Alumni Spotlight: Joanna Domson, UVA '19

Claire Cornell

Could you describe your pre-health journey as an undergrad at UVA?

I graduated in May, 2019 with a BS in Biomedical Engineering. I came into UVA knowing that I wanted to do engineering and was curious about what that could look like after graduation. Both of my parents are physicians, so I had the pre-health background. But, thought that I would try to explore new things and break the mold in my family. When it came time to choose my engineering major, I was drawn to Biomedical and Chemical Engineering. In the end, I choose BME because it allowed me to make a personal impact on people. I heard stories about customized prosthetics and life-changing medical devices, and I just thought that was so interesting and fulfilling. For a year or two I was convinced that I would be a biomedical engineer! What I didn’t realize was what the day-to-day of those jobs looked like. While delivering devices to patients is so fulfilling, most of the everyday is spent coding and in CAD programs. More and more I realized that I wanted to have face to face interaction with the people I was affecting. So medicine popped back up! Dentistry came up as an option as well, and what really appealed to me was the patient interaction, lifestyle, and hands-on work. I went through the dental school application process and, honestly, cried a lot. In August of 2019 I started my journey at the VCU School of Dentistry, and I can now say with confidence that I am where I am meant to be.

What experiences at UVA inspired or motivated you to be pre-dental?

I had a wonderful and gracious sorority sister, Amanda, that had just been admitted to VCU Dental. She answered so many of my questions and continuously encouraged me to commit to dentistry and just try it out! There was a season that I spent a lot of energy wavering and wasting time deciding what to do, and she was the push I needed to choose something and go with it!

Additionally, BME was a fabulous place for me to realize how much I loved working with my hands. IDEAS Lab was a challenging and exciting experience because I learned what I didn’t want my job to look like, but also how much I loved sitting down and actually doing something!

What are some of challenges you faced during your time at UVA?

It’s cliché to say organic chemistry, but that class was just like drinking out of a fire hydrant. In hindsight, most of my classes now feel like organic chemistry – tons of information that builds and connects. I think I learned a lot about myself and my study habits during that class.

My experience at UVA also challenged me to find balance in my academic, extracurricular, and personal pursuits. The first time I was wholly in charge of my schedule I packed in many extracurriculars along with my course load and the relational work of making friends and keeping them. There came a time my second year that I had to say no to a few things. It was such an important lesson for me to learn that I could do whatever I wanted, but I couldn’t and shouldn’t do everything. This reality is true past college and I’d imagine past dental school as well. We all have limits, and its probably best that we aren’t always at our maximum capacity.

What have your post grad experience been like?              

I went straight into dental school after graduating from UVA. For me I think this was the best option. I knew that it would be tough for me to go back to school after being out in the real world. It has also been good to stick in a good academic rhythm and keep chugging through. I have many friends that took a gap year or several to boost their applications, travel to cool places, or work in dental offices. It’s all up to you and works best for you. I’d say if you are going to take a gap year, you should be able to explain why in an interview – did you need to retake a class or get more shadowing hours? Did you have a cool opportunity that you couldn’t pass up? Just make sure that the year or two you take off doesn’t go to waste.

What are some challenges you have faced during your post grad time?

First, time. You are so blessed in undergrad with the amount of free time you have. I am in class from 8 to 5pm every day, and then I am expected to study, plus sleep and eat and take care of myself. Overall, organizing time and staying sane is a learning curve. The reality is that you won’t be able to do all the things that you did in undergrad so you have to decide what is important to you. I take a Sabbath on Saturdays, which is a full day off of any kind of work. This is very rare compared to my peers, but I do it so I don’t get burned out. Dental school is four years and you have to make it through all four!

Second, comparison. In dental school especially, there are some skills that come naturally to people and for others they have to practice a lot to just get up to an acceptable level. It’s really difficult, but you have to stay in your lane. I don’t share my grades with others, they simply don’t need to know. You have to just keep doing your best and not looking to either side.

What is some advice you’d give to current UVA students? / What is something you’d encourage current students to do?

Practice interviews with the career center before you do an interview!

Shadow anyone and everyone that will let you – it’s so important to see what your everyday life would look like if you pursue this career.

Do things that you love. They will ask you what you did and why you did it in an interview and it is so much better if you can just speak honestly about things you are passionate about. Don’t do things to fill your resume, do things that you want to talk about.

Don’t stress so much about your GPA! Do your best, but know that there are plenty of dental and medical students with Cs on their undergrad transcripts, myself included. Your patients will never ask your GPA, and more often than not your patients have no idea what you’re doing to them! What they do know is how you made them feel. Be a person who is interesting and thoughtful and caring and hardworking and wants to learn, those are the things that make a good clinician.