Student Story: A New Perspective

Posted on: Wednesday, 06/06/2018

Ethan Tencati

If you had told Ethan Tencati that he would be pursuing a dental degree five years ago, he wouldn’t have believed you. Now, looking back at the series of events that brought him to UCLA, he feels lucky and is excited for the next three years at the dental school and his future profession.

Ethan spent the first 12 years of his life on an avocado farm outside Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. “It was very remote. The closest grocery store was an hour’s drive away. My high school had one of the lowest college acceptance rates in our state. It’s a bit surreal being at UCLA given my background.”

Ethan’s childhood dream was to become a fighter pilot. Immediately after high school, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and attended the Australian Defense Force Academy where he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. He went through five years of intensive training and simultaneously earned a Masters of Engineering degree in Space Operations. “Flying was my passion. It was the only thing I had ever wanted to do.” 

In 2013, just two weeks before he would have completed his pilot training, he received the devastating news that he had a vision problem that would have affected his flying ability. “They hadn’t caught the problem earlier in my training, because I had performed well and progressed at the rate they expected,” the 26-year-old recalled. “The nail in the coffin was when the RAAF consulted the U.S. Air Force to get their opinion. The U.S. Air Force never would have accepted someone with my condition. My career as a pilot was over before it even began.”

Following his prognosis, the RAAF offered Ethan a desk job, which he declined. He could have been a commercial pilot, but couldn’t ethically take on that responsibility. “As a fighter pilot, you’re responsible for your own life, but as a commercial pilot, you have 300 lives in your hands.”

If he couldn’t fly, Ethan didn’t see the point of staying in the Air Force. Around the time this happened, he met his future wife, an American from Huntington Beach, California. The couple dated long distance for four years, but in 2014, when they were married, Ethan made the move to San Francisco where he started a post-baccalaureate program at San Francisco State University.

“After leaving the Air Force, I was faced with the decision about what I was going to do for a living. I had lunch with a friend who was in dental school and the profession started to check the boxes that I desired,” said Ethan. “Team environment, interacting with people, and working for myself were all attractive aspects.”

In less than two years, Ethan completed the post-baccalaureate program, took the Dental Admissions Test, and applied to several California dental schools. In December 2016, he received an acceptance letter from UCLA. It didn’t take him long to make his decision. In September of the following year, he entered UCLA Dentistry as a part of the Class of 2021. 

After leaving the military, Ethan felt a void that was hard to fill. The military had given him purpose and now, nearing the end of his first year of dental school, he has found a new direction. Ultimately, he may consider joining a private practice or working in academia. But for now, he’s enjoying being in a thriving metropolitan city where there’s opportunity around every corner.

“I feel like the biggest advantage I have is the perspective I’ve gained from my life experiences. In the military, you are surrounded by people who are always striving to be the best they can be,” said Ethan. “Dental school is a similar situation. It’s incredible being around so many brilliant people and in an environment where I’m constantly learning and being challenged to be my best.”

At a Glance