USC University of Southern California

“We Got Into Dental School”

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For Ostrow student Tom Ericksen DDS ’14—who started a new career path after 8 years in marketing—dental school is a family affair.

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’13

Tom Ericksen DDS ’14 found out he got into the Ostrow School of Dentistry while driving home from his daughter’s soccer game.

At a traffic light, he glanced down at his phone and saw an e-mail from admissions saying, “Welcome to the Class of 2014.”

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Tom, 38, says. “I was so excited that I almost started crying. I turned to my daughter, and I said, ‘We’re in! We got into dental school!’”

Initially, his daughter wasn’t exactly thrilled with the news.

As a matter of fact, she described it as “the worst day ever” because it meant the Ericksens would be leaving behind everything they knew in Utah.

But for Tom, it meant righting a wrong. He had dreamed of pursuing pre-dentistry during his undergraduate years but was discouraged by a particularly tough biology class. He just couldn’t imagine four years of science.

So he turned to marketing and graduated in 2000 from the University of Utah. Afterward, he worked for computer giant Hewlett-Packard, making good money and enjoying the people he worked with.

But, he says, it didn’t feel like he was making a difference in the world.

“About every year—or every other year—I’d say to my wife, ‘I need to go back to school and get into dentistry,’ and she’d say, ‘We have a life, and things that are going on. It’s just not the right time to go back to school.’”

After 8 years, the right time finally came. His wife Stacey—who he married when he was just 22—gave him the thumbs up, saying, “If this is really what you want to do, then do it.’”

It was all Tom needed to hear.

He began shadowing his own dentist every Friday afternoon—seeing cases that inspired him such as when the dentist restored the smile of a former drug addict. He also began taking those dreaded science prerequisites.

It took him two years before he was ready to take the Dental Admissions Test and apply to dental schools. “My dental school experience will end up being a six-year long process,” he says.

But it’s his time in the real-world and family life that really gives him focus while in dental school.

“I have a lot riding on this,” he says. “I am here to go to dental school to learn to become a good dentist because this is what I changed everything to do.”

His daughter has also come around from her initial reluctance to move. Tom says he often studies across the table from his both his kids who are doing their own homework.

While studying for part one of his board exams, he moved to the desk in the back bedroom. One day, he instant-messaged his daughter who sent a few messages back before sending a rather precocious message.

“She sent a message back to me that said, ‘Dad, you need to be studying right now! We didn’t move out here for you to do bad on your tests!’” he remembers, with a laugh.

After Tom finishes dental school, he plans on returning to Utah where he’s been asked to become an associate and eventually take over the office for the dentist he shadowed.

“Dental school and becoming a dentist has been a great opportunity for me,” he says. “My family is my focus, and this is helping me to take care of what is most important to me.”

Tom hopes his kids look at the difficult career change he made and realize that, with hard work and sacrifice, you can achieve anything.

“I hope my kids can look at me and say, ‘My dad wanted to make a change, he worked hard at it and gave me a good example of doing something that was really difficult.’”