When Natalie Wen, DMD22, graduates with her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree this May, a promise between eighth grade friends will be fulfilled.
“My friend’s mom was a dentist and we always said we should become dentists and open our own practice someday,” Wen said. “At an early age I knew that I wanted a career in healthcare.”
While both Wen and her childhood friend, who attends dental school in Wen’s home state of Wisconsin, will become dentists, after graduation the two will take different paths in their careers. Wen looks forward to serving in the U.S. Navy and will go into a General Practice Residency at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, VA.
“I look at it as a unique opportunity. I’ll gain experience treating a different patient population in the Navy, and I’ll have the opportunity to travel to different parts of the country and the world,” she said.
As an undergraduate, Wen was a Spanish major at Washington University in Saint Louis and has always been interested in exploring beyond her midwestern roots and learning about other cultures. She finds treating diverse patients with cultural sensitivity, respect, and thoughtful care is key. “Being there for my patient and establishing rapport is so important to build trust,” she said.
Throughout her four years at HSDM, Wen was an active volunteer in Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s (HSDM) Wampanoag Outreach Program—a program committed to raising oral health awareness and improving access to care for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). She was closely involved in efforts to create a portable dental clinic after the Tribe’s existing clinic on Martha’s Vineyard closed—for this effort she and others in the outreach program were recognized with a Dean’s Community Service award in 2021. Wen wrote about her experience with the Wampanoag Outreach Program in an article for the Massachusetts Dental Society. She was also the recipient of an American Dental Education Association Leadership Institute award for academic excellence in preventive dentistry.
Wen explored many interests while at HSDM, and even found time for kickboxing and lion dancing during the School’s Lunar New Year Festival. Her advice to other dental students is, “Don’t be afraid to try something new. In dental school you should explore many interests then find time to commit to something you enjoy.”
She also gained an appreciation for research and teaching while at HSDM. After her four years in the Navy, she sees future opportunities ahead in academia.
“I see myself being a part-time clinician but also teaching and doing research,” she said.
She credits HSDM’s small size and supportive faculty and classmates for getting her through the challenging moments of dental school during the pandemic.
“Thanks to the supportive atmosphere at HSDM, I stayed grounded. I gained confidence as a clinician and as a person.”