USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Following the Dental Track

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As she prepares to cross the finish line as a dental professional, Courtney Clayton reflects on her experience as a dedicated academic and student athlete at USC.


Courtney Clayton ’11, DDS ’15 found career inspiration in one of the unlikeliest of places.

It was during a trip to the orthodontist’s office that the self-described shy fifth-grader with a slightly crooked smile found her calling.

“I was so excited about getting braces,” she says of the dreaded adolescent rite of passage. “I liked the neck gear, the elastics and the retainer.”

From that point on, Clayton set her mind to one day straightening out smiles the way her orthodontist had done for her.

“When I learned what braces could do, I was convinced that orthodontics should be my field,” she says.

On May 15, Clayton will clear one of the biggest hurdles to becoming a dental professional by finishing her doctor of dental degree program with nearly 200 others in the graduating DDS Class of 2015 from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

Sporty From Way Back

Clayton began her undergraduate career at USC in 2007, prepared to hit the books hard to be able to get into dental school.

She even went so far as to give up another passion—sports—for a while to stay focused on getting good grades.

“It felt strange not playing any sports. It strengthened my organizational skills and kept me on my toes,” says Clayton, who has participated in sports since age five.

After a few months into her freshman year, she realized just how much she missed competing.

“I needed to get back into the routine of practicing every day after classes, since that is how it always had been for me growing up,” Clayton says.

She decided to walk on to the USC Track and Field Team. The team welcomed her with open arms and appointed her main event the long jump.

Clayton realized too that academics and athletics didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“Dental school is not easy. It really requires a lot of practice. Luckily, I had a great class, so we would help each other through the tough times.”

—Courtney Clayton ’11, DDS ’15

“There’s really nothing like being a student athlete at USC,” she says. “All the athletes look out for each other, and we received advisement from the Student Athlete Academic Services Department, which is really good about helping us manage our schedules and studies. They also provided tutoring services, computers and much needed free printing for all athletes.”

With the support of her teammates and advisers, Clayton managed to balance a hefty course load with year-round track practices that could be strenuous. In 2011, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a pre-dental emphasis and was accepted into the Ostrow School.

Conquering Dental School

“Dental school is not easy,” Clayton admits. “It really requires a lot of practice. Luckily, I had a great class, so we would help each other through the tough times.”

Though the one-time long jumper no longer had time for the track, she stayed active with community outreach programs.

She became a member of the Student National Dental Association, which volunteers at community dental health screenings, delivers oral hygiene instruction to elementary children and addresses the USC dental school community about issues of importance to African-Americans.

She also spent Saturdays, teaching local high-school students about topics in dentistry as part of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a USC-based program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for college.

Her service work didn’t stop there, though.

“I had the opportunity to provide dental services and oral health education to some of the most impoverished communities of the world in Nairobi, Kenya, and Treasure Beach, Jamaica,” she says of her work as part of USC’s Dental Humanitarian Outreach Program.

“These trips were some of the most rewarding experiences of my life, being able to travel to these countries, treat patients and receive such smiles of relief and appreciation in return,” Clayton says.

Next up for Clayton will be an orthodontics residency at Ostrow, which she begins one month after commencement.

“My orthodontics residency means three more years for me at USC,” she says. “I am very excited to be a Triple Trojan!”