Student Spotlight: Ryen Wilson
Ryen Wilson is a Masters’ student in the Oral Health Sciences program, who hopes to become a general dentist and work with queer, trans, and nonbinary survivors of partner abuse. Ryen is graduating in September of 2021.
What drove you to pursue a career in science?
I’m originally from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I went to the University of Virginia and I majored in Theater. I started getting interested in science during my fourth year, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with that. I knew I wanted to act and do something “sciencey” on the side.
I ended up moving to Boston right after I graduated in 2017 and I got a job as an ophthalmic technician at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston (OCB). I thought it was interesting and fun, but I didn’t see myself working towards being an ophthalmologist or an optometrist in the end. I considered nursing, I considered medicine, I considered being a physician assistant…I was all over the place!
Eventually, I left OCB and started working at The Network/La Red. TNLR works with LGBTQ survivors of partner abuse. My role in the organization was the Community Awareness Associate. Essentially, I was responsible for the organizations outreach efforts as well as being the lead trainer for providers and community members on educating about partner abuse within LGBTQ communities. It was a really busy time, but it felt significant and impactful. After starting there, I noticed that a lot of survivors’ needs weren’t being met medically from countless conversations at outreach events, specifically within dentistry. After listening to the experiences of a lot of survivors, I really started to explore and consider dentistry. Being an advocate shaped how I want to be a healthcare provider.
Since moving to Boston, I had started taking prerequisite classes at Salem State. I shadowed a dentist at the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program and thought, “Wow, okay, this is something I find really interesting and could see myself doing.” After that shadowing experience, I really focused on working full-time while also taking the rest of my prerequisites in the evenings part-time. Eventually, my story shaped itself for me. Now, my goal is to specifically work with survivors of partner abuse, survivors who identify under the LGBTQ umbrella, and individuals who have experienced trauma and systemic oppression. That’s 100% my passion and my goal for why I want to be a dentist.
So you were juggling your work at the OCB and later La Red with taking prerequisites and shadowing. How did you manage all that?
I have a great support system of family and friends. It wasn’t easy. First of all, finding someone to shadow isn’t easy. Especially finding someone to shadow who shares similar identities as you. For example, finding Black dentists, finding queer dentists… they’re out there, but they’re harder to find. Less than 4% of practicing dentists are Black. So, one of the biggest hurdles for me was just finding someone to shadow.
Eventually, my story shaped itself for me. Now, my goal is to specifically work with survivors of partner abuse, survivors who identify under the LGBTQ umbrella, and individuals who have experienced trauma and systemic oppression.
Luckily, I met one of my dental mentors early on in my pre-dental journey, his name is Jobren Dingle and he’s a faculty member at BU Dental. Another one of my mentors is a dentist at the Cambridge Health Alliance, his name is Caleb Tam. They have both been extremely monumental mentors to me in this journey and have shown me what being a truly awesome, competent dentist looks like.
Finding time to juggle everything required organization. From this time to this time, I’m working. From this time to this time, I’m in class. From this time to this time, I need to hang out with my dog, go for a walk, play Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart, and just unwind. Since I moved here in 2017, it’s been work eight hours, then school for the rest of the night. Luckily, I’m a full-time student now in OHS. This program has been difficult but more so, invaluable.
How did you choose BU?
I was deciding between a few Master’s programs. Honestly, Boston University’s Oral Health Sciences program was the most dentistry focused and most diverse. At that point, I knew I wanted to be a dentist. I had already talked to Dr. Davies a year prior to applying when I had first heard about the program. I introduced myself to her and shared my goals, toured the med and dental school, and really loved everything about my experience that day. I met a few OHS alumni at the 2019 Impressions Day event that BU Dental’s SNDA hosted. They talked about how great the program was and how it was really beneficial for their success and overall preparation in dental school. Everything was really pointing towards BU for my Master’s, especially since 90% of their graduate’s matriculate to dental school. Also, Dr. Davies is by far one of the best program directors a student could ever ask for. Having her guidance alone is one of the top reasons any pre-dental student should attend the OHS program.
You mentioned that your long-term goal is to work with survivors of partner abuse. How will you go about working in that space?
My goal is to be a general dentist. I think that will give me the most variety in terms of what I can do and who I can see. In terms of working with survivors of partner abuse, LGBTQ folks, people of color, and individuals who are affected by systemic oppression, I think it’ll come down to networking with anti-oppressive programs/groups and actually being out and doing work in the community. I know what it’s like to be within an intersection of marginalized groups. I don’t know exactly how to get my name out there once I’m practicing. However, I do know that I want to get as much continued education around giving trauma-centered culturally competent care while I’m in school and after I graduate. I don’t think that’s talked about enough in dentistry.
How have your identities influenced your perspectives as a future clinician?
One of the first things you’ll hear if you’re not a white, cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) dentist is that there’s not enough of us. I don’t know a lot of queer dentists—I know maybe two. How many Black dentists are out there? I know less than 10. There’s so few of us there and we need to be there. And once we are there, we need to focus on breaking down the barriers that make it difficult for marginalized groups to have and receive trauma-informed care. I think it’s imperative to diversify the field of dentistry because a lot of patients want to see providers who look like them and who share similar identities.
How many Black dentists are out there? I know less than 10. There’s so few of us there and we need to be there. And once we are there, we need to focus on breaking down the barriers that make it difficult for marginalized groups to have and receive trauma-informed care.
What advice do you have for incoming GMS students—especially those who might hold marginalized identities themselves?
Apply, put yourself out there, and share your story. We need different stories. We need non-traditional stories. We need you in genetics, in medicine, in dentistry, in healthcare. Your voice doesn’t only matter—it’s needed. Your future patients need you. Be intentional about what you want. If you’ve got goals, write them out. Break them down so you know exactly how you’ll get them done. Also, don’t let your first semester dictate how you view yourself. Push through, STUDY, get to your second semester, and you’ll see that you’re smart and capable of doing rigorous graduate-level coursework.
Are you still involved in theater? How do you see that weaving into your professional journey?
It’s funny because if I had it my way, I’d work as a dentist three or four days a week and do theater the rest of the time. Right now, as much as I’d love to, I just don’t have the time. I don’t want to let that go, though. I want to incorporate it into my work. Learning theater and performance really shapes how you interact with people, how you make solid connections with them, how you empathize with them, and how you understand them. Those foundational pieces are what I want to bring to dentistry.
Finally: what are your plans after you finish the OHS program?
I’ll be going to dental school at UCSF!
We need different stories. We need non-traditional stories. We need you in genetics, in medicine, in dentistry, in healthcare. Your voice doesn’t only matter—it’s needed.