TMD Issue 3 - Dr. Fadoju "Navy Dentist"
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
1. Where did you go to school? Where are you currently in your dental career?
I met Dr. Elizabeth Fadoju at a National Conference during dental school via the Student National Dentist Association - a student organization aimed to promote, aid and support the academic and social environment of minority students in dental school. She was transitioning out as the National Vice President as I was transitioning into the national secretarial role. We connected immediately on a number of things. She is Nigerian as well 🇳🇬, has a blog and also enjoys photography. It's been amazing watching her journey. I hope her story inspires you as much as it inspired me!
Dr. Elizabeth Fadoju went to University of Maryland College Park and received her B.S. in General Biology with a minor in Spanish Language and Communication. She then attended Columbia University College of Dental Medicine on scholarship and completed an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Currently, she works at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery as the Navy’s first Black Dental Administrative Fellow. She sees patients once a week at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She is currently licensed in Maryland, Virginia and awaiting news of her DC license.
2. Why did you choose the dental school you went to?
During the summer of my freshman year, I completed the Summer Medical Dental Education Program (SMDEP, now called Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) at Columbia University. I connected with students and faculty there and later reached out to them when applying to dental school. The program gave me an opportunity to live on campus for 6 weeks, so when it came time to decide, I felt that I had established a community at Columbia that would support me.
3. What was it like being a dental student while getting a masters in education?
It was a bit challenging to manage the curriculum at Teachers College, Columbia University while balancing my clinical requirements and courseload in dental school. I lived in Harlem for all 4 years of dental school, so I remember taking the train uptown to Columbia Dental and then back downtown to Teachers College. Fortunately, my apartment was situated somewhat in the middle. I enjoyed the classes I took at Teachers College, where I was given the tools to understand how adults learn, how I could facilitate meaningful understanding, and my favorite, how to build diverse curriculums taking into consideration the unique backgrounds of students.
I feel it will bolster my credentials in the future, should I decide to be an educator, but also in my day to day life, for example, understanding my patient’s barriers to understanding.
4. What was your experience as a Navy Dentist?
My experience as a Navy Dentist has been robust lol. When I signed my name to commission, I was still taking classes to learn how to swim! I still get teased by family and friends who knew the struggle. My experience as an officer in the U.S. Navy has helped me tap into a strength I was not certain I possessed. I have been tried and tested and by God’s grace have come out on top. In Officer Development School, I jumped into a 12 foot pool of water, swam 50 feet and floated for 5 minutes. The week before I went, I was still taking swim lessons, unsuccessfully, I might add. Since then I completed residency, a Combat Tactical Training, and a 7 month deployment at sea with no stops where I shot my first pistol as part of a qualification exercise. I don’t think I could have envisioned any of this my freshman year, and while the time has not been “smooth sailing” if you will excuse the pun, it has been a growing opportunity that has taught me that putting my trust in God can carry me across any challenge.
I chose the Navy route because up until that point I had went to school without incurring debt. I was blessed to receive a full scholarship to UMD as a Banneker/Key scholar. It was important to me and my family to continue this trend and pursue opportunities that would cover all my expenses while getting my education.
Working with sailors has been very rewarding. The patients I treat come from various backgrounds and work so hard at their individual jobs to make us all safer as a nation. It is really an honor when I am able to give back to support them. I remember performing a root canal while we were out at sea in the middle of a hurricane, and again when a Navy pilot was flown onto our ship for an emergency procedure. It is rewarding to have people trust you with their care and to care for them in such a way that improves their impression of dentists moving forward.
No matter who or where you are practicing, customer service is number 1! I have been working since I was 13, at a snack bar at a pool (still couldn’t swim then either lol), as a waitress in a retirement home while I was in high school, as a tutor for Spanish and organic chemistry in college, as an employee at Nordstrom. I think all of my experiences have culminated into making me a clinician that values each patient and providing a high quality experience.
5. How do you feel your experiences as a minority have helped you as a dentist, treating patients?
My experiences have given me the range. When I think about where I came from, I am so proud knowing all the things I have overcome. My background as an immigrant born in Lagos, Nigeria, growing up in Baltimore, MD and now serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy have taught me to appreciate every opportunity as a blessing. I approach my clinical practice with gratitude, knowing that even though I am the doctor, my job is to serve my patients and support my assistants. Having personal knowledge and experience of the health inequities that exist as a result of systemic racism makes me advocate harder for my patients and strive to provide them with the dental education they might not have received growing up.
6. What are your future plans career wise?
I have always desired to own a Dental Spa! I am a big proponent of making dentistry as comfortable an experience as possible. I was interested to learn about the biology and psychology of pain in a course at Columbia and utilize this knowledge to make my patients feel relaxed while undergoing procedures. Dentists get a bad rap and I wish to establish a place where we can undo some of the negative connotations of treatment. My day is made when a patient tells me, “Omg I didn’t even feel that!” or “Wait, you’re done?” Now, that is a flex!
I plan to gain as much clinical experience as I can, while I can and am currently studying to earn my Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry. This is a distinction that less than 6% of dentists earn and I am on track to receive it by my 30th birthday, which would make me among the youngest dentists to do so.
I have learned a lot from watching my mom. She is a businesswoman and one of my biggest role models. She was a midwife in Nigeria and prioritized education at the highest level. When I was in high school, she earned her Masters, when she was in her forties. When I was in college, she earned her second Masters. When I started dental school, my mom began her doctorate program and in 2017 we both graduated as doctors, me with my DDS and my mom, a Doctorate of Nursing Practice. She currently owns two practices in Baltimore and serves the community as a Family and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.
Thank you, Dr. Fadoju for taking time out and detailing your experiences as a Navy Dentist. If you have any questions for her, her social media information is below.
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