Role Model in the Making

Mentorship helped Dr. Kristen Dupuis discover the dental profession and is inspiring her to be a role model for others

By Emily Leighton, MA’13

Dupuis KristenJoy. Relief. Sadness. A sense of responsibility. Mixed emotions accompanied Dr. Kristen Dupuis, DDS’14, across Western’s Alumni Hall stage in 2014 to receive her lilac hood.

“It was an emotional day for me,” she explained. “Graduation not only meant ‘thank goodness my hard work has paid off,’ but even more so, it made me feel worthy of the ‘big shoes’ my little brother had been placing me in for years.”

Having helped raise her now 17-year-old brother, Jordan, the determination to be a good role model for him served as motivation throughout four years of dental training. For Dr. Dupuis, graduating from dental school was validation of her hard work and effort.

“When I moved away to attend dental school, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done,” she said quietly. “I worried about leaving my family, but tried my best to be there for them. And of course, they were with me, cheering me on and helping me in any way they could.”

Dr. Dupuis is immensely proud of her younger brother, who aspires to be her business partner one day.

Growing up in North Bay, Ontario, Dr. Dupuis didn’t always have dentistry in her sights. “My path in education was anything but straightforward,” she said.

Initially she wanted to pursue nursing, and began her postsecondary studies in a college program. Realizing a career in nursing wasn’t for her, Dr. Dupuis returned to high school for a year to obtain the necessary prerequisites for university.

She completed an undergraduate degree in biology at Nipissing University in North Bay. During her studies, she worked in the genetics and molecular biology lab looking at fruit fly populations.

Research interested her, but she wanted to explore other career options that offered variety and flexibility. As part of this search, she shadowed fellow Schulich Medicine & Dentistry alumna Dr. Karen Morris, DDS’93, at her private practice in North Bay.

“I found I really enjoyed the environment,” said Dr. Dupuis. “And working with Dr. Morris, a dentist, a business owner, a woman and a mother, really gave me insight into what my own future could look like.”

At Schulich Dentistry, Dr. Dupuis found a second family. “My classmates kept me going,” she said. “At the stressful times when I was getting little to no sleep, it was their friendly faces in class and the clinic that made a big difference.”

She also remembers faculty members giving extra time to students, providing observership opportunities in their private clinics and including students in advanced procedures and surgeries. “Professors would go an extra mile to offer us opportunities to learn beyond the standard clinical practice,” she said. “I got to know them better and gain that extra experience – it was an important part of my education.”

The 31-year-old is now practising on Canada’s west coast as a generalist at dental practices in Vancouver and White Rock. She also recently started working at a Chilliwack practice part-time, joining former Schulich Dentistry classmate Dr. Igor Nazirov, DDS’14.

She is currently focused on enhancing her clinical skills, but does see a role for oral health advocacy in her future. “Our responsibilities as dentists should involve more than just treating our patient’s teeth,” she said. “There’s a bigger picture. I see the need for more patient education and awareness when it comes to the link between oral health and systemic health.”

With her partner pursuing specialty dental training at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Dupuis says the future is still up in the air, but being closer to family is a priority. She expects the two will settle in Alberta or Ontario.

For now, she is expanding her own skill set under the guidance of her boss in White Rock, Dr. Alisa Lange – another female mentor in the field.

“She cares about the well-being of her patients and that comes out in her practice style,” said Dr. Dupuis. “It’s been a great experience learning from her so far.”

With mentorship framing her own experiences, Dr. Dupuis advises dentistry students and new graduates to seek out role models who exemplify professional values like compassion, integrity and knowledge.

“Finding a good mentor can make all the difference,” she said. “When we graduate from dental school, we don’t know it all. We get into the real world and realize the field changes so quickly and there’s always going to be something new to learn.”

And while Dr. Dupuis remains humble as a young professional with her career ahead of her, she is already a role model to those closest to her.