Meet Dr. MJ

We all experience defining moments: a point in life when you're urged to make a pivotal decision or when you experience something that fundamentally changes you. Not only do these moments define us, but they have a transformative effect on our perceptions and behaviors.

My defining moment occurred when I was 14.

I had announced to my mother that I had figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Supportively, she asked what I had decided. I told her, “Mom, I’m going to be a dentist”. She was a bit taken back by this announcement, as no one in our family was in dentistry and no one was even in medicine. In fact, being one of six children, we made a day of it when we all went to the dentist together! She thoughtfully asked “why” I wanted to be a dentist and I replied that I thought it would be a great way to help people. She then gave me the single, best piece of advice I have ever received: “Well, if you are going to go into dentistry, don’t you think you should find out more about it?” I soon found an after-school job working for an orthodontist in my home town and fell in love with the profession.

Two years later, as Junior in high school I had an appointment with my guidance counselor. He asked what I wanted to do once I was done with high school. Not everyone in my town went off to college, unlike today. And, most women just found a job until they could settle down and get married. That wasn’t an option for me as my dad had decided that ALL of his girls were going to go to college. My dad, was ahead of his time.

So, I went to my appointment with my guidance counselor and he asked the all-important question, “What do you want to do after high school?” I quickly responded, “I want to be a dentist”. He looked up from his papers and slowly put his hand on my arm, and said, “No dear, you want to be a hygienist”. I slowly pulled my arm away, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I know the difference between a hygienist and a dentist. I want to be the dentist.” Without hesitation, he looked down at his paperwork, looked back at me and looking me right in the eyes, said “You aren’t smart enough”.

Quite honestly, I remember that event as if it happened yesterday. Right then and there, without hesitation, I decided that no one was ever going to tell me I couldn’t do something. EVER.

I could have chosen to believe him. I could have finished high school and decided that I just wasn’t smart enough. I had plenty of familiarity with that concept: I was never pretty enough; never skinny enough; never dressed the best. You know how it is when your thoughts control you instead of you controlling them. That one choice of being determined to become a dentist instead of listening to some BOZO call me stupid changed the entire trajectory of my life. I did become a dentist, grew a very successful practice from scratch, sold it for more than I expected and am now enjoying my retirement career as a senior dean at TUSDM.

We are not always aware of defining moments until we reflect back upon them. What if I had bought that bag of garbage he was handing me? I never gave up on my dream. EVER. When all of my classmates were done with college, I was still studying. Due to a lack of confidence in myself, I did become a hygienist first and practiced for 15 years. During that time, I married and had a family. I became restless and knew I had to reach for my dream. On my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I entered dental school. I began my professional career as a dentist at 35.

We all have the opportunity and ability to choose the meaning of our defining moments and our responses to them. I’ve learned that experiences are not always what they seem; they may be “life’s” way of guiding you to a better future.