Nontraditional Student Tackles Dental SchoolGoing to the dentist as a child is rarely fun. But, for Eric Jerome Oates, childhood cavities led to a career goal.
As a young child, Oates had numerous cavities, resulting in several trips to his dentist whom he readily acknowledges made a strong impression on him. Soon, it was pretty obvious he would pursue a career in dentistry.
Currently, Oates, whose home is Durham, N.C., is a fourth-year dental student at Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. He graduated from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in 1995 with a B.S. degree in biology and in 2008, he received a B.S. degree in chemistry, also from NCCU.
In deciding on dental schools, Meharry was his first and only choice. “Meharry has a great reputation for producing health professionals who serve in underserved and historically disadvantaged communities,” he said. “That is where I want to work to help people improve their access to regular, quality dental care and treatment. What better place for me to be than Meharry?”
One aspect that differentiates Oates from his classmates is his age. While most students come directly to professional school right after their undergraduate work at the age of 21 or 22, Oates began his studies at Meharry when he was 39-years-old.
“I met my best friend at NCCU and we were married just before I graduated in 1995. [My wife] had the opportunity to continue her education and receive her master’s and doctoral degrees. So, our game plan was for me to work while she went to school and then, when she finished, I would go to school,” said Oates who was previously in the landscaping business. He and his wife are also raising four children ranging in age from 10-years-old to 16.
Oates admits going to school and raising a family can be difficult. “Sometimes it is hard because there is so much more to be concerned about than if I were by myself. It is challenging at times, but my wife and I work together,” he said. “However, I feel that I have an advantage because I have a support system when I come home.”
His family is extremely encouraging of his decision to become a dentist. Oates said, “They are willing to support me in any way that is needed. Mainly, they understand that I don’t have the time to do some of the things I used to do.”
Oates said he feels he has a good rapport with his dental professors. “Whether in the classroom or in clinics [the professors] give me the opportunity to learn and excel in an atmosphere that promotes growth and development.”
Although his life is hectic, Oates stays focused, organized and sets daily goals for himself. His faith plays a big role in helping him with school. He said, “Without my faith and trust in God, I would not be here.”
If anyone asks Oates his opinion regarding postponing professional school, his advice would be, “Don’t wait if you can. But, if you do have to take time off, stay dedicated to your goal of returning to school.”