In conversation with Joon Kwon, valedictorian for the Health Sciences ‘A’ ceremony

"In the end, what matters the most are the smiles on your patients’ faces and the difference you make in their lives. As we try to do great, let’s not forget to do good."

In this special series of Q&As, McGill’s 2024 valedictorians share their insights and perspectives as they reflect on their academic journeys and look back at the moments that defined their time at McGill, from navigating the challenges of entering McGill during the COVID pandemic to finding and fostering a sense of community.

Today, we feature Joon Kwon, valedictorian for the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences. Kwon, who becomes a Doctor of Dental Medicine, delivers his address at the Health Sciences ‘A’ ceremony on Tuesday, May 28, at 10 a.m.

Please note, the answers may have been edited for brevity.

What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?

The White Coat Ceremony was a special moment where we celebrated our transition to clinical practice with friends and family. As well, I was fortunate to go on a mission to the Dominican Republic for two weeks with the Dental Bears. We offered dental care to people who did not otherwise have access to it. It was moving to see what a difference our care can make in people’s lives.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while at McGill?

At the beginning of the program, the pandemic was definitely a big challenge. We had Zoom lectures and small group sessions all day. All of us in medicine and dentistry in my year had to adapt and adjust our learning strategies. Also, the situation made it hard to get to know classmates and build friendships.

Balancing studies, patient care, responsibilities as a class representative, and my life outside of school also was challenging. Once we started to see patients, we were responsible for so many things: scheduling and following up with them, preparing and setting up the operatory for appointments, doing paperwork for referrals, doing the dental procedure itself, and, on top of that, learning from our lectures.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Dental school definitely occupied a huge place in my life. I responded by prioritizing what was important to me, listing all tasks I needed to get done according to their importance and urgency.

However, my biggest challenge was when I was Class President. Being the mediator of the needs and wants of 45 individuals who have different values, priorities, and life experiences was especially difficult. I wanted to give my all to make everyone happy, but I quickly realized that wasn’t possible. In the end, I learned that the best approaches were to develop a thick skin, stick by my values, and set and communicate personal and professional boundaries.

What’s next for you, both short and long term?

After I graduate, I’ll be heading to the University of Connecticut for a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency. This will allow me to hone my skills as a general dentist, learn and practise more complex procedures, and experience life in a different setting.

After that, I plan to apply for a specialty residency in the field of Prosthodontics. It’s a specialized branch of dentistry dedicated to making dental prostheses such as dentures, crowns, and bridges. I love the hands-on/craftsmanship aspect of dentistry and the esthetic and functional rehabilitation we can offer patients.

I see myself coming back to Montreal eventually, working as a clinician, but also returning to McGill as a lecturer and clinical demonstrator. I’ve had opportunities to pass down knowledge and skills to the next generation before, and I have found it extremely gratifying. This almost feels like my duty, and I wish to be as great as my own mentors.

What advice do you have for students new to McGill?

Always act with integrity and don’t ever feel you need to cheat the system to get ahead.

And to my fellow students in health-care programs: Don’t focus excessively on fulfilling tasks, completing credits, or getting good grades. In the end, what matters the most are the smiles on your patients’ faces and the difference you make in their lives. As we try to do great, let’s not forget to do good.

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