Shaping futures, one smile at a time: Kate Jacques’ journey to becoming a dentist

By Annamaria Leahey

It started early for the Grade 10 student.

Kate Jacques remembers sitting in the dentist’s chair and asking questions about the procedures. She’d heard the stories of people who feared coming to the dentist, but also ones whose lives had been significantly improved with oral health treatments.

All of this sparked an interest in becoming a dentist.

As step one, Jacques started off as a dental assistant – a perspective that gave her a deep understanding of the way in which she wants to develop her dental practice. With that experience as a solid foundation, she entered Schulich Dentistry four years ago.

And today, she graduates from Schulich’s Doctor of Dental Surgery program.

Now, Jacques hopes to help make dental care more accessible to vulnerable populations across Canada. Through her time at Schulich Dentistry, she has recognized that most oral health conditions can be prevented through proper education and more accessible resources.

The next step of her journey is in Seattle, Washington where she will be starting a General Practice Residency program at the University of Washington. Jacques shares more of her experience at Schulich in this Q&A.

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What inspired you to pursue a career in dentistry, and how has your experience at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry helped you achieve your goals?

Since Grade 10, I have known that I wanted to become a dentist. A family member of mine struggled with dental phobia and another underwent multiple jaw surgeries. I also had a friend who would often talk about his dad, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and the procedures he was doing.

Together, these experiences sparked my interest in the dental field. At dental appointments, I found myself asking more questions and paying more attention. During shadowing experiences, I felt incredibly moved and excited to witness how impactful dentistry could be on so many patients’ lives, including my own family members. I knew then that dentistry was the career path for me.

What was the highlight of your experience at Schulich Dentistry?

The highlight of my dental school experience was being able to work in the main clinic with my clinic partner Alexia Marcil. With time we became good friends and together we learned what it really meant to become a dentist.

The relationships I made with fellow students, and now colleagues, during my time at Schulich, are invaluable. We went through so much together; the pandemic, injecting each other on friendship day, treating our first patients, and countless hours in simulation clinic, lab, and study sessions. It’s incredible to see how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve supported each other throughout the past four years.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in medicine?

Dentistry is so much more than drilling and filling. Explore as many aspects of it as you can! There are so many specialties, procedures, and techniques to explore. Find what aspects you love and try to incorporate that into your academic pursuits and career.

What are your future career plans, and how do you hope to make a positive impact in your field? What's next?

Seattle is the next chapter for me! I will be starting a General Practice Residency program at the University of Washington this summer. My hope is that this will allow me to treat more medically complex patients, incorporate more surgical treatment modalities in my practice, and gain sedation experience.

Throughout dental school, I have taken on many leadership roles from Class President to becoming the Doctor of Dental Surgery President. It is my hope that I can continue to make a positive impact on the profession by continuing in leadership roles throughout my career and advocating for systemic changes and patient needs.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time here?

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable” – dental school is full of challenges and new experiences. You need to be comfortable pushing yourself and be confident in your abilities.

Can you tell us more about your journey from being a dental assistant to becoming a dentist?

After my undergraduate degree, I took a year to study for the Dental Aptitude Test, get more dental experience, apply to dental school, and travel. I was fortunate to find a dentist during this time that was willing to train me as an assistant, even though I had no formal education in that field. My time spent working as an assistant reinforced my love of dentistry. This allowed me to gain a new perspective on the dental team and provided me with great experiences and learning opportunities.

Throughout dental school, I’ve found that my assisting experience not only helped better prepare me for clinical procedures but also for patient communication. I am hopeful the perspective I gained during my assisting experience will help me build a strong dental team in my future practice. 

As you prepare to graduate from dentistry, can you share any insights you have gained from your studies that you think are particularly relevant to the field of dentistry today?

Throughout my time at Schulich Dentistry, there has always been an emphasis on improving access to dental care for vulnerable populations. We have studied and discussed many barriers and inequities in the field of dentistry. This is a common topic of discussion in the dental field today, as we now know most oral health conditions are preventable with proper education and access to care. There are many groups working to find a solution to this global issue.

Students at Schulich Dentistry have had many first-hand experiences in treating some of the local vulnerable populations through opportunities in our clinics and several outreach programs. This past year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Schulich to announce Part One of the Canadian Dental Benefits Plan – a program aimed at this very issue.

I am graduating with the understanding that it is our responsibility as dentists to continue to find solutions to make our services available to everyone in need.