Abby Marshall, DMD24, Knows the Value of a Smile

August 19, 2020
Abigail Marshall, DMD24, poses in her White Coat.

Abigail Marshall, a graduate of Miami University of Ohio, comes to HSDM from Sunbury, Ohio. After growing up in a small farming town of just 5,000 residents, Marshall is excited to move to Boston in January and start exploring local sights, sounds, and cuisines. During her undergraduate studies, Marshall majored in biology and premedical studies with a minor in disability studies. She was also a Division I athlete, competing on the Women’s Varsity Field Hockey team, where she won three conference championships and made an appearance in the NCAA tournament. She is passionate about physical fitness and enjoys running, weight lifting, and hiking, among other sports.

Abby Marshall, DMD24, wearing a Harvard t-shirtWhy did you choose Harvard School of Dental Medicine?

I ultimately chose HSDM because of the focus on systemic health education. I believe that in order to be the best oral healthcare provider that I can, I need to have a strong foundational understanding of systematic health. Through my time shadowing in dental clinics, I have come to understand just how integrated oral health and overall health are; because of their interdependence, I know that a program that treats dentistry as a specialty of medicine will mold me into a better overall healthcare provider.

Another thing that influenced my decision was my younger brother. He has been my best friend through every stage of my life, and it just so happens that he is a disabled person who sometimes struggles with what most people would consider ordinary tasks. Having witnessed my brother’s experiences with dentistry, I am passionate about providing robust care for disabled patients. These patients are oftentimes more medically complex cases; as such, I need to have the best understanding I possibly can about systemic health in order to properly provide oral healthcare to patients in more precarious medical positions.

Finally, my participation in research was very influential during my college years and left me with an insatiable thirst to learn more about medicine and the world in general. HSDM has a tradition of giving its students opportunities to tangibly participate in research and present their findings.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, your first semester will be held virtually. What does it feel like to embark on the next phase of your educational journey amid a global pandemic?

These are truly unprecedented times. Although I’m disappointed to not be joining my fellow DMD cohort in Boston this semester, I recognize that unexpected changes can often be for the better and I am excited to see how my professors pivot to provide the classic Harvard education through a virtual format. Considering how quickly technology is evolving and affecting both consumer behavior and the instruments used in the medical field, I hope that starting off online will help me to become more familiar with tools I might use throughout my career and help me to create proficiencies I never expected I would need prior to this experience.

Abby Marshall, DMD24, in her field hockey uniform from playing Division I college Field Hockey at Miami University in OhioWhat are your goals for your career in dentistry?

I really want to be open to the possibility of entering any field of dentistry; therefore, I cannot envision narrowing my focus on any one specialty at this moment. I love working with children, so entering pediatric dentistry program after HSDM is an avenue that I hope to learn more about. My greatest motivation is to provide care to underserved populations, including people with disabilities as well as the uninsured and underinsured. My time spent on a dental mission trip, as well as my experiences with my brother, have taught me that there are many people that face challenges with obtaining care that the majority of the population cannot begin to understand. These are vulnerable populations that are yearning for help and I intend to focus on being a healthcare provider that is accessible to these individuals after graduation. Regardless of the specialty of dentistry that I focus on, I will strive to make a tangible impact in that field in terms of access to care for all.

How did you become interested in pursuing a career in dentistry?

As a child, I loved every trip to the dentist. I loved getting to pick out a toy at the end of each visit and I was bursting with pride when the dentist told me that he could tell that I was brushing my teeth every night. This positive experience did not, however, translate to my younger brother. As a disabled person, he was overwhelmed with the piercing sound of the drill and the bright light that would shine directly down on his face while being treated. This made a simple trip to the dentist an overwhelmingly negative experience for him. As a child, I remember watching this typically gentle boy kicking and screaming as my mom struggled to hold him still in the dental chair. As he grew older, his fear became more paralyzing with each trip until, at the age of 13, it was no longer possible for my mother to convince him to go. His oral health has deteriorated since then and at 15, he became so embarrassed with the state of his teeth that he just stopped smiling. He has been unable to smile for a photo or outside the comfort of our home in over five years.

Watching his warm and energetic smile slowly fade from this world was devastating for me to watch and I knew deep in my heart that I could do something to change it. I became more and more interested in dentistry and wanted to explore the field more, so I spent my sophomore summer shadowing Dr. Monica Swope at her general dentistry practice. I fell in love with the ability to transform someone’s appearance with my hands. I learned how to build friendships with patients while helping them to feel healthier and more confident in their own skin. Here, I witnessed a woman reduced to tears when she saw her new smile with a bridge. This woman helped me to understand the distress someone can feel if their internal beauty is not reflected in their external appearance. I realized how important your teeth are in helping others to see you the way you wish to be seen; at that moment, I became deeply aware of the pain that my brother had been feeling. This motivated me to give everyone the smile they deserve. My mission in becoming a dentist is to bring my brother’s smile, and those of thousands of people just like him, back into the world again.

Abby Marshall, DMD24, out hiking in the woods.Share a fun fact about yourself with the HSDM community.

I grew up on a goat farm in a small town in Ohio. If you ever need to know an amazing recipe for goat milk fudge or goat milk soap, I am your girl!

What advice would you give to someone who is applying to dental school, or considering applying to dental school?

Be completely genuine and true to yourself. Do not feel like you are competing against applicants, as it will only take away from your own personal experience. Instead, enjoy your time at each school and understand that every one of the other students at your interview could be your future classmates. I met many of my classmates at different interviews and became friends with them before we even knew what schools we would be attending!

See also: Community, Students