Valentina Leonett, a D4 student at Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health is only months away from completing her course of study and continuing toward her dream of becoming a dentist. She discusses her journey since moving to the United States from Venezuela in 2013 and shares encouragement for other prospective dental students.
Exposure to multiple different careers in healthcare helped Valentina Leonett gain confidence in her decision to pursue dentistry..
“I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare. With both my parents being dentists, everyone expected me to follow in their footsteps.” Valentina says, but the decision was not as easy as it sounds. Growing up, her parents exposed her to careers in healthcare so she would feel confident when it came time to make decisions about her future.
“My mother’s encouragement helped me identify why I wanted to become a dentist, and ultimately, it’s what’s made this journey so incredible.”Valentina Leonett, a D4 student at Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health who moved to the U.S. from Venezuela
Leonett ultimately chose to pursue a career in dentistry based on how well it seemed to align with her personality and life goals. As someone who enjoys working with people, Leonett wanted a career where she could develop meaningful relationships. When considering life after school, she saw dentistry as the perfect blend: work in the healthcare field surrounded by people, and a healthy work-life balance.
Although leaving her family and home country held challenges, Valentina Leonett feels grateful for unique experiences she has gained along the way
Leonett moved to the United States in 2013 immediately following her high school graduation. With her parents still living in Venezuela and no immediate family in the United States, the move required her to adapt at a young age.
“The obstacles I faced made me a stronger person and have allowed me to see the world through a different lens.”Valentina Leonett, a D4 student at Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health who moved to the U.S. from Venezuela
She explains that in Venezuela, dental school begins right after high school. Understanding the American education system was the first barrier she encountered.
What are Valentina Leonett’s greatest accomplishments in her academic career?
Over her time at Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, Leonett has been a part of many organizations. Her endeavors include being a part of the Hispanic Student Dental Association, where she has served terms as both Vice President and President.
“There is very little female Hispanic representation in the field of dentistry. In 2018, I started @leonettdental on Instagram to share my journey to and through dental school. My goal was to be the resource I didn’t have when I was an international student trying to secure a seat in a U.S. dental program. I not only use social media to share my personal story, but to network with students and doctors from all over the world. “
“In 2021, Incisal Edge magazine published a list of dental student social media influencers, and I was honored to be recognized as such. It was a great reminder that I am in the process of fulfilling one of my personal goals. I am committed to continuing to grow my social media presence and reaching those who are and aspire to be members, of the dental community.”
- Finding solutions.
Obtaining second place in the 2020 Nuestros Niños competition sponsored by the Hispanic Dental Association.
“This is a national contest where students present case studies addressing ‘oral health care issues, including prevention and oral care strategies for Hispanic children less than 18 years of age’ (HDA, 2020). I was ecstatic to be recognized at a national level and bring pride and joy to my institution. The Hispanic community will forever hold a very special place in my heart, and I am determined to continue working to find solutions to the oral health care issues many members of this community face.”
Need advice on the path to dental school? International student Valentina Leonett offers 7 tips from her experience.
- Planning is everything.
Map a timeline of when you would like to apply to dental school and organize your classes to make this happen. The most common mistake is thinking you have more time than you really do. You may need to make some adjustments as you move along, but this becomes easier if you have an idea of where to go next.
- Think about schools you would like to attend.
While most schools have the same prerequisite courses, they may vary slightly. Some schools require you to take labs, while others may not. Some may require a prerequisite you hadn’t even thought about taking. It’s good to have an idea of what you’ll need before you decide to apply.
3. Research and ask questions.
Not every dental school accepts international students. Leonett says she spent hours reviewing the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools and researching every school individually. Attending pre-dental events and asking questions along the way helped her in the process.
4. Work hard.
Grades are important. Dental school admission boards will look at your application before offering an interview. While you don’t need to have a 4.0 GPA to get into dental school, you should still strive to do your best in every single class. Remember, there are admission averages for a reason: some people are above it and some below it.
5. Be a well-rounded applicant.
There are several things you can do to enhance your application, for example, community service, volunteer work, and shadowing, just to name a few. Do things you’re passionate about, even if they’re not directly related to dentistry.
6. Find the funds.
After submitting applications, Leonett faced her next challenge: Finding the resources to fund her education. International students are not eligible for student loans without a U.S. resident or citizen willing to co-sign.
“I moved to this country all on my own and had no family or friends to ask for help. And while there are plenty of scholarships available for dental students, in many instances, international students are not eligible. This was, by far, the greatest challenge of all.”
7. Enjoy the process!
Do the things that make you happy. Take care of your mental health and your overall well-being. Your future self will thank you for it. I promise.
What words of wisdom does Valentina Leonett share as an international dental student in the U.S.? Find out on Instagram at @leonettdental
With her Instagram account that currently boasts over 2,000 followers, Leonett shares her experiences, words of wisdom, motivation and advice for other dental students and predental students. In the past couple of years, she has been able to help many international students apply and get accepted to dental schools in the U.S.
“When people think about international dental students, they usually think about foreign-trained dentists. The reality is that the application process varies significantly between those who obtained a dental degree in a foreign country and those who obtained their degree from an accredited U.S. college or university. “
If dental students only take one piece of advice from Valentina Leonett, she wants it to be this:
Believe in yourself. I had many people tell me what I wanted was impossible, that I would never make it. The odds didn’t appear to be in my favor. Yet here I am… a couple of weeks away from graduation. Life has a funny way of teaching us how strong we are, but it all starts within us. Believe you can do it and you’re already halfway there. You are capable of much more than you give yourself credit for.
She describes her dental school experience, especially meeting people from all over the country — and world– as positive.
“Even though I have been in the U.S. for close to nine years, I still get homesick at times. Nonetheless, I have grown fond of American traditions and feel incredibly thankful to experience everything this country has to offer.”
Looking for additional support as a dental student? Free members-only program includes job placement services for dental students
Learn details about a program that grants members instant free access to a Commission on Dental Competency Assessments (CDCA) study guide, free job placement services for personal assistance in connecting with the right post-graduation employment or associateship opportunities and a free subscription to Incisal Edge magazine here.