“It’s a really supportive environment among the students. Everyone is responsive if you need help and actively engaged in each other’s learning.”
If you had told Erin Meidinger ten years ago that she would one day become a dentist, she probably would have thought you were crazy. Dentistry wasn't even on her radar as she earned her degree in business management with a focus on fashion. After college she worked in the fashion industry as a private clothing consultant, working for a company that tailored custom suits for professionals.
However, after six years of helping people dress for success, Erin was looking for a change. She posted her resume on an association forum in hopes of working in the non-profit sector. Little did she know that doing that would put her on the path to dentistry.
"I got a call from the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Facial Surgery (ABOMS), who were looking for a manager of examination services," recalls Erin. "It was so random and I still don't understand how they thought that was the job for me based on my resume; but looking back I'm so happy they did."
Erin's responsibilities included handling exam logistics and event planning — the latter being what initially drew her to the position. Over time, however, she realized that what kept her engaged were the cases that were covered in the exams. She started seriously considering dentistry as a career. After some thought, she decided to take the leap.
When it came time to choosing a school, Pacific Dugoni was at the top of her list. "The humanistic model appealed to me and so did the fact that it was a three-year program," says Erin. "I felt like I would really grow; that I would have the opportunity to pursue things, not just the opportunities given to me but also the opportunity to create something and make a difference."
Now that she is here, Erin continues to revel in the number of opportunities available to students. She finds that faculty are readily available and excited to help in any way possible and that the environment overall is a supportive one.
"Whether it's exploring a different way of working in the community or working on your career path, there are people in the school that will help you become a successful individual and make your goals a reality," says Erin.
Another passion of Erin's that has only grown since she started at Pacific is her joy in being involved with organized dentistry and community outreach. Back in Illinois, she participated in a Mission of Mercy event run by the America's Dentists Care Foundation and was amazed by the spirit of the event and the volunteers who were trying to turn lives around. Erin had heard that this type of event was spreading to other states. She was pleased to learn that California was planning on holding their first event — CDA Cares, an event hosted by the California Dental Association Foundation and the CDA. She jumped at the chance to be involved and help out.
"I worked with faculty to figure out a way for students to participate," said Erin. "I wanted to involve the Student Community Outreach for Public Education (SCOPE) program because I felt like the mission of SCOPE was aligned with this event."
It is Erin's vision that CDA Cares will grow and have a legacy of Pacific Dugoni involvement, with both students and faculty volunteering. Under her leadership, student participation has increased with 65 students volunteering at the Sacramento 2012 event and 165 in San Jose in 2013.
"I am proud of our school's strong presence at CDA Cares and hope it serves as a model to other dental schools," says Erin. "I also hope practicing dentists get more involved in community oral health, in dental school and beyond."
As for her plans after graduation, Erin plans on spending a few years in the Bay Area and working in a public clinic that sees a lot of families and kids. She would also like to specialize in pediatrics and eventually open her own practice. And she is steadfast in her desire to continue working in the community and in organized dentistry.
"I definitely want to remain involved with organized dentistry because I can't imagine it not being a part of my life," says Erin. "I also want to stay involved with dental foundations, CDA Cares and finding different ways to integrate underserved populations into the care that I'm giving."