If there’s one word that encapsulates Lauren Chapman’s adult life, it’s leader.
From captain of the cheerleading team as a Penn State undergrad, to serving as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy, to four years as class president, this UCLA School of Dentistry D.D.S. ‘24 candidate is driven by a desire to mentor and uplift others.
As she prepares for a future in oral surgery, the native of Howell, N.J., sat down to discuss the role military service has played in her life and its impact on her path in dentistry.
To Lieutenant Chapman and all School of Dentistry-affiliated veterans, we salute you and thank you for your service!
School of Dentistry: How did you choose dentistry as your career path?
Lauren Chapman: I took a non-traditional route to dentistry, but I've always had a passionate interest in healthcare since I was a little girl. I remember dressing up as a doctor for Halloween. My mom would put my dad’s military name tag on the little white coat I wore and I'd run around with a stethoscope. I knew that I always wanted to take care of people in general and then eventually found myself in dentistry through exposure from a friend who's now a pediatric dentist in New York, and she kind of planted the seed when I was in college in regards to it.
SOD: Tell us more about that non-traditional route to dentistry…
LC: I was an ROTC scholarship recipient in college. The Navy paid for my undergraduate education; it was a full ride. In exchange, you serve in the military after. I was commissioned in the Navy in 2013 and was immediately moved to Florida and then deployed to the Middle East for six months for my first tour. I then got my next orders for my next shift, which was in San Diego. I spent two years on that ship and then I was on shore duty for three years after that. On my second ship, I had the opportunity to actually shadow my ship's dentist. This type of ship was large enough that we had our own medical team including our own dental team, dental assistant, chairs, and facilities. The ship’s dentist that I was shadowing was actually a UCLA graduate which made it a very full-circle moment. She actually wrote one of my recommendation letters when I applied. Once I decided that I wanted to pursue dentistry, I just hunkered down and got ready for it. I'm really happy that I made this decision.
SOD: What made you want to serve in the military?
LC: I'm a third-generation military. My grandfather, on my dad’s side, was a Command Sergeant Major in the Army and my father is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. It came within the lineage! It's just something that fits my personality. I know it's not for everyone. Not everyone wants to pick up and move around every couple of years, but I definitely feel like I have a calling to leadership roles. I like to be in support of people, mentor people, and help teams run more efficiently. I recognize that not only within the military but in athletics as well, which I was also involved in in college and then dentistry. It's a team sport, so it's kind of all connected in that manner. The desire and the passion to serve runs within my family, but it's something I definitely found innate within myself as well.
SOD: What skills did you learn from the military that you think are applicable to your life?
LC: I didn't realize how much I was going to call on my military experience and expertise in dentistry as ended up being the case. I think it comes from the interpersonal skills that I've developed over time and then just my practice and experience in leadership roles and positions. I've been fortunate to hold the role of class president for the last four years. My class entrusts me to take care of them. I like to think that they feel cared for and that's why they have continued to ask for me to serve in this role. The connection between dentistry and the military is that if you take care of your people, your people will take care of you. That goes across the board for all things. Whether or not it's your dental assistant or it's another specialist, a classmate, or a friend, it's the way that you continue to treat people and create an environment that is collaborative. It makes people want to pitch in and be a part of a team. Everyone wants to be a part of something, so I think that I see that camaraderie in the military in the same way that I see it here in dentistry as a whole, and then also at UCLA within our own School of Dentistry community.
SOD: Can you expand on the Tri-Service Military Club? How does it support students, and specifically student veterans?
LC: The Tri-Service Military Club is run by an excellent cabinet that has done a fantastic job on bringing together the military-affiliated students who have different scholarship opportunities here at the school. They are representative of the majority of the branches we have the Air Force, Army, and Navy and they're able to set up informational sessions. They'll also reach out to some of the previous dental students who have gone on to have careers in the military so they can share their expertise. Our advisor is Dr. Duell, who is also a Navy veteran. It's definitely a great connective point for all the students that have that in common.
SOD: Have you connected with faculty or residents that were also in the military and what did you learn?
