Julie Au, a D4 at Western University of Health Sciences, on never giving up after rejection, a needed scholarship she’d like to start and how she balances the demands of dental school with parenting three young children.

This may sound clichéd, but in the third grade, I set my career choice. When I was 6, I was in an accident that left me with malocclusion. My family and I immigrated to the Uni­ted States some time after this. Coming into a new environment, not understanding English, having malocclusion and a visible scar underneath my lower lips, I became introverted. My parents sought orthodontic treatment for me, and my self-confidence grew after multiple successful treatments. I told myself, “One day, I’m going to be a dentist and help individuals in similar situations.”

You’ve been quite involved in student leadership: community outreach co-chair for the ADEA, class curriculum representative, president of Western’s AGD club. That’s a lot, no?
Officially, I retired from all leadership positions about 10 months ago because I gave birth to a baby boy. Surprise! When my husband and I found out we were expecting, I knew I nee­ded to give something up, but it was difficult to let go. My current focus is on enjoying my son’s first years of life as well as planning for life after dental school.

As for life before dental school: People might be a little surprised to learn that it took you four tries over a decade to get in. What did that teach you about perseverance?
Rejection from dental school is common. I developed the mindset of seeing rejection as simply a lack of space to accommodate every qualified candidate. The most important lesson I learned is that the journey to a goal is often not a straight path. When many of us encounter obstacles, we give up because we’re unable to cope with failure. These moments will test your resolve. If you push through and take a step back to look at the bigger picture, you’ll see a hidden path to your destination.

What are your immediate postgraduate plans?
Since my husband and I were blessed with a baby boy, our financial situation has changed. Even though my husband doesn’t say it, it’s been tough. With Covid and crazy inflation, I feel the responsibility to start contributing financially toward our family. Therefore, I’ll be seeking associateship opportunities in different dentistry sectors with the goal of eventually opening my own practice. I hope practice ownership opportunities will surface within two to three years postgraduation.

You also have two daughters, ages 6 and 5. How do you balance caring for your children with the demands of school?
I’m not going to lie: Being a mom while attending dental school is difficult. When I started, I told myself that mom duties need to come first. My key to balance is using all my resources: my parents, my husband, my siblings and my aunty—my entire village. Another element is to plan for success. After years of failed attempts, I knew I needed to put myself in a position where success favors me because it’s no longer just me. I now have a husband and three kids; any accumulated debt will
affect my family and children’s future. Failure is not an option.

You’ve spoken about wanting to start a scholarship for future fellow mothers in dental school.
The “Moms in White” foundation is an idea of mine to support other women like me through dental school. I hope “Moms in White” can be a blessing to moms—and I hope it can grow nationwide so all moms with an interest in dentistry can have an opportunity to receive financial support.

JULIE AU is a D4 at Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Dental Medicine in Pomona, California. She recently passed her ADEX exam and has completed all her clinical requirements. Find her on Instagram @TingTing8_8_8.