Ostrow’s Got Talent: Taylor Purks DDS ’22
05 Oct 21
When she isn’t treating patients at Ostrow, Taylor Purks DDS ’22 is on the lacrosse field. The one-time Howard University lacrosse player recently competed with the Puerto Rican lacrosse team, winning second place at the 2021 Pan-American Lacrosse Association (PALA) Sixes Cup in early September.
DURING HER FIRST YEAR as a dental student, Taylor Purks DDS ’22 distinctly remembers a discussion led by Professor of Clinical Dentistry Michael Mulvehill.
Bringing a golf club with him from his office, he asked the dental students why they thought he had it with him. The class didn’t know.
“He said, ‘While you’re in dental school, you need to make time for your passions and the things you enjoy.’” Purks remembers him saying. “‘I keep my golf club in my office because I love golfing, and that’s my way of keeping myself balanced.’”
Not having brought even one lacrosse stick with her — and assuming dental school would consume all of her time — the longtime lacrosse player and Atlanta native was struck by Mulvehill’s advice.
“It kind of changed my life,” she says. “I was like, ‘you have to make time for those things you love, and that was pretty powerful to me.’”
It was in part this advice that led Purks to compete in the 2021 Pan-American Lacrosse Association (PALA) Sixes Cup, where she and the Puerto Rican lacrosse team played their first championship and walked away with a second-place win at the beginning of September 2021.
PLAYING FOR HOWARD UNIVERSITY
Of course, Purks’ journey with lacrosse didn’t start there. It began years before when, as a high school junior, she picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time.
“I just picked up a stick and tried out for my high school team. I hadn’t ever played before, but I made the team,” says Purks, who had played softball and participated in gymnastics before.
Purks played throughout the remainder of high school, but set the sport aside to focus exclusively on her pre-med studies at Howard University in Washington D.C.
“Ever since I was 6 or 7 years old, I knew I wanted to help other people,” says Purks, who lost her father to leukemia when she was 3.
“I was so young when it happened. I didn’t comprehend it,” she says.
“But when I was old enough to realize that everyone else had a dad and I didn’t, I wanted to help people. I wanted to become an oncologist.”
Purks’ passion for lacrosse was once again rekindled when she met the lacrosse coach of Howard University’s Division I team.
The coach asked Purks to try out for the team. Not only did Purks make the team, she was given a full-ride scholarship for her remaining three years at Howard University.
Though managing the sport and her studies was incredibly demanding — Purks spent up to 30 hours a week playing lacrosse — she was able to graduate in 2017, with a bachelor’s degree in biology (and a minor in chemistry).
A CHANGING CAREER PATH
Though Purks had her mind set on a career in oncology, a couple of experiences changed her professional trajectory.
During her junior year, she shadowed an oncologist at Howard University Hospital.
“It just kind of hit too close to home,” she says. “It was really sad and depressing being in the hospital and constantly referring patients to hospice care.”
Then, a dental emergency landed Purks at Howard University’s dental school, where a dental student provided treatment and relief for her dental pain.
“She was amazing, and I just remember she would always say that I should consider dentistry.”
After thinking about it, Purks began shadowing a dentist and fell in love with the dental practice where she worked.
She decided to take a gap year to prepare for the Dental Admissions Test and began applying to dental schools.
When it came time to decide on where to study, Purks was inspired by her mentor Bernee Dunson DDS ’91, a Trojan-trained dentist who practices in Atlanta.
“I would see how, one, he was such a great dentist and two, how he was able to relate to so many different patients,” Purks says. “Then I came to USC for my interview, and I just fell in love with the school.”
LIFE BEYOND DENTAL SCHOOL
A fourth-year dental student, Purks has followed Mulvehill’s advice and continued to pursue passions outside of dentistry — even with all of the demands of dental school.
“That’s something that pride myself in is keeping that balance,” she says. “While I have my requirements for school, I get everything done and then use lacrosse as an outlet to clear my mind and relax myself.”
In addition to playing the sport, Purks also volunteers with a local all-girls prep school lacrosse team and participates in Sankofa Lacrosse, a U.S. Lacrosse-funded program that introduces the sport to underrepresented and economically challenged communities.
“Our goal is to let kids know that you don’t have to play football or basketball to be a professional athlete,” she explains. “There’s other sports like lacrosse that are super fun, super competitive that don’t require you to be super tall or super big.”
It was through Sankofa that Purks met two other clinicians, who were eager to start a lacrosse team representing Puerto Rico and asked her to try out for the team.
It was particularly meaningful for Purks whose late father was Puerto Rican to lead the new team to silver at the PALA Sixes on Labor Day.
As Purks completes her doctor of dental surgery degree, she’s looking ahead to what’s next — potentially a general practice residency.
No matter what, though, she wants to make sure lacrosse plays a prominent role in her life post dental school.
“Lacrosse has provided me so many opportunities — from receiving a full scholarship at Howard to being able to travel the country and give back to the community with Sankofa,” Purks says. “I just see myself giving back and helping mentor the youth, even as a dentist.”
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