Flaviah Muchemi – In Pursuit of Life-long Dream to Become A Dentist

Flaviah Muchemi will be the commencement speaker at the UConn School of Dental Medicine graduation ceremony. We caught up with her to learn more about her and her educational journey from a bachelor in nursing to her upcoming dental residency.

Flaviah Muchemi, SODM'23 in the UConn Health Dental Care Center on April 19, 2023. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

Flaviah Muchemi was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and moved to the United States with her family when she was 10. She graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and thereafter worked in the intensive care unit (ICU) at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury and in the cardiac ICU at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

In pursuit of a life-long dream to become a dentist, Flaviah swapped critical nursing for the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine in 2019. During her time in dental school, Flaviah served as co-president and national delegate of the Student National Dental Association/ Hispanic Student Dental Association (SNDA/HSDA), a student organization that focuses on service in underrepresented communities.

After commencement, Flaviah will be continuing her education in an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery residency at Case Western Reserve University, where she hopes to continue learning and making a positive impact in the lives of her patients.

Why did you choose UConn?
Connecticut has been home since my family immigrated from Kenya. I left briefly to work in New York City but when it came to deciding on the dental school I wanted to attend, I knew UConn was the best fit because it was not only in my home state but also because of its renowned biomedical sciences curriculum. The small class size was also something I valued because I knew it would allow me to build relationships with my classmates and the dental school faculty.

Having worked in a hospital and been part of a team, I knew that the team-based curriculum offered at UConn comprising of medical and dental students working side-by-side would be a critical component of my training.

Why did you choose to enter dental school?

I chose to enter dental school because I am passionate about patient care and believe that oral health is a crucial component of general health. Poor dental care can be both humiliating and life-threatening – dentistry improves health, can alleviate debilitating pain, allows you to build long lasting relationships, and has been shown to have an influence on self-esteem and confidence. I remember my joy as a child after seeing the impact a dental procedure had on my confidence and that sparked a curiosity for the profession. Dentistry also offers a flexible lifestyle while having a fulfilling career.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will be starting my residency in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in July at Case Western Reserve University.

What activities were you involved with as a student?
I was part of the Student National Dental Association/Hispanic Student Dental Association (SNDA/HSDA) throughout all four years. We provided community service and held outreach events in underserved and underrepresented communities while promoting diversity in healthcare. I was also part of the Aetna Health Professional Partnership Initiative Doctors Academy, offering weekly mentorship to 8th to 12th-grade students interested in medicine, dental medicine, or biomedical research. I was honored to participate in research in oral surgery.

How has UConn prepared you for the next chapter in life?
UConn has given me the knowledge and confidence to become a competent and conscientious provider. I am certain the personal traits reinforced by a UConn education – discipline, adaptability, and teamwork – will serve me well in the future.

What’s one thing that surprised you about UConn?
The large network of alumni that are willing to mentor and guide current students, regardless of how busy they might be in their personal and professional lives.

Any advice for incoming first-year dental students?
Always ask questions and seek help when you need it – there are more people willing to support and advise than you think! Keep an open mind when it comes to exploring all of the fields dentistry has to offer.

What’s one thing every student should do during their time at UConn?
Stop by the dental deans’ offices every once in a while. Their doors are always open, and they are always willing to have a conversation and share helpful advice.

Who was your favorite mentor and why?
I have had multiple mentors who have been instrumental to my success at UConn, from faculty members to students. It is difficult to choose just one: Drs. Elie Ferneini, Faith Ajiboye, Paul Nwokeji, Jeremy Figueroa-Ortiz (and many more!) have all been critical pillars of support and mentorship. A special mention to the Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs (HCOP); from allowing me to be a part of the Mini Medical and Dental seminar as a junior in high school to allowing me to join one of the pipeline programs as a research fellow my junior year of college, HCOP has been an incredible source of opportunities. The pipeline programs, founded by Dr. Marja Hurley, continue to propel participants to realize their dreams of becoming health care professionals and build a more inclusive health network. My UConn experience would not have been possible without their support.

What was it like training to be a dentist during a pandemic?
The nature of dental education – where being hands on in close contact with patients is a requirement – made the training experience during the pandemic a very tricky one. We needed to be flexible and adapt to Zoom-based clinical presentations and patient case discussions. I think the challenges posed by the pandemic (plus the adaptability and collaboration required to navigate it) made us all even better healthcare providers.

What’s one thing that will always make you think of UConn?
The lifelong friendships I have made at UConn is something I really value, and I am thankful for.