Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the Spring 2024 Dental Link Magazine. To view the original publication, click here.

For many first-generation students, being the first member of their family to pursue a higher education presents difficulties and challenges, but for Jessie Gomez, it was an opportunity for her to share those experiences on social media to help others. 

Through her Instagram account, @chasingdrgomez, Gomez was able to document how she studies for exams, practices clinical skills, volunteers in the community, and more to over 1,000 followers. It is all an effort toward demystifying dentistry for other first-generation students and encouraging more students from diverse backgrounds to pursue their dreams.

Jessie Gomez in the link with a picture of before and after she had braces
Gomez shares a picture of before and after she had braces.

“I was probably 15 or 16 when I decided I wanted to be a dentist,” Gomez said. “I have always had an appreciation for aesthetics and art, and I think teeth are visually pleasing. I grew up the oldest of four and I wanted braces because my teeth were bad, but I understood that financially it wasn’t a top priority for my family.”

Gomez and her family looked around town and found an orthodontist that would work with them. She realized how much of a sacrifice it was for her family, yet she always found her experiences with her orthodontist and dentist positive. She developed an emotional attachment to the profession.

“I remember when I got my braces off and how much better I felt about myself. It was a sign,” Gomez said. “I had a feeling I wanted to go into healthcare but wasn’t sure what. I realized that dentistry is science and healthcare, but you’re also helping people and using your hands. I wanted to stick with it.”

While Gomez visited Iowa City on an undergraduate visit, she ultimately chose Marquette University because of its proximity to home. As an honors student studying psychology and biological sciences in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Gomez started her Instagram to share what it is like as a pre-dental student.

“I just thought, ‘Oh well, I know I’m not in dental school yet, but this is what I want to do. Why don’t I showcase what it is like as a pre-dental student,’” Gomez said. “You can go on Instagram and see what it is like to be a dental student but a pre-dental student, especially a first-generation student? You don’t really see that.”

A screenshot of Jessie Gomez' instagram profile
Jessie Gomez' instagram profile - @chasingdrgomez - showcases her experience as an Iowa dental student

Gomez launched her account in the summer of 2020. She began by featuring pictures of her experiences as a dental assistant, then taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT), and it kept growing from there.

“I eventually got a big enough following that I had first-gen students pursuing other health sciences like pre-medicine and pre-pharmacy direct message and ask me questions,” Gomez said. “I even started getting requests to review personal statements. These connections I’ve made with people are even more reason to keep going.”

But this venture is more than just sharing fun pictures and answering direct messages from followers. It is about showing others that there is somebody like them doing something they might want to do.

“Growing up, I didn’t know any other Latina women in dentistry. It’s important to have that visualization of something that can be achieved,” Gomez said. “I have faced countless socioeconomic barriers. I am a first-generation student, I have ADHD, my journey has been a rollercoaster. I am being vulnerable and honest on social media and that is who I am. If that helps other people achieve what they want to do and see what’s possible then I will be that reason they keep going.”

In a way, Gomez sees herself as a representation of a larger change in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields as more opportunities become available for women and those from underrepresented backgrounds.

“I know my mom and my aunts didn’t have those same opportunities that I or my sisters have,” Gomez said. “My parents worked hard to provide these opportunities for me, and my siblings and I feel like many women my age can relate to that.”

Iowa lingered in her mind throughout undergrad and into her gap year after graduation, and when it came time to take advantage of another opportunity, Gomez did. She applied to Iowa, her “reach” school, interviewed, and was accepted with a scholarship. It was an obvious choice made even easier after visiting campus.

Jessie Gomez working in the Sim Clinic
First-year dental student spend a large portion of the year honing fundamentals in the simulation clinic before seeing patients at the end of the year.


“After I interviewed, I realized that this is where I wanted to go,” Gomez said. “Everyone is very kind and happy and they all want to help. A welcoming and positive environment was very important to me.”  

While Gomez had initially wanted to pursue orthodontics, there are so many avenues to pursue that she is keeping her options open for now.

“During our prosthodontic course we started making temporary crowns for front teeth and that is something I’ve never done before and then during time as a dental assistant I fell in love with the complexity and procedure of endodontics,” Gomez said. “I like that you can save a tooth and relieve someone’s pain in a single visit.” 

Gomez isn’t sure if she will specialize but knows that she would like to focus on dental public health. That’s alright because with her D1 year wrapping up, she is just getting started.

“I prepared myself for the worst, but my experience has been way better than that,” Gomez said. “Don’t get me wrong, dental school is hard and I sometimes feel knocked down, but I get right back up and I don’t regret a thing. Every day I am reminded I picked the right program.”