Nature and nurture lead grad to dentistry

Photograph of Amr Alsabbagh
By Emily Leighton, MA’13

For Amr Alsabbagh, the Allyn & Betty Taylor Library at Western holds special significance. A popular study spot among students, he spent many hours there working alongside two rather unconventional study buddies – his parents.

“Not many students can say they’ve studied with their parents on campus,” he said with a laugh.

As alumni of the School’s Internationally Trained Dentists (ITD) program, Alsabbagh says his parents, Drs. Sharif Alsabbagh, DDS’13, and Nuha Baalbaki, DDS’14, continue to inspire and guide him. This month, he graduates from the School as a member of the Dentistry Class of 2020, joining them and more than 25,000 alumni around the world.

Photograph of Amr Alsabbagh with his parents at White Coat ceremony“Schulich Dentistry has had a strong presence in my life and our family,” he said. “Seeing my parents go through the ITD program, it was a huge motivation for me to also pursue dentistry.”

Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Alsabbagh moved to Canada with his family at the beginning of high school. His parents wanted the best educational opportunities for their three sons, putting successful careers as oral surgeons on hold to ensure that would happen.

As a child, Alshabbagh spent hours in dental and oral surgery clinics, watching his parents work and interacting with staff members. His enthusiasm for the profession continued to grow as he completed high school and the Bachelor of Medical Sciences program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

“I think it was nature and nurture that brought me to dentistry” he said.

From the outset of his dental education, Alsabbagh was involved in student leadership activities. He served as Secretary and VP Administration for the University of Western Ontario Dental Student Society (UWODSS). He also worked with the Federation of Canadian Dentistry Student Associations, helping plan and organize the inaugural Canadian Dental Student Conference in 2018 as Schulich Dentistry’s student representative.

During the summers after his first and second years, Alsabbagh also participated in two research projects, looking at biomarkers associated with carcinomas of the tongue and surrogate markers for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). His work with Dr. Christina McCord on diagnosing HPV-associated oral epithelial dysplasia was recently published in Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology and Oral Radiology.

“For me, research is part of being a well-rounded professional,” he said. “It inspires critical thinking and creativity, and it’s imperative to understanding and practising evidence-based dentistry.”

One of Alsabbagh’s favourite annual events at the School was the Meds vs. Dents charity soccer match. As a Co-Chair of Oral Health, Total Health at the School, which receives some of the money raised, he helped plan the event and played for dentistry’s team. “It’s a really fun, spirited event, and I’m happy to have been part of dentistry’s redemption win in my third year,” he said with a grin.

Photogrpah of Amr and the soccer teamWith a high level of involvement during his time at the School, Alsabbagh was recognized with several academic awards, including the Sunstar/G.U.M. Award for Clinical Proficiency, the Academy of Operative Dentistry Award, the Elgin Dental Association Award in Oral Surgery and the International College of Dentists Award.

“I’m humble to be formally recognized for my accomplishments,” he said. “My professors and instructors at the School, as well as my parents, worked hard to teach me and instill important values as a future clinician. This really is a reflection of their dedication to guidance and mentorship.”

Alsabbagh moved to Halifax at the end of May to begin an internship in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Dalhousie University. His goal is to pursue a residency in the field. “I enjoy the technical finesse of surgery, the medical training that complements my knowledge base, and the fast-paced environment,” he said. “It will be at least another seven years for me to train, a long road ahead, but I cannot imagine doing anything else.”

Despite an unusual end to his time at the School due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alsabbagh reflects on his experience with gratitude and optimism.

“To my classmates, I’ve learned so much from each of you,” he said. “We’ve laughed and cried together, and you’ve made the past four years so memorable. We’ll maintain these close ties for years to come, and I’m already looking forward to our future class reunions. Thank you for everything.”