Leading by example
By Emily Leighton, MA'13
Jennifer Branch, BMSc’11, Dentistry Class of 2018, has an eye for backpacks – especially the vibrant orange, green and purple ones that her medical student colleagues proudly don in the hallways of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
Branch is hoping to bring these pops of colour to the School’s dental classrooms and clinics. As an executive with the Federation of Canadian Dentistry Student Associations (FCDSA), she is helping initiate a national backpack program for dental students.
“It engages students and brings people together across the country,” she explained. “It’s an exciting way to enter the profession and something to look forward to for new students. It’s seen as a badge of honour.”
Backpacks are just one passion project for Branch in her role with the FCDSA, an organization working to connect Canadian dental students and advocate as a unified student voice for dental education. She is the Regional Councillor for Central Canada (Ontario and Manitoba), representing Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, the University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba.
As a fairly new organization – it was founded three years ago – the work of FCDSA leadership has centred on establishing sound administrative policies. Branch has been a part of creating a mission and vision, as well as mapping out the constitution and executive positions.
“It’s been fantastic to be involved with building something right from the get-go,”she said.
Branch’s interest in this formative process comes as no surprise. She holds a master of business administration (MBA) from Laurier University, a two-year, co-op degree she pursued to sharpen and enhance her business acumen.
With work placements at SC Johnson and Bayer Healthcare, Branch certainly achieved this goal.
“I’ve always been fairly entrepreneurial, but didn’t have complete confidence in my business skills,” she said. “The MBA has also opened doors for me I didn’t know were possibilities as an undergrad.”
The second-year dental student is a proud Western and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry alumna, having completed her bachelor of medical science in 2012.
The opportunity to combine health and business brought her back through the School’s doors. “Dentistry brings my two interests together,” she explained. “I can start my own business, but still be involved in the health-care field.”
Branch chose Schulich Dentistry for the location, small class sizes and the positive energy, something she says immediately stood out to her.
“When I came for the interview, I really liked the feeling that I got from the students – the collegiality and the welcoming atmosphere,” she explained.
Apart from her national leadership role, Branch is also involved with the University of Western Ontario DentalStudent Society (UWODSS). As the Vice President Administration, she organizes Orientation Week for the incoming dental class and manages student volunteer opportunities.
Branch is also active in research, having participated in the Summer Student Research Program. She worked with Dr. Cheryle Séguin looking at whole-body vibration.
Although not directly related to oral health, her summer research experience instilled an appreciation for basic science.
“Research helps keep you relevant,” she explained. “Dentistry is changing all the time; it’s important to be aware of the latest literature and new techniques.”
Be it research, student leadership or colourful backpacks, Branch is dedicated to making a difference in student life and education at the School. It’s the reason she stays motivated and focused, despite the number of commitments on her plate.
“Through my involvement and input, I feel I can have a significant impact on the School,” she said. “What I want to accomplish is to continue to improve dental education for future students and for my peers.”