Born into war-wracked Somalia and a refugee for years, Muktar Farah is now on the cusp of a remarkable dental career in Minnesota.
I WAS BORN in Somalia in 1991 at the beginning of the civil war. My family was displaced, and we weren’t in a position to fly out, so we fled the country on foot. We spent the first 10 years of my life in refugee camps in northeastern Kenya.
Around 1999 or 2000, we finally made it to Nairobi and had some stability. I started my schooling there. My mom valued education, so I was homeschooled and had some foundation, but I was still behind. In 2008, I completed my high school education in Nairobi.
I got an opportunity to come to the U.S. through a refugee program. I got here August 18, 2009. I always knew I’d have the opportunity, academically, to achieve something. I was mentally prepared to stay in school a long time, so I could get a degree worth coming here for.
I got great advice from relatives who went to the University of Minnesota. I remember being told when I tried to apply for colleges, “You have to do one more year of high school,” because I was 17. I said no; I knew I was prepared for college. So I took the GED. I didn’t even study for it that much. It wasn’t a complicated exam.
The next thing was to take a placement test at the university. Luckily, in Kenya the high-school system is decent—it’s the British system. I had a strong foundation in math, science and organic chemistry. I was able to skip all the developmental classes that refugees take. My favorite subject was biology, and anyone who keeps studying biology will end up in health care.
I didn’t know dentistry was the way I wanted to go, but it checked all the boxes for me. You get to improve people’s lives. Before signing up for undergraduate classes, I called Minnesota’s dental-school admissions office. They told me all the requirements, prerequisites, shadowing. They have a summer program that exposes you to all aspects of dentistry. The idea is, by the time you’re done, you know if dentistry is for you or not. I knew right away.
“The University of Minnesota summer dental program exposes you to all aspects of dentistry. The idea is, by the time you’re done, you know if dentistry is for you or not. I knew right away.”
I got into dental school the last semester of undergrad. I always say that even if Harvard had come to get me, I still would have chosen University of Minnesota because it felt like home. That’s how strongly I felt.
I started dental school in August 2015. Minnesota was the first state to take Somali refugees two or three decades ago. Once you come, you don’t want to leave. The people are nice. It’s important to me that my story resonate with people, but I also want to show my appreciation to the state.
I am about to graduate now and have received job offers. I’ll take one of those offers and give back to the community here in Minnesota. I’m really passionate about oral-health education and I feel I have that responsibility here. I’m graduating soon, and my life will completely change. From a kid in a refugee camp to a dentist.