By the time Archita Jain (MNLEND 2022-23) was a third-year dental student, she already had years of experience working during high school and college at a community center with adults and children with disabilities. Many of the families she met shared their frustrations with the oral health care system.
“They would talk about how oral health was very poorly done,” she said. “They would talk about patients being put to sleep for the entire treatment and there was no real caregiving being done, which is really sad. I went to dental school because I wanted to be that provider who could be an advocate for them.”
Her original plan to be a general dentist took a turn last year, however, as she completed her Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) fellowship.
“Week by week at LEND, I realized there is so much more to this. Hearing from fellows who had different experiences, and who had done extensive research and had different backgrounds, I always wanted more. At the same time, I was going through my surgery rotation and seeing the challenges of treating medically complex individuals. I started thinking back to my earlier experiences and realized how few spokespeople there are in surgery for people with disabilities, and that having providers in these spaces can truly make change that is more fruitful.”
In the swirl of board certification exams and MNLEND responsibilities, she decided to aim for a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery when she completes dental school at the University of Minnesota next spring.
“I could be a really good general dentist, but l like doing research and surgical procedures, and if I can incorporate my training in disability with that, even better,” she said. “Research can play such a role in benefitting the community. Once people have research and statistics to back up an argument, it’s easier to change things, and that really interests me.”
ICI’s Rebecca Dosch Brown, director of interdisciplinary education, said Jain displayed three critical leadership qualities that the disability community needs during her fellowship.
“She demonstrated a willingness to listen to people with disabilities and their families, and the deep curiosity needed to study how complex systems affect people's health,” Dosch Brown said. “She was also committed to using that knowledge to advocate for needed changes. I'm confident her passion for applied research will play a role in improving oral healthcare access and quality for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities.”
Jain worked with other fellows on the Autism Mentorship Program during her time with MNLEND. She was part of a team that interviewed participants in the AMP about its effectiveness, and helped create a report highlighting strengths and weaknesses.
Reflecting on the experience, Jain says she believes all professional schools should require collaborative programs.
“Providers should be well-versed in knowing about the types of people who they may encounter,” she said. “If you have support and good intentions, you can balance the demands of this training with the rest of your schedule. For me, it was an opportunity to build a community that will last throughout my professional life. We all have the same goal, to create space for people with disabilities. A couple of people said to me in the middle of last year, ‘Archi, you’re a different person now.’ And I am.”