USC Graduate Achieves Longtime Dream of Dental Career
11 May 22
First-generation college student Erika Correa DDS ’22 wants to use her career to help improve others’ lives.
IT WAS A FABLED TRIP to the orthodontist to get braces that first sparked then-13-year-old Erika Correa’s interest in a dental career .
“My new smile after my braces gave me confidence, which really changed my life for the better,” Correa says. “I wanted to do that for others.”
So, she set out on the path to become a dental professional, which would make her the first in her family to go to college.
Correa grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Her mother worked as a full-time nanny during the week and often picked up extra work on the weekends to support her two daughters.
“Although my mom didn’t make it very obvious, I knew we struggled financially,” Correa says.
“I had big dreams of having a career that would allow me to live a comfortable life while being able to change the lives of others,” she adds.
A YouTube Star
After high school, Correa blazed a trail to the University of Santa Cruz, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular, cell and developmental biology.
When it came time to choose a dental school, Correa wanted to move closer to home and knew USC would provide her with the Trojan Family connections necessary to practice in Southern California.
While applying and interviewing for dental school, Correa started a YouTube Channel chronicling her experiences for other students interested in a dental career.
“I wanted to share what I learned through the application process, so I could be a resource for other pre-dental students,” says Correa, who continues posting weekly vlogs of what it’s like to be a dental student and will soon transition to topics related to residency. “As a pre-dental student, I loved watching vlogs like this because they motivated me and allowed me to envision myself as a dental student.”
Looking back on dental school, Correa says the community-based experiences, where she was able to treat her own community, were the most valuable asset to her education.
“I felt as if I was truly making a difference when practicing at these clinics, and it reminded me of why I decided to pursue dentistry in the first place — to increase the quality of life for others,” she says. “These experiences have made me more compassionate, patient, empathetic and grateful to be pursuing a career in dentistry.”
Fulfilling Her Dreams
As part of the Class of 2022, Correa’s dental education was heavily shaded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought with it so much uncertainty, anxiety and social isolation. But Correa feels it brought even more.
“Dental school during a pandemic forced me to be more resilient,” she says. “Life is going to continuously throw me obstacles, but I will always have the choice how to react to those obstacles.”
Next up for Correa is a general practice residency at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania. Afterward, she plans to apply for an orthodontics residency and eventually hopes to work in a group orthodontics practice, fulfilling the dream of that 13-year-old girl with a sky’s-the-limit attitude.
“USC has provided me with role models who are hard working, extremely talented and who genuinely care about their students,” she says. “I look up to many faculty at USC, such as Dr. Navazesh, who lost her soulmate during my time in dental school and somehow stayed resilient. She continued to support our class and was a constant reminder that ‘Everything’s going to be OK.’”
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