Illustrating a New Chapter: Student-Artist Discovers Her Place in Pediatric Dentistry

May 16, 2022
Headshot of Elizabeth Durham

If it wasn’t for dentistry, Elizabeth Durham, DMD22, probably would have been an illustrator. Growing up in central Massachusetts, she knew from a young age she wanted a career involving art in some way. It wasn’t until her regular checkups with the pediatric dentist where she looked forward to going to the office that she realized she wanted to pursue a career in dentistry.


“I started shadowing there from a young age and was drawn to the ability that a dentist had to transform the day of those in initial discomfort,” Durham said.


Illustration of three teethAs an undergraduate student at Wellesley College, she served as co-president of the Wellesley College Pre-Dental Society and established her role as an Early Education Oral Health Coordinator in the greater Boston area.


When it was time to decide on a dental school, Durham knew Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) was her top choice due to the program’s focus on the intersection of medicine and dentistry. She also enjoyed how welcoming everyone was in the Harvard community.


“Though my first experience at HSDM involved being chased by the geese in Fenway, I felt like I could be at home at the School. I liked the students that I met on interview day, they seemed down to earth and genuinely interested in helping others and changing dentistry for the greater good,” said Durham. “I also had a great group of fellow prospective students interviewing with me, one of whom I’ll be doing residency with next year.”


Illustration of cheeseburger and paper bag with the saying "she wants a cheeseburgah"In dental school, Durham still needed a creative outlet. She kept sketching in her free time and created illustrations of activities she had done throughout the city of Boston. Local businesses, such as BGood and Brooklyn Boulders, noticed her work and soon featured her pieces in their spaces. Eventually she created the Instagram account, ElizaDoodles, showcasing her illustration work to the public and using her art to teach others – especially kids and parents – the importance of dentistry.


“I’m a visual person. In dental school and college, doodling helped me stay focused and conceptualize ideas,” said Durham. “I love artwork that I see in children’s books, I hope to illustrate some one day.”


At HSDM, Durham volunteered at Action for Children and Teens in Oral Health, an organization founded by HSDM faculty and students that serves young patients within the Cambridge Health Alliance. She also became involved in the Harvard Votes Challenge, seeing the connection between what happens at the polls and what happens in healthcare offices around the country.


Student sitting on bench outsideDriven to provide equal access to dental care for all, Durham became invested in a research project on provider and family dynamics in dental offices. She had the opportunity to examine providers attitudes toward mental health screening in pediatric and orthodontic dental offices. She knew then that she wanted to continue studying child psychology and family dynamics after her dental program at HSDM. Finishing her dental degree in May, Durham will continue her education pursuing a residency in pediatric dentistry at the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado.


“I hope to develop my understanding of child psychology and family dynamics so that I am best able to take care of the kids I see and develop compassionate, holistic treatment plans for each case.”


With a new chapter in store, Durham looks forward to continuing to impact the lives of children, their families, and the community through oral healthcare.