A day in their scrubs

 Meet Ines Quintanilla, Class of 2016
May 26th, 2016

Ines Quintanilla, Class of 2016There was a time when Ines Quintanilla’s dream of becoming a pediatric dentist nearly escaped him. The first in his immediate and extended family to attend college, he was riding high on the wave of academic achievement upon admission to the University of Texas at Austin in fall 2007. After all, he had graduated Clear Creek High School No. 1 in his class among more than 834 students. It didn’t come without sacrifice. His father, the owner of a restaurant in the Port of Houston, purposely moved his family to League City for its schools, despite the hourlong commute tacked onto each end of the workday.

He always told his son he didn’t want him taking over the family business, that he wanted him to pursue his passion. Despite the support, disillusionment set in that first semester away at school.

“There was a time when I was reluctant to embrace the differences of my family heritage, and I would have preferred to just blend in,” Quintanilla says. He felt lost trying to navigate an environment so unfamiliar to him.

That’s when the support of his League City dentist-turned-mentor, Dr. Daniel Grilli, came into play. Despite a rash of treatment starting in third grade — pulpotomies, extractions and stainless steel crowns were the norm — Quintanilla had never dreaded going to see his dentist.

“He was always the one saying I’d be a great dentist,” Quintanilla recalls.

Momentary disillusionment was replaced with drive to succeed, and Quintanilla’s GPA took an upward tick. But it wasn’t quite enough to make his dental school applications competitive.

The rejection letters weren’t a surprise, but the disappointment lingered. That’s when Quintanilla received an email from the Post-Baccalaureate Program at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. He did some research, learned only 16 applicants out of hundreds are accepted each year. He felt defeated even as he submitted his application. What would he do with that biology degree from UT if dentistry wasn’t in the cards?

Then he was invited to Dallas for an interview.

“I think what they were looking for was someone who was motivated but just needed a little bit of a push,” Quintanilla says. “I told Dr. Lacy all I needed was for one person to believe in me.”

In fall 2012, after successfully completing the post-bac program at TAMBCD, Quintanilla joined the first-year dental class. An interesting thing happened over the course of the next four years. As Quintanilla hit his stride, others took notice. One of those was his sister, who entered nursing school at UT Austin, graduating just last week. One by one, a number of his 20 cousins began following suit, pursuing degrees in higher education and changing the future of their family for generations to come.

When it came time to pursue pediatric dentistry residencies, Quintanilla was invited to interviews at nine of the 12 programs for which he applied, yet his focus was fixed on one in particular. In early 2016, he matched with his residency of choice: the pediatric dentistry program at TAMBCD. Quintanilla shared the news with his dentist and mentor, who had an immediate reply: If he chooses, he’ll have a job waiting for him back home come 2018.

Hometown: League City, Texas

Undergrad institution: University of Texas at Austin

Dental school survival strategy: It changed a lot from college to dental school. I felt like in dental school, the main thing was not getting behind, and in college, I always found myself staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning to study. In dental school, I switched and said, “I will study until midnight and then just stop no matter what and get up early.”

That was the first couple years in dental school. In the third and fourth years, it was about learning to take criticism. A lot of time you think your work is perfect, but when you show it to your professors, they always find flaws in it. It was hard for me to swallow at first, but then you have to ask yourself, “You know what, how can I make this better?”

Favorite energy food: I have to drink a cup of coffee every day. I don’t think there’s a day in dental school I haven’t had coffee.

Best way to unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: I definitely try to go to the gym after school every day. I feel like if I go home, and I sit on the couch for more than five minutes, I’m done. My wife and I also have two dogs — a golden retriever mix rescue and a toy Australian shepherd — that I take to the park every day.

Dental school aha moment: Everything in dentistry clicked third year in dental school. It’s hard to pinpoint — as dental students, sometimes we get caught up on requirements and what we need to do to move on to the next step. Third year what I noticed is if you just sit and listen to what your patients need, if you treatment plan based on their needs, and based on your education, the requirements just fall into place. I found myself helping them, and I had the best relationship with my patients. It was an awesome, awesome couple of years.

Best patient care experience: It was the first denture I delivered. This patient was one of the most incredible and grateful patients I have ever had. Her son called me a couple months ago to tell me that she had passed away from cancer. He wanted me to know that she had always smiled and talked about me. Knowing that the last couple years of her life, I was able to change it. That is something that really sticks out. For her son to call me through this tough time and think of me, that small phone call to just let me know how much I meant to her before she passed away, that meant a lot to me.

Goal after graduation: I have two years in residency. I think coming from a Baylor residency, I’ll have a lot of opportunities. I do want to cater toward the underserved population. There is a huge lack of Spanish-speaking dental providers; being able to give back to the community is something I really want to do in the future after my residency.

I’m just excited to start working and am ready not only for the tears, screams and boogers that will come my way, but also the big “little” smiles that will keep me excited to go to the office each day. Who doesn’t want to go to work every day and talk about Superman, Spiderman and “Frozen”?

What people may not know about you: That I’m the first in my family to attend college. After seeing my sister graduate nursing school, and seeing my cousins continue their education, it gives me a great sense of peace to know that I’m doing the right thing and setting the standard for generations to come.

— Jennifer Fuentes