Bringing a Business Background to Oral Healthcare Solutions

May 25, 2021
Ashiana Jivraj, DMD21, in front of Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School

Ashiana Jivraj, DMD21, jokes that she was born in a dental chair. Her mother worked through most of her pregnancy as a general dentist, and Jivraj spent most of her childhood being shuttled to and from the orthodontist’s office. While it would be easy to assume that for these reasons, Jivraj was destined for a career in dentistry, she actually credits a trip to India during her sophomore year of college with her decision to pursue a career in dentistry.

“I wound up working in a dental clinic and saw the immense challenge that the social determinants of health brought to patients,” she said. “I consistently saw people deciding between whether they would take care of their tooth or put food on the table. It was that systemic challenge that drove me to pursue dentistry with the goal of bettering equitable access to care.”

Ashiana Jivraj, DMD21, gives care to a pediatric patient at annual Give Kids a Smile event.Jivraj’s path pursuing her dental degree has been an unconventional one. She entered the DMD program at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) in August of 2015 as a member of the Class of 2019. Two years into her pre-doctoral education, Jivraj decided to pause her dental education to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School. She found her experience pursuing her MBA only strengthened her commitment to healthcare, and broadened her understanding of the impact that she could have.

“While pursuing my MBA, I discovered my interest in strategic thinking and trying to determine how we solve pain points for our patients and stakeholders,” she shared. “The MBA widened my scope to allow me to understand and explore so many different fields and industries. I was reminded that this mission of increasing access to care was why I came to Harvard and I learned that the private sector could have an incredible impact on this space. Returning to HSDM from the MBA program, I had a renewed outlook about why I wanted to pursue the DMD and what I wanted to learn.”

The option to pursue a dual-degree at Harvard had a tremendous impact on Jivraj’s experience as a student. Like many dental students, Jivraj expected to transition into a career where she would practice dentistry full-time; however, the unique experience of earning both a DMD and an MBA has made Jivraj realize that there are many ways to have a meaningful career in dentistry.

Ashiana Jivraj, DMD21, poses on the front steps of HSDM“The opportunities at Harvard and HSDM have allowed me to find my true passion in determining how do we better create systems for access to care, and have inspired me to invest my time into organizations that are pushing the envelope in healthcare. I think that HSDM, especially, offered me an opportunity to understand how important oral health is, especially in the grander scheme of healthcare. I feel so fortunate to be in a program that has encouraged me to think outside of the box when it comes to solving problems.”

During her time at HSDM, Jivraj has served in a variety of leadership roles that show her commitment not only to her field, but to her classmates. During her first two years as a DMD student, she served as the Class President for the Class of 2019. She has worked as a coordinator for the ACTION clinic, which is
a student-run pediatric dental clinic offered once per month in Cambridge, and has volunteered for HSDM’s annual Give Kids a Smile event. She recently served as the treasurer for HSDM’s American Student Dental Association (ASDA) chapter, and is currently the Vice President of the Class of 2021. Her research has focused on value-based healthcare and she has worked closely with Jane Barrow, MS87, associate dean for the Office of Global and Community Health and executive director of HSDM’s Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine. This work has only reinforced Jivraj’s commitment to exploring creative solutions to balance the social determinants of health and access to care.

“Dean Jane Barrow has been an incredible mentor for me over the last five years. I walked into her office for the first time, perched on a chair and told her I loved global health and I wanted to do something in her department. Five years later, she has helped me nurture my passion for community health, pushed me to understand how the economics of it can overburden the system, and driven me to ask for better from everyone around me,” Jivraj said.

Ashiana Jivraj, DMD21, poses with fellow students in masks during clinical.In just a few weeks, Jivraj and her classmates will celebrate Commencement and Class Day and join the ranks of HSDM alumni. Although her journey to become a dentist included a detour to Harvard Business School, as well as a global pandemic, it was the people that she met along the way that have been the most memorable part of her experience.

“The people that I have met have shaped me into the person I am. There are countless individuals from both of the Classes of 2019 and 2021, as well as the HSDM community at large, that consistently inspire me, and I am so blessed to have as friends and colleagues,” she shared. “I hope that the HSDM Class of 2021 thrives in the opportunities that they will be taking on. I can’t wait to see each of my cohorts run practices, hospitals, organizations, and become the face of policy change moving forward. The Class of 2021 is a spectacular group of people, and I know they will thrive at doing whatever they attempt. I can’t wait to join them on the journey.”