LC: I think that Dr. Duell is just fantastic. I could go on and on. The first time I interacted with Dr. Duell was outside of the Tri-Service Military Club. He's the course chair for our dentures course that you take as a D2. That's when I first learned about his service and we connected with that. He’s an outstanding mentor in all different avenues. If you're going into prosthodontics, go find him immediately. He is just a great person to get to know and connect with as a dentist, as a mentor, and as a colleague. He's happy to speak with anyone who has any type of questions, military-related or not. He's just been a great student advocate and support system and I owe a lot of my prosthodontic success to him.
SOD: Do you have any advice for people that are considering serving or advice in general for students?
LC: My advice for anyone that is interested in joining the military is that if you've already had that sense of calling to serve or you have that interest, I would encourage you to explore it further. There's no better time in life to do something different than right now, especially while you're younger. I recently spoke with a D3 who was telling me that he was interested in the military and was asking about my experience. I encouraged him to pursue his interest, especially if he could see himself in that capacity, traveling to see different things in the world, and the desire to give back to others in a way that includes serving your country. There's a lot of pride in that.
I am a huge proponent of the military. My father was in the military, my grandfather, and of course, myself. I recognize that it's not for everyone, so I never shuffle this around as my advice for every single person. But, if you feel like that calling aligns with who you are and what your purpose is, please reach out to me. I would be happy to put you in touch with the recruiter. There's definitely some opportunities waiting for you, so don't let it pass you by.
In regards to my upcoming pre-dents or even upcoming dental students in general, I think the biggest piece of advice is to give yourself grace. That is something we say, but we don't always embody. When you think about it, we all have type-A personalities and we're all trying to be the best, but don't let your hunger for your passion detract from your experience. Still be hungry, still be passionate, but don't let that outweigh your enjoyment. Continue to enjoy other attributes of life. Life isn't just school, it's about the people you meet there and the experiences and the memories that you have. I think that's the biggest thing. If you're already on the pathway for dentistry or you're already in dental school, you're a very ambitious person. Take care of yourself and take care of those around you, because at the end of the day, that's what you're going to have. Be gentle with yourself while still being passionate about what you do.
SOD: Is there anything else you want to add? What you did in the military, what you learned, etc?
LC: In regards to my experience in the military, I am actually a Surface Warfare Officer by trade - which means that I drive warships. If you ever see those Navy commercials and the big gray ships that are going through the water, there's a chance that could be me up there. I served as a Surface Warfare Officer for seven years. As I mentioned before, I was first stationed in Jacksonville, Fla., where I was deployed to the Middle East for six months. I was assigned as the Main Propulsion Officer. At the age of 22, I was in direct charge of 23 sailors and seven gas turbine engines. Needless to say, being thrown into an environment is challenging and in order to succeed, you have to seek out the resources and you ask the questions, you don't show up knowing everything. That applies to a lot of different chapters in life. I definitely wanted to be successful, not only as an Officer but as an Officer to my sailors, because I'm responsible for their overall wellbeing. That’s where a lot of my leadership training came into play. After I left Jacksonville, my next set of orders was to San Diego and I was on an amphibious class ship which is a much larger class of ship. It was also a fantastic tour. I was the Assistant First Lieutenant, my sailors were responsible for conducting helicopter operations, launching the rescue boat, dropping the anchor, or even some more mundane tasks like painting the ship. Definitely a lot of rambunctious personalities for sure, but truly some of the best people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. They definitely showed me what it takes to be an involved leader, a servant leader, and making sure you're there until the job is done. That's how you build that team environment.
After my second tour, I was then on what we call shore duty. During this time you're not on a ship. I was an instructor for a traveling staff planning team, and it was a great opportunity. I didn't have sailors at this point so I was just working with a team of other Lieutenants. I had the opportunity to travel a lot internationally as a part of this job. I spent a lot of time in Okinawa, Japan, and then also had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East again. It was during this tour that I really started to look into dentistry more seriously and then ultimately made the decision to transition into dentistry in the Navy. I am going to continue my service after my time at UCLA. I was accepted as an oral surgery resident to train for the Navy following graduation. I have four more years ahead of me, but I'm definitely looking forward to making this a career.
In regards to anyone who is interested in serving the military, I highly recommend looking into the HPSP [Health Professions Scholarship Program]. They have it for different branches, including the Army, Navy, and Air Force. I have information for a recruiter if you are interested. Please don’t hesitate to find me if you have any questions!
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