SUMMARY: After Haileigh Gofton graduates from dental school, she will have the opportunity to participate in the Army dental corps providing dental services through the military either in the U.S. or abroad.
Why did you choose JMU and the health sciences major in particular?
I chose JMU for a variety of reasons. Aside from having a sibling attending JMU, I was drawn to the school because of its academic reputation in a welcoming close-knit city. However, one of the biggest reasons I chose JMU was the atmosphere. I transferred from community college, so I was looking for a place where I could grow not only as a student, but as a person. I truly felt like I belonged the second I stepped foot on campus, as everyone was friendly and welcoming.
For as long as I can remember I have been interested in the health field, but my experiences shadowing and volunteering in the dental field led to my interest in the health sciences major at JMU. The health sciences curriculum includes many classes I felt would be important, providing a strong foundation for critical thinking which could be applied to a future in healthcare. The courses offered through the program not only focused on public health but integrated a variety of perspectives from statistics and epidemiology to chronic and infectious illnesses.
What are your plans after graduation?
I will be headed to Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry this fall as part of the Class of 2025!
How did you become interested in dentistry?
When I began shadowing and volunteering in the dental field, I gained a true interest in dentistry. My mentor was an inspiration for me. He introduced me to so many different opportunities in the field of dentistry from volunteering at a local health clinic to shadowing a variety of dental specialists, making new connections with other dentists, and volunteering with Mission of Mercy (MOM). Through my experiences shadowing and volunteering, under my mentor, I was able to gain an appreciation for public health and the importance of helping those in my community which led me to JMU’s health sciences program.
How did the health sciences major and JMU pre-professional health advising help you prepare to apply to dental schools?
The health sciences major helped me to gain a different perspective on the dental field and highlighted ways hopefully I may one day implement in my own clinical practice. The curriculum at JMU gave me the foundation to realize not only why overall health is important, but how I, as a future healthcare provider, can be aware and make a change.
The pre-professional health advising was a huge help in my application to dental schools. Not only did my advisor save me from being in the wrong class, we met several times over the course of my time at JMU to make sure I was prepared as possible for my application. Pre-professional health advising made sure I was on-track for having the right courses and credits for applications to dental school. They even hosted a meeting with Army medical recruiters who helped me in my path to the Health Professions Scholarship Program.
Tell us more about the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program that will be covering your costs during dental school.
The Army Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) is a scholarship offered through the department of defense which covers the cost of dental school and includes a living stipend. The 4-year and 3-year scholarships are offered through the Army, Navy and Airforce. I am a recipient of a 4-year scholarship through the Army, which will cover the cost of all four years of dental school. During dental school, I will be attending two courses to prepare me for my service. Those include the Direct Commission Course and Basic Officer Leader Course. Once I graduate from dental school, I will have the opportunity to participate in the Army dental corps providing dental services through the military either in the U.S. or abroad.
During your time at JMU, you served on the CHBS Dean’s Student Advisory Council. What did that involve and what impact do you think the council makes?
The CHBS Dean’s Student Advisory Council was such a wonderful opportunity for me to meet the people making a change at JMU, and to be a part of some of the decisions JMU CHBS is making to improve the student experience. The council included a monthly meeting with students and faculty representing each major within the college. During meetings students had the opportunity to present different perspectives on a variety of topics facing the college including discussions focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The council was an excellent opportunity for students to engage with faculty and influence positive change.
What other unique opportunities did JMU provide during your time as an undergraduate?
JMU was a great place to meet long term friends, experience the joys of campus life and get out of my comfort zone. I had a unique opportunity to participate in CHOICES presentations where I spoke about the health sciences major and answered questions for prospective students. I was a Teaching Assistant for one of my favorite classes, Population Health Determinants. I also had the opportunity to live in Jennings Hall my first year at JMU which was awesome because it was so close to UREC, JMU’s recreation center. I had fun joining sports like indoor soccer, making new friends, and trying many of the workout classes the center had to offer. By far, my favorite class at UREC was indoor cycling.
Did you have a favorite class or a favorite professors from the health sciences major?
I enjoyed so many of the classes in the health sciences curriculum, but one of my favorites was Population Health Determinants. The class was crucial in helping to tie a variety of factors together to present a broad perspective on both individual and community-based health. The class really opened my eyes to the disparities which exist among the population in the U.S. and allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom and make real-life connections with my dental experiences. I can’t pick just one professor who was my favorite at JMU as I really enjoyed many of my classes and met many professors through involvement around campus.
What advice would you give to a prospective student considering a similar academic path?
The best piece of advice I can give to prospective students is to get involved and try something new. There are so many opportunities for success at JMU whether in the classroom or around campus. If you’re interested in dentistry, join the pre-dental society. The club helped me to meet other people who had a similar interest and gave student perspectives on applying to dental school. JMU also has some really great alumni who reach out to share their experiences in dental school and beyond. Shadowing in the dental field is critically important. I recommend trying to get as much opportunity to shadow in the dental field early on. Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors and go to office hours if you need help. If you’re struggling in a class, don’t wait to go to the tutoring center, or if you have a teaching assistant and they offer Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), go to the meetings. I was so much more prepared for exams in organic chemistry and health behavior change because I went to PASS. Overall, don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Going outside of my comfort zone allowed me to be involved in a variety of activities, clubs and volunteerism which not only helped me in my path to dentistry, but I also found I ended up really enjoying.