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Fall 2019 Newsletter: A Personal Story — Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Every time I tell the story about my path from Dentistry to Oral Medicine and from Venezuela to the United States, I get a little amused. It has been such a convoluted path that it is almost comical. At this point in my career, I have been in three countries, five cities and five different academic institutions, each of them with their own triumphs and challenges that left a mark on me. Like many of you, my passion for oral medicine started early in my career. Actually, for me, making the decision to become an oral medicine specialist was easy…the path, not that easy.  Although I came from Venezuela and Colombia with strong training in oral medicine and oral surgery, nothing really took off until I moved to the U.S. In fact, this story should be titled “From learning English to becoming a board-certified oral medicine specialist.” In my story, I hope to convey the passion, experiences, and opportunities that soon followed.

The first opportunity I had to work in the United States, was as an “international fellow” at New York University. I still remember the days when I was in a state of constant panic because I could not communicate fluently in English. I made so many language mistakes, but I believe those were always forgiven because of my good intentions and desire to learn. I also remember being at the elevator and seeing the name tags of other people and thinking “Oh my God, this is the one who writes the books.” All those experiences helped me to realize that I was in the right place, and I knew it would not be easy but it was possible to become what I always wanted to become.

The fact that I was, significantly, exposed was an eye-opening experience that motivated me to pursue my formal training in oral medicine in the United States. Shortly after, I was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania where I completed my residency. There, my knowledge in the field and my professional connections expanded exponentially. I am now a new Diplomate of the American Board of Oral Medicine, and I am “living the dream” of being an oral medicine faculty member at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. It has been a gratifying constant learning experience where I am finally on the other side sharing my knowledge and expertise.

Many people have helped and mentored me along the way. It seems to me that every time I have a new professional opportunity, someone is there waiting for me to stimulate my mind, to teach me, and to mentor me. That is what I appreciate the most about our noble profession and the people of this amazing organization: their genuine and unselfish willingness to help you reach your potential.

It did not take long for life to teach me a lesson. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to help a friend navigate the path into the world of oral medicine. On her graduation day, she sent me a text message expressing her gratitude and telling me that I was her professional role model. I was extremely proud of her and honored, but honestly, I had never imagined myself as a professional role model for anyone. After some reflection, I was able to appreciate her feelings and it reminded me of how life is a cycle and how our actions influence others’ lives.

I am sure that we all have had interesting paths in our careers, but I hope my personal story may inspire other new, young or international students, dentists or residents to pursue their professional dreams. In addition, I hope this story serves as a big “Thank You Note” for all of the people that are part of the AAOM and have had an impact on me.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton. 

David Ojeda Díaz, DDS