A day in their scrubs

Meet D1 Karen Yen
November 12th, 2018

Karen YenWho’d ever imagine that playing the cello could help a student with her training in dental school?

Karen Yen would. The D1 has been playing the orchestral instrument for half her life and says the cello has helped her in ways she never expected.

The Houston-area native began playing as a young girl, starting in third grade, practicing routinely for 10 years until attending Rice University, where academic demands left her less time to play. But now, as a dental student in Dallas, she is playing again and reaping the benefits.

A gap year between undergrad and dental school afforded Karen more time to practice and rekindle her passion for the cello. In doing so, she regained the dexterity a cellist develops in her hands over thousands of hours, as she stops the instrument’s strings with her left-hand fingertips and plucks the strings with her right.

“It was a good way to get my hands back into shape,” she says.

Now, she uses her well-developed dexterity in school, shaping wax molds with her hands for one of her classes.

“It’s exciting, kind of like arts and crafts,” she says, adding that these skills will serve her well when working with patients.

Playing also provides much-needed breaks from the rigors of her training.

“Now it’s become more of a hobby than a chore,” she says. “It’s kind of my stress relief, something I enjoy.”

Karen’s musical talents also helped her win the Miss Chinatown Houston scholarship pageant in July 2018, just a few weeks before she started dental school. Donning a long, white gown, Karen played her cello for the judges and audience. Winning, she says, was an honor for her and her family, especially now that she gets to serves as a representative of the Houston Chinese community.

Eventually, she plans to return to Houston as a professional and practice in the community that has shown warmth and support to her family for many years.

“I want to open a practice in the Houston, and possibly even the Houston Chinatown community,” she says. “It would be an opportunity to give back to my community and be a bilingual dentist for the ever-growing immigrant population in Houston.”

D1 Karen Yen, center, after winning the Miss Chinatown Houston scholarship pageant in July 2018.

D1 Karen Yen, center, after winning the Miss Chinatown Houston scholarship pageant in July 2018. Photo: Alvin Gee.

Hometown: Houston

Undergrad institution: Rice University

Why Texas A&M College of Dentistry: I may be a little biased, but I chose to attend Texas A&M College of Dentistry because I believe it is the best dental school in Texas! I wanted to graduate with lots of clinical experience with peers who are passionate about dentistry, and this school is perfect for those goals. I have also lived in Houston for a while, so I thought a change of scenery would be fun for this new chapter of my life.

Dental school success strategy: I believe that staying physically and mentally healthy is the key to success. I try to eat well, get enough sleep and spend time with friends, which is harder than you would expect when you factor in all the studying we do in our D1 year. Most importantly, I always remind myself that I am so incredibly blessed to be here, and that the experience is more than just the grades you make.

Favorite energy food: chocolate ice cream.

Hours of practice with the cello led to this moment during the July 21 pageant. Photo: Alvin Gee.

Hours of practice on the cello led Yen to this moment during the July 21 pageant. Photo: Alvin Gee.

How you unwind after a long day in lecture, lab or clinic: Dental school can be a lot sometimes, especially since I have never taken so many credit hours in such a short amount of time! Working out and meditating really help me with my stress levels. I also like to keep up with my shows, my cello practice and my books when I want to get out of school mode.

Best dental school moment so far: One day while waxing up a tooth, I had a moment when I realized that I am training hand skills I will be using for the rest of my life. It is pretty surreal to think that I will be a dentist in less than four years. I feel as if I have already learned so much in these past few months, but I know I still have a long way to go.

Overall, the friends I have made here make dental school so exciting and enjoyable. Everyone is helpful and supportive, because we all know we’re in this together.

Favorite patient care experience: Before entering dental school, I volunteered with Texas Mission of Mercy to provide dental care to the underserved. It was the first time I saw so many people in need of care, and the experience really made me appreciate the people who volunteer their time to provide it. So many patients walked out smiling with mouths full of gauze because they had finally received the dental care they needed.

Goal after graduation: I hope to practice dentistry and travel in my free time. I would also like to travel to underserved countries to provide dental care.

What people may not know about you: I absolutely love to eat and explore new restaurants and foods. Every time I visit a city, my first priority is to figure out where I want to eat. If I ever wanted to pursue another career path, I would probably try being a food critic!

— Mike Jackson