Dentistry students grow, learn during yearly beach tradition | OHSU Foundation

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A cherished tradition for first-year students of the OHSU School of Dentistry has returned after a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every September, following the initial weeks of classwork, first-year dental students are bused to Cannon Beach, Oregon, where they are hosted by the School of Dentistry for an overnight stay and attend a conference that focuses on the professional and ethical aspects of becoming a dentist.

At the conference, newly renamed the Dean Jack Clinton DS1 (Dental Student first-year) Conference on Professionalism, first-year students attend workshops where they are introduced to professional expectations, including the OHSU dental code of conduct and the ADA code of ethics. The conference is also attended by a few fourth-year students who guide first-year student groups through various activities. Fourth-year students also participate in a panel discussion, sharing highlights of their own journey through dental classes and practicum. As the conference closes, fun times on the beach culminate in a friendly competition and bragging rights for the winners of the sand sculpting contest.

This annual welcome began in 1987 when first-year dental students from the class of ’91 attended. When it relaunched this year, OHSU School of Dentistry Dean Ron Sakaguchi, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.B.A. renamed the conference to honor OHSU alumnus and School of Dentistry Dean Emeritus Jack W. Clinton ’64, who passed away last January.

“I worked closely with Jack and personally experienced his leadership and passion for educating compassionate oral health care professionals,” Sakaguchi said.

First-year dental student Jordan Chopra ’26, described the conference as impactful. He was impressed by a presentation about the importance of maintaining a level of professionalism that was delivered by Gary Stafford, DMD, OHSU School of Dentistry, senior associate dean, academic systems. Chopra understood that a graduate of the OHSU School of Dentistry is expected to practice high ethical standards in the exam room and also when out and about in their communities.

“All of your patients are still going to recognize you as their dentist,” Chopra said. “How you act, how you dress, how you communicate still come into effect.”

“It really felt like we were becoming part of this OHSU family.”

Jordan Chopra

Chopra was thankful for the OHSU School of Dentistry alumni donations that helped make it possible for his class to attend the conference this year. Throughout the trip, students were told that they were OHSU School of Dentistry alumni in training.

“I know dental school will be difficult, but I can move through it and eventually become part of this gigantic and important family, the OHSU alumni,” Chopra said. “It gives you confidence that this is something very real, and very important, and very special, and you will also become an alum. It makes you treasure and respect it.”

Fourth-year dental student Helen Zagorodny ’23, volunteered to help this year as a student leader. She remembers that when she attended the conference as a first-year student in 2019, she felt like she truly belonged in the dental profession.

“My experience this year was different in the sense that I now know a lot more about dentistry and dental school,” Zagorodny said.

When she attended the conference as a first-year student, she appreciated hearing the perspectives of the third- and fourth-year students. This year, Zagorodny enjoyed being that voice for the current first-years.

Another volunteer student leader, Lana Hanson ’23, also realized how much she has learned over the past four years. Looking back, she says, “At the beach trip, you have just finished the first six weeks of dental school and you feel as though you are on the precipice of the unknown.” When she attended the conference in 2019, though she remembers absorbing the message delivered in the workshops, Hanson explains, “Funny enough, it is a conference on professionalism, but I believe everyone’s favorite parts are the bonding experiences and conversations that are raw and vulnerable.”

Chopra agrees, stating that he appreciated getting to know his fellow DS1 students better as they participated in conference activities, including when they worked as a team to build a sand sculpture inspired by “archeology,” this year’s competition theme. Asked about his favorite memory from the trip, he laughed, asking, “Can I say, winning the sand competition?”

In another conference tradition, first-year students are gifted with an OHSU School of Dentistry sweatshirt provided by the OHSU School of Dentistry Alumni Association using funds allocated by the dean’s office. Chopra recognized the significance of this tradition saying, “It was almost like something you would do at a family gathering.”

Chopra adds that the OHSU School of Dentistry feels like a welcoming place to him, and those feelings were confirmed during his time attending the conference, “It really felt like we were becoming part of this OHSU family.”