Meet our new DMD students, Natasha and Alisha Nanji, twins in our incoming class. This is part of a series of interviews with members of the Class of 2023.
Tell the HSDM community more about your background.
Alisha: Natasha and I were born and raised in a suburb of Toronto. From a young age, we learned the values of hard work, discipline and the importance of giving back through our parents - our dad is a refugee who fled Uganda with $23, and our mom is an immigrant sponsored by one of her eight sisters from Tanzania.
Natasha: We both attended Cornell University, which provided us the opportunity to take various classes from the humanities to the sciences. I took classes such as fashion history and ice climbing in the Adirondacks!
Alisha: We both love to volunteer; in fact, in high school, we individually accumulated over thousands of hours volunteering at soup kitchens, senior homes, swimming pools and tutoring centers! We also love any outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and canoeing.
Why did you choose Harvard School of Dental Medicine?
Natasha: A major factor that influenced my decision to apply to HSDM was the holistic curriculum encompassing medicine and dentistry. Another important reason that I chose HSDM is its emphasis on collaboration. As a future healthcare provider, I feel that collaboration with fellow dentists, doctors, patients and other healthcare professionals is critical for success in treatment outcomes. HSDM’s flipped classroom style and the small class size demonstrates the importance of collaboration in its program. Finally, I knew that my classmates and world-renowned faculty would continue to inspire me as well as enrich my experience.
Alisha: One of the most amazing things that drew me towards HSDM was the unique opportunity to be integrated with the medical school. HSDM’s emphasis on the oral systemic link creates open-minded leaders in the dental field. I also chose HSDM due to its vast research opportunities and interdisciplinary research between Harvard’s Schools, as this fosters a collaborative environment for translational research. As a future dentist, this curriculum will better equip me to be able to collaborate with individuals from various healthcare fields in order to deliver the highest quality care.
What are you most excited about learning in your first year as a DMD student?
Alisha: I am super excited to meet patients in a hospital-based setting. I look forward to learning how to create positive sustainable change and how to better engage within communities.
Natasha: If I had to pinpoint an exact area of what I am most excited about learning in my first year as a DMD student, I would definitely say being integrated with the medical school. I feel that oral healthcare is directly related to one’s overall health, and being in a classroom with medical and dental students will mold me into a dentist who is able to think critically; this will further enable me to effectively treat patients.
What are you looking forward to experiencing in the city?
Natasha: From spending four years at Cornell in Ithaca, I am beyond excited to be living in the city of Boston. Although Boston will be a contrast from upstate New York, I am looking forward to games at Fenway Park, the duck tour and exploring museums!
Alisha: I am looking forward to the Toronto Maple Leafs beating the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden!
What are your goals for your career in dentistry?
Natasha: In the future, I hope to serve areas that do not have access to oral health care. By breaking down the barriers to oral health care, overall health care can improve. In addition, I wish to increase awareness about the oral systemic link to ensure that individuals from all walks of life understand the connection between oral health and their overall health.
Alisha: To me, dentistry is not just about practicing in a confined office; it is my aim to make outreach a pillar of how I intend to practice dentistry. I hope to provide better access and higher quality oral care to underserved populations both locally and globally. Pursuing dentistry will allow me to blend my passion for science, art and volunteering.
How did you become interested in pursuing a career in dentistry?
Natasha: It was not until I accompanied my father, a dentist, to a nursing home, whereby I found my vocation: dentistry. As I watched him reline a patient's loose-fitting denture and intricately trim the excess material, I realized the immense impact a dentist can have on an individual's wellbeing. Seeing the patient's excitement when the denture fit, I could not help but smile. Although relining a denture initially seemed trivial to me, the patient happily explained that she would be able to eat and talk without pain. Ironically, through this experience outside the clinic, I realized my desire to be inside the clinic. From that day forward, I spent my summers at dental clinics witnessing procedures such as root canals, implants and even full mouth reconstructions. I met individuals from all paths of life in the operatory rooms; I learned that dentists must be able to empathize with patients in order to provide effective treatment.
Alisha: Unfortunately, in sixth grade, I chipped my tooth in gym class. At that moment, I realized how difficult it was to socialize and eat. Ultimately, I realized dentistry's role in creating a profound effect on one's self esteem. Through shadowing dentists and witnessing the relief and sheer joy on patients after they obtained treatment, I saw the ability to improve a patient's quality of life by diagnosing a problem, finding a solution and providing treatment to alleviate pain. Further, I became interested in pursuing a career in dentistry after learning about the oral systemic link and the importance of early detection and prevention of diseases by examining one’s oral health.