Diverse Pathways to Dentistry

Posted on: Thursday, 07/26/2018

Changing Courses: Hilary Tate, Class of 2019

Hilary Tate’s love for dentistry began at an early age. She would wear her head gear to school and used paper clips to mimic braces. While most kids her age loathed going to the dentist, she enjoyed the regular visits.

Compared to many of her dental school colleagues, the road to dentistry took a little longer for Hilary. She is one of the eldest female dental students in the Class of 2019, and there are times when she feels out of place. Dentistry is a second career for the native Angeleno. Her first career was as an architect at a large, successful firm in New York. After surviving three rounds of layoffs during the Great Recession, and taking a look at what she really wanted out of her professional life, she enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at Columbia University to fulfill prerequisite requirements for dental school.

Architecture had not been her first choice when she entered college at the University of Miami. She began course work in Sports Medicine and was set on entering the healthcare field after graduation. She even worked with the athletic department’s team dentist as a student athletic trainer, where she was in charge of making mouth guards.

Back-to-back tragedies derailed Hilary’s studies. She lost her father to a heart attack during her sophomore year and her mother to cancer during her senior year. The pre-med workload became too much for her at the time and she changed majors to architecture.

“I was forced into adulthood at a very young age. I graduated from college with no parents and no home. Given the circumstances, I did the best I could,” she recalls. “I bounced around a little and ended up in New York where I started to piece my life together.”

After several years of living and working in New York and gaining some independence, Hilary started to do some soul-searching and found that she didn’t want to spend her life designing homes for the exceedingly wealthy, which is what she felt she was doing as an architect.

“A big reason why I’m choosing to become a dentist is that I wanted to be able to positively affect people in a more useful way,” said Hilary. “I also wanted to use my design education in a more transferable way and incorporate the healthcare component I’d fostered in my four years of sports medicine.”

Hilary finds that she has been able to apply quite a few of her skills from architecture to dental school. “The 3-D imaging, spatial relations, and how form follows function are all things that I find myself doing in my lab courses.”

UCLA has always held a special place for Hilary. She grew up hearing about the Bruins. Her mother graduated from the UCLA School of Engineering and her father from the UCLA School of Law. There’s even a scholarship named in her mother’s honor at the School of Engineering. “My mother’s legacy was the inspiration for my first career,” said Hilary. “Now, I’m able to branch out and pursue my dream to become a dentist.”

Hilary hasn’t regretted for a second her decision to become a dentist. “People have different reasons for getting into this field and I feel as though my life experiences provide a unique perspective. I have something to bring to the table that’s different from anyone else.”