Raina Harrelson, a D2 at Texas A&M School of Dentistry in Dallas, on the side benefits of social media, the virtues of a nontraditional career path and the importance of a considerate spouse when dental school gets stressful.
My mother was an assistant to an oral surgeon and later became an assistant to a general dentist. I was so intrigued by how big an impact a dentist could have on a patient’s well-being and self-esteem. Being in that environment solidified my decision to pursue dentistry.
Tell us about your unusual path to dental school.
When I was a junior in college and most of my pre-dental colleagues were applying to dental school, I didn’t feel ready to apply. On paper, my GPA wasn’t considered competitive. I wanted to give myself the best chance, so I decided to apply to a master’s program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center before applying to dental school.
How was the adjustment from the undergraduate curriculum to the greater intensity of dental school?
My husband has affected my dental school journey the most. He supports me through it all. When I get so focused on school and am pushing myself to my limits, he reminds me to take time for myself and rest. When I’m studying on the weekends and want company, he sits with me so I don’t get lonely. I’m so grateful I have this support system to get through what may be the toughest four years mentally I ever have to go through.
You’ve built a social media following of more than 8,000 people on Instagram (@road_to_rainadee_dentistry). What’s your advice to those pondering a career in dentistry?
If there’s a will, there’s a way. If you truly want to become a dentist, you can. Your path might not be straight and easy, but no matter where you’re starting from, you can make it. For me that meant getting my master’s degree. For others, it might mean retaking the DAT or retaking classes. Don’t let roadblocks get in your way.
Why did you initially decide to start opening up more on social media?
My original intention for sharing my dental school journey was to create a space where I could journal my experience and share what I learn. It then transformed into an outlet where I can write and be silly, highlight the amazing people in my life, share my journey with pre-dental students and interact with like-minded people around the world.
Has it had any payoff other than the evident personal satisfaction you get from it?
Through social media, I’ve been contacted by various people to speak at multiple pre-dental events to give prospective students advice on how to navigate the application process. I’ve also started receiving inquiries from brands to start collaborations on my Instagram page. We’ll see where this goes, but it seems like a fun way to push myself to do something new while I’m still in dental school.
Your path might not be straight and easy, but no matter where you’re starting from, you can make it.”