too much beyond that other than fetching supplies or opening packages of instruments for him, I am never bored. The procedures are so interesting, involved, and a nice change of pace from the countless fillings I’ve seen general dentists do during many hours of shadowing.  I’ve been impressed at the office’s efficiency of performing so many types of surgeries in one morning along with consults and follow-ups but still always caring and talking to patients and their families before and after.

I’ve never been bothered much by bloody or graphic medical situations (after all, I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy for years and first thought of going into neuro or cardiac surgery), but I still had a slight concern of how I would react in person to my first real time of seeing that much gum cutting, tooth yanking, or bone sculpting and drilling up close.  It didn’t phase me one bit.  Watching the precision and certainty of the surgeon and how he quickly adapts to any surprises is awesome. He seems so relaxed but focused at the same time.  With my own determined, decision-making, adrenaline-loving, and confident personality lining up with several of the qualities needed for this career, I really could picture myself doing this one day.

Another good thing is that the doc is such a nice, laid-back, and genuinely encouraging guy to me that I can completely be myself around him and his staff and not be afraid to ask any kind of question or even discuss our lives outside of dentistry.  It’s nice to not have to be so stuffy and formal in this situation, but to even feel comfortable asking him about the realities of residency, debt and salary, why more women don’t choose surgery, and what it truly takes to get into programs (normally being in about the top 5-10% of your dental school class).  I even talked to him about this food blog and trying the Insanity workout (he later informed me he did in fact order it).  He highly encourages me to come back whenever I can to continue to learn more about the field and gain even more experience.

Being able to impact people’s lives for the better by calming dental anxieties, building up bone and providing teeth where  missing, playing a pivotal role in complicated orthodontic work, safely removing wisdom or infected teeth, or even identifying oral cancer at the earliest stage are all things I’ve witnessed in just two days of spending time in the office.  I look forward to going back for a few days in July and continuing to search out everything I can about this as a possible route for my future if it’s where God leads me.

So Why Dentistry?

I thought I’d take a break from my usual food-related post and talk a little bit about my academic ambitions and why I’m actually going to school.  As much as I love food, cooking, fitness and nutrition, these are simply my hobbies.  People often ask me why I don’t just become a chef and open up a restaurant or something along those lines.  My answer is that I believe God has called me to use my unique talents, strengths, and aptitudes for something different that will impact peoples’ lives in a powerful way.

I’ve always pushed myself in my studies ever since I stepped foot in a classroom.  School is my thing.  I’ll admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but I strive to harness that competitive energy by letting it fuel my passion for excellence.  God has guided me every step of my journey and opened so many doors for me in terms of my educational opportunities and academic success.  Since about the time I started high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field so I would always be challenged to use my problem-solving skills, work with my hands, help people live healthier lives, and show God’s love by being His hands and feet.  Science had always intrigued me and been one of my best subjects, and I knew I had the determination that it would take to reach my goals.

At first I thought about the field of surgical medicine.  The constant excitement and thrill it would provide as well as the immeasurable reward of knowing I had saved a life sounded awesome to me.  After a lot of time to think and pray about it, though, I decided it wasn’t the route for me.  I knew I did not want to be a slave to my career with no time to spend with my future family or for vacations and travel.  God had made it so obvious in my mind what I should do with my life.

My personal experience with dentistry started when I found out at a very young age that I had two missing adult teeth (very near the front of course).  It was a genetic condition, and my sister had had the exact same thing.  I’d never known how important a “normal” and beautiful smile is until I realized that I would not have the luxury of seeing every baby tooth lost predictably replaced by nice permanent teeth.  As a girl, of course I can’t help but place emphasis on the way I feel when I look in a mirror, so I was pretty devastated.

Long story short, I went to the orthodontist for several years, and we patiently waited for me to lose all my baby teeth and finally I had to get the last pesky seven pulled so the process of braces could get rolling (by this time most of my friends had already been in or finished their orthodontic work).  To replace my missing teeth, I eventually had dental implants a.k.a. metal screws that act as man-made roots in my jawbone to anchor permanent crowns after some bone grafting (cool story – I had a small amount of “bovine” bone mixed with synthetic and my own bone from another part of my jaw put in).   After years of gaps, closed lip smiling, temporary plastic teeth held in place with braces brackets, and that one time I accidentally swallowed my temporary during marching band practice (yep, not kidding), I finally had a complete and gorgeous row of pearly whites that I couldn’t help but show off.  I’ve always been a confident girl, but the dental work of my dentist, orthodontist, and oral surgeon gave me a newfound freedom to fully be my expressive self and not be embarrassed of my teeth.  I am passionate about the chance to give other people that same feeling and life changing experience through a career as a dentist or possibly an oral surgeon.

Everything started to just click and come together that this is what I was supposed to do.  I’ve always been pretty split down the middle with a scientific and analytical mind but also have a creative and artistic side, so dentistry is a perfect fit: the gratification of seeing work finished, getting to interact with different people every day, using my motor skills and attention to detail, and diagnosing and preventing future problems all are important aspects of the career.  I also love to relate dentistry to cooking in the fact that it’s equal parts science and art.

I am beyond excited but of course a little nervous for what my future holds, and I know it will not be easy by any means. What I do know is that God has an incredible plan for me and will use my career to impact people for His kingdom.  This next year of undergrad will be the busiest yet with maintaining my GPA with upper-level classes, studying for the DAT next spring, serving on the officer team of ASDA (pre-dent organization), starting a new job as a Biology supplemental instructor, and working on dental school applications.  In the meantime, I will try to occasionally update and post about my journey to dental school to share my successes, trials, and advice along the way.

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