While UConn gear is de rigueur throughout the University, how many students can credibly sport both a UConn football team jumpsuit and a School of Dental Medicine fleece pullover? Actually, there’s just one: Paul Nwokeji.
Nwokeji ’15 (CLAS) not only impressed on the gridiron as a member of the Huskies football team, he majored in Biology and, upon graduation, enrolled in the School of Dental Medicine to pursue his goal of becoming an oral surgeon. UConn fans and dental patients alike can rest easy: after graduation, he’ll be starting his surgery residency right here at home, with plans to one day have his own practice.
Why did you choose UConn?
I was already fond of UConn due to my experience here as a D-1 student athlete playing Football for the Huskies. After going on interviews, UConn SoDM was the school that stuck out to me the most due to the facilities, resources, and opportunities, and most importantly the people. As an applicant, walking in the hallways, I already felt the warm and healthy learning environment that the family-oriented community here provides. Also, as I progressed through school, my appreciation constantly grew for the P/F curriculum and the state school pricing of the education.
What’s your major and why did you choose it?
My degree is Doctor of Dental Medicine. In college, I told myself I would pursue a career in healthcare after I finish playing football. I was always attracted to the rewarding work of patient care and the challenge to earn the privilege to do such work. Being able to treat patients while working with my hands every day always appealed to me and I am very grateful to be in this profession. Another factor that pushed me into dentistry is that I wanted to push boundaries and increase the number of African American male providers.
What are your plans after graduation?
I will be starting Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency here at UConn for the next 6 years. During my training, I will receive my MD and certification for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. After residency, I hope to own my practice, whether it be a partnership or a group. At the same time, I would like to teach dental students and residents in academia at some capacity.
What activities were you involved with as a student?
I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of three research projects, present them, and had one of them published. I was heavily involved in SNDA & HSDA, two national organizations that are focused on promoting diversity and representation in healthcare for underrepresented populations, and eventually became a co-president. I was heavily involved with HCOP, where I have been consistently mentoring youth and promoting diversity in healthcare, especially in Connecticut. I was an UST AHEC scholar, a 4-year IPE curriculum that teaches about many different patient populations and ways to advocate and care for them. I served as an Admissions representative for UConn SoDM. I co-founded the UConn SoDM Financial Interest Club with my friends. Also, I have been a speaker for multiple panels covering topics such as my journey, how to get to dental school, being a student athlete, uplifting underrepresented populations, and more. I was also a member of the OMFS interest group.
How has UConn prepared you for the next chapter in life?
I feel that UConn SoDM has taught me how to be resourceful, adaptive, and more self-sufficient. I feel like an important skill to have as a provider is knowing when, where, and how to learn something that will benefit your understanding of care. I have gotten more comfortable researching information and coming into clinic prepared to discuss with faculty and peers. I feel that being able to contribute to team-based care is invaluable.
Any advice for incoming first-year students?
Dental school is going to be a very impactful part of your life. To make sure you don’t get overwhelmed and you get everything you need out of it, take all your achievements and obstacles one at a time as they come. That way, the whole experience will be enjoyable during all 4 years. Also, be nice and courteous to everyone in the building, they all want to see you succeed!
What’s one thing every student should do during their time at UConn?
Attend at least one Culture Shock and one Gong Show, there’s a lot of talented people in our community!
Who was your favorite professor and why?
Very, very tough question, there have been many faculty that I have a great a relationship with and have taught me a lot, from both the Medical and Dental schools. Goes to show the support from the faculty.
What’s one thing that will always make you think of UConn?
I made a lot of lifelong friends during my time in dental (and medical) school, keeping in contact will always bring me back. Also, I have been racking up a bunch of gear from Football jumpsuits to UConn SoDM fleeces and hoodies, I’ll always be reminded of UConn.