Inspired by an Accident

Michael Riley portrait



09 May 24

Michael Riley DDS ’24 became fascinated by dentistry following an innocent childhood mishap, but that was just the beginning of his journey. 

AT THE AGE OF 5, Michael Riley’s older brother pulled him around the playground in a wagon. The typical childhood revelry ended when Riley’s front teeth encountered a slide, and chaos ensued.

An emergency trip to a pediatric dentist delivered calm and, strangely enough, inspiration. Since that day some two decades ago, Riley insists he’s never considered any other profession but dentistry. 

“Not even an astronaut,” he says, with a laugh.

As Riley entered his teen years, a time in which many childhood ambitions evaporate under the heat of reality, Riley remained focused. 

“I like to make people smile and always thought it’d be fun to work on smiles,” says Riley, who credits his mother for providing constant encouragement.

After earning his undergraduate degree in health sciences followed by a master’s degree in health administration, both from the University of Central Florida, Riley moved cross-country in 2020 to begin dental studies at Ostrow, wooed by the school’s focus on problem-based learning.

“I liked the idea of looking at real-world cases versus learning from a book,” he says.


Couldn’t Image a Better Learning Experience


Riley’s experience at USC delivered on his high hopes.

He learned the fundamentals of dentistry and developed his clinical skills while serving a diverse patient population at USC’s clinics and through various rotations. He cultivated strong relationships with clinical faculty members like Gardner Beale, Julie Jenks, Helia Hooshangi PROS ’09 and Camille Nishikawa DDS ’10, all of whom boosted Riley’s confidence in clinical decision-making. And he became a member of the pediatric selective, which allowed him to participate in advanced pediatric cases and learning seminars.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better training experience,” Riley says.

Riley’s time at Ostrow, specifically his rotation at a Mobile Dental Clinic in Bakersfield, also cemented his interest in pediatric dentistry. Working with the children of migrant workers, many of them seeing a dentist for the first time, Riley calmed their nerves by communicating in Spanish — albeit “broken Spanish,” he admits — and embracing a playful tone.

“I could feel I was making a difference in their lives, which is exactly what I hoped dentistry would be,” Riley says. 


Setting Kids Up for Success


At Ostrow, Riley also broadened his network by filling leadership roles with student organizations. He was the Class of 2024 student representative and president with the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) as well as membership chair of ASDA District 11, which encompasses California’s seven dental schools. Additionally, he served as co-president of Proudly Recognizing Inclusion and Diversity in Dental Education (PRIDDE), an6 Ostrow student group.

“These experiences helped me build an even bigger community in dentistry,” he says. 

Over the coming year, Riley plans to work in community dentistry before applying for a pediatric residency in 2025. That timeline syncs up with that of his fiancée, who is slated to graduate next spring from the physician assistant program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“I’m excited about what the future holds and, hopefully, becoming a pediatric dentist,” Riley says. “So many kids are scared of the dentist and I want to remove that and set them up for success.”

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