Dentistry Chose Me
By: Nicole D. Hayes
May 11, 2020
“I don’t feel like I chose dentistry. I feel like dentistry chose me.”
Those words spoken by Kwame Achampong, a third year Howard University College of Dentistry student and new CDA chapter president, were surprising to hear. After all, at the age of 20, he founded a non-profit called Project Dental All, “whose purpose is to educate children on the importance of oral health maintenance and empower them with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss.” Serving primarily in underserved populations, they also connect with local dentists to help in oral health education efforts. Since Project Dental All’s launch in November 2012, Achampong has traveled to Ghana and Nigeria and raised funds to send students to China, Haiti, Guatemala and Kenya. Many of the patients they treated later reported how much their health had improved—all because they had received toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss.
While some people know automatically “what they want to be when they grow up,” for many of us, it is revealed in time, layer after peeled back layer, step by step.
Achampong was born in Queens, New York, and then shortly after his family moved to Maplewood, New Jersey. His parents are from Ghana, making him a first-generation Ghanaian-American. He was a drummer, youth leader at his home church and led Bible studies. At 14, he accepted Christ and was baptized. Since then, he says that his relationship with Christ “took off.”
Achampong says that dentistry “was spoken into my life in a subtle way over time,” with the non-profit being formed.
“I knew nothing about non-profits and took a business class and recruited executives to help draft a solid business plan. The craziest thing about it is people who were not involved in dentistry became really passionate about educating others about oral health. The Lord ordered my steps in each part of this. The Lord truly established the work. God really funds His visions. I am simply a vessel moving the work forward,” says Achampong.
Applying to Dental School…And Underperforming
Achampong says, “When I applied to dental school, I didn’t know what it took. I didn’t perform well on the Dental Assessment Test (DAT), with average scores. I applied to 10 schools and was rejected from by each one because my GPA was not high enough,” recalls Achampong.
During this time, an administrator from Rutgers dental school heard about Achampong’s non-profit project and recommended he apply for a master’s program in biomedical sciences at Rutgers—Rutgers was also where he completed undergrad. Prior to, he had taken a year off and was applying for more than 100 jobs in biology and only had one interview to where he made it to the final round and was not selected.
“It was a very humbling experience to have a degree and exiting school jobless—all while being over-qualified and still doing your best. I knew I was in a season of being shaped by the Lord. It was humbling but I was still hopeful in what God was doing,” says Achampong.
Achampong was accepted to the biomedical master’s program, and after graduating, he tutored students and prepared to take the DAT. One of his advisors told him that taking that DAT would be “a waste of his money” because he didn’t have the scores to enter dental school.
He prayed and fasted about taking the DAT. He also stopped tutoring, suspended all activity to study and pray, fast and study for the DAT. He took the DAT in October 2016. When he received his good score and it was what he needed to enter dental school, Achampong said his faith was “boosted to another level.”
Achampong applied to eight dental schools but kept having reoccurring dreams of walking through the halls of Howard University for dental school. “I prayed with my mom and sister about this, as they are strong prayer partners in my life. I also called my mentors Dr. Darwin Hayes and Dr. Reginald Salter, who encouraged me even as I kept getting ‘no’s’—and when Howard University denied me. My mentors told me, ‘No, may mean ‘no’ for now.’”
Resilient Amid Rejection
“My response to the ‘no’s’ was unlike anything I’ve done in the past,” says Achampong. “I believed so much in my being at Howard University that I reached back out and asked them to reconsider my application. I received an interview invite and a week later, I got a notice saying, ‘Congratulations, you have been accepted to Howard University Dental School’ and they gave me a scholarship as well. While all of the signs told me that I don’t deserve to be at HU, and though I know the vision is not yet full, I trust God. I know God is sovereign over me, regardless of my failings.”
Achampong continues to run the non-profit. He will graduate from Howard University College of Dentistry in May 2021, and after that he desires to return to Ghana to open a dental practice to treat children.
Elected in March, this fall, Achampong will serve as the new student president of the Howard University CDA chapter. In this role, he desires to encourage his fellow classmates in Christ, to encourage them to joyfully and boldly use their God-given talents and to grow the Christian community at Howard University.
Throughout his trials and triumphs, he relates to Psalm 1:2-3, which speaks about one whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (NIV 1984).
As part of my and CMDA’s continued desire to share with you the faith journeys of our healthcare students and healthcare professionals, I am delighted to present this article third year from Howard University dental student Kwame Achampong to encourage and equip you.
—Nicole D. Hayes, CMDA of Washington, D.C. Area Director. Originally published in the April 2020 CMDA of Washington, D.C. Newsletter.