The next generation of dental professionals at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine (CU SDM) receive more than an education; they are molded into leaders, ultimately shaping the future of the medical field.
Created through trials, efforts and persistence, leaders in dentistry share many common qualities, including:
- Effective communication,
- Willingness to take risks,
- The ability to inspire and lead others,
- Commitment to self-improvement, and
Taking into account students’ life experiences, rigorous academics and clinical workloads, the SDM has helped prepare them for the future.
These are the memoirs of five graduates from the DDS Class of 2023.
Patrick Mugabe, DDS ’23
Leadership quality: Effective communication
Hometown: Kigali, Rwanda
Plans after graduation: Mugabe was accepted to endodontics residency at The Ohio State University.
“Folded hands don’t get fed. No one will advocate for you better than you.”
On top of dealing with a rigorous curriculum during his second year of dental school, Mugabe had to face an even bigger challenge: brain surgery. He learned a lot about himself and his limits through this experience. Feeling tired and isolated, he wanted to give up. Instead, he learned how to advocate for himself. He also proved to himself that he could be resilient.
Five days after having brain surgery, Mugabe was back in class. “This was around the time when we got to see our first patient, and I didn’t want to miss that opportunity,” he explained. With the help of his supportive friends, and Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Admissions Eric Mediavilla, DDS '00, he was able to get back into the swing of things.
Mugabe said, “I owe it all to God, my family, my beautiful, kind fiancé Marjan, and my friends for always pushing me to be the best version of myself and reach higher potential. There are endless people that I thank for this journey, but the bottom line is that it takes a strong community to propel a young immigrant from Rwanda with dreams to make his family proud and the sacrifices worth it.”
Mark Fiorello, DDS ’23
Leadership quality: Willingness to take risks
Hometown: Staten Island, New York
Plans after graduation: Fiorello was accepted to general practice residency in Staten Island, New York.
“Sometimes when we don’t want to do it for ourselves, we have to do it for others.”
Before deciding to pursue dentistry, Fiorello started a non-profit clothing line, Still Breathing Inc., to support mental health and suicide prevention resources. It gave him purpose and perspective when things got tough. What kept him going, through every risk or setback, was his mission to serve people.
That desire to give back and help others is the reason Fiorello chose dentistry and ultimately enrolled at the SDM. He faced his apprehension and mustered up the courage to relocate to Colorado on his own, leaving his support system behind. He said, “Solitude forces you to pay attention to yourself and learn on a deeper level who you are.”
When asked what advice he would give his younger self, Fiorello answered: “Continue to be yourself and continue to put good into this world. Not everyone will like you and not everyone will support you, but that's because not everyone will take the time to understand you. There's nothing wrong with that.”
Stephanie Wakefield, DDS ’23
Leadership quality: The ability to inspire and lead others
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Plans after graduation: Wakefield will return to the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex area to start her new position at a cosmetic dental practice.
"Dental school was not just my personal achievement; it was a testament to the love, guidance and unwavering support I received from those closest to me. I will forever cherish their impact on my journey and carry their lessons of resilience and support into my professional life.”
Wakefield is no stranger to having heroes in her life that inspired her to pave the way. Her mother is an example of relentless perseverance. “She never made excuses or adopted a victim mentality, even when she was faced with overwhelming challenges,” said Wakefield. “Her unwavering determination served as a source of strength and resilience.”
One significant challenge Wakefield faced during dental school was learning to embrace failure and see it as an opportunity for growth. As she encountered challenging cases and faced setbacks, she gradually realized that failure was an inevitable part of the learning process. Instead of allowing it to discourage her, she began to view it as a steppingstone towards improvement.
She sought feedback from her professors and mentors, analyzed mistakes and actively worked on areas that needed improvement. This shift in her mindset not only allowed her to develop resilience but also helped her become a better dental professional. By acknowledging and learning from failures, she gained valuable insights and honed her clinical skills. This experience taught her the importance of humility and the need to continuously strive for growth and development throughout her dental career.
Patrick Murphy, DDS ’23
Leadership quality: Commitment to self-improvement
Hometown: Benson, Minnesota
Plans after graduation: Murphy is starting a four-year oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMFS) residency through the United States Navy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
“I am a firm believer that self-doubt is never eliminated, but it should be used as a tool to remember where you've been, where you're going, and to always pursue excellence."
When he failed his cavity preparation on his operative course midterm practical, it was a pivotal moment for Murphy. He sought the advice of friends and family in the dental profession, asking how to improve. Their advice varied, but a common theme stood out: "Just keep practicing and stick with it." In other words, hand skills, dental school, OMFS residency and life in general, all require grit. Instead of letting a poor outcome on his first practical exam deter him, Murphy improved his hand skills with practice, grit and determination. It is with this same persistence that he pursued opportunities outside of dental school to gain more exposure to the OMFS field, helping guide him to where he is today.
“Being accepted into OMFS residency is a humbling experience and it’s a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead,” he said.
Murphy believes that there is always something to learn when it comes to dentistry. One reason why he loves dentistry and oral surgery is that it is a profession that encourages – and requires – lifelong learning. He also feels it is important to diversify his knowledge and pursue hobbies. He enjoys reading about financial planning and real estate.
Murphy looks forward to his residency and serving our country.
Thi Le, DDS '23
Leadership quality: Determination
Hometown: Nui Thanh, Vietnam
Plans after graduation: Le has accepted an associate position at a dental practice in Austin, Texas.
"I thank myself, for listening to my own feelings, to push myself through the struggles, and to award myself for the victories."
Le traveled 8,048 miles from Nui Thanh, Vietnam, to Denver, Colorado. Her family immigrated to America with few possessions, but the hope for better opportunities carried them through the journey.
“My family has always been there from the start, supporting me unconditionally,” said Le. “My experience with dentistry growing up was not positive, but I was curious nonetheless because the technology and techniques used at the first dental office I went to after moving here were just so different from what I saw in Vietnam.”
Le challenged herself to face dental school with no expectations and to be flexible. She quickly learned that leaning on her community is how she was going to get through it. Only those who go through the same struggles and victories would understand the journey.
Her determination got Le through the tough COVID-19 pandemic. She recalls the late-night practice hours and having to adapt to the new normal. She and her classmates had to be six feet apart from each other, but they got through it together by remembering to laugh through hard times.
When one of Le’s mentors reassured her of her readiness to be a real-world dentist it gave her the confidence to push forward. "I am capable of learning and adapting quickly,” said Le. “However, I don’t believe self-doubt will ever go away completely. A little bit of self-doubt can be a good source of motivation.”
Congratulations to the CU Dental Class of 2023! We are excited to see your journeys unfold.