To say that Ruth Alvarez, a pediatric dentistry resident, loves studying UCLA would be an understatement. Last May, she began her 14th year of training here. So far, she has earned four degrees from the university and is now working on completing a certificate in pediatric dentistry here, a goal she expects to achieve in June 2018.
Looking ahead, Alvarez said, “It’s hard to think about leaving UCLA in a few years. This is a wonderful place to be for any field you want to pursue.”
With a bachelor of science degree (2007), a master’s degree in oral biology (2009), a D.D.S. degree (2013) and a Ph.D. in oral biology (2016) in her resúme, the repeat Bruin, the first in her family to graduate from college, has always made education a priority.
“Every degree has had its hardships,” said Alvarez. “But for me, it’s always been about getting to that next step.”
In fall 2009, Alvarez entered UCLA School of Dentistry. However, her journey to become a dentist began at an early age. Because her mother suffered from periodontal disease, Alvarez and her brothers spent many hours in dental offices over the years. Since her mother did not speak English, Ruth would serve as her translator at many of the appointments.
“When we finally found a dentist who spoke Spanish, I stayed to observe, volunteer and learn about the field,” she said. “These early experiences made an impact in my life and instilled in me a desire to become a dental professional.”
During her master's program, she discovered her love of working with children. She volunteered at the California Science Center where she taught kids about the magic of science and research.
“The opportunity to work with children is powerful. You have the ability to not only change a child’s life, but that of a family. Whether it's through education, mentoring, community service or being a provider, your interaction with that child can make a significant impact,” she said. “Growing up, I was blessed to be surrounded by people who changed my life and helped me get to where I am today. I'd like to do the same for younger generations.”
While she was completing her master’s degree, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in combination with dental school and enrolled in a dual degree program that could be completed in roughly seven years. She realized the importance of contributing to the advancement of dentistry through research and felt a sense of accomplishment in changing the field for the better.
Between her third and fourth year of dental school, Alvarez met her future husband, now an orthodontist, at a Hispanic Dental Association conference. She also volunteered with the Dental Education Outreach program, a mentoring group that educates children from kindergarten through fifth grade on the importance of oral health, and helped out at the Inglewood Clinic Group, which offers low-cost to free dental services for children in need.
“Dental school taught me to be good at multitasking — you have to be,” said Alvarez. “My biggest takeaway during dental school were the relationships I built. My friends, professors and patients made those four years such a rewarding experience.”
Alvarez graduated from dental school in 2013, adding a D.D.S. followed by a Ph.D. to her growing list of credentials. But she still wasn’t finished with her education. There was a clinical piece of her training that she felt was missing. Going back to her love for children, she decided to pursue an advanced training certificate in pediatric dentistry, and, of course, UCLA was at the top of her list of universities for her next educational objective.
After all these years at UCLA, Alvarez said she hopes to instill in younger generations of students the same sense of passion about education and the importance of pursuing knowledge.
“I want to make sure that children and adolescents understand the importance of expanding their lives by attending college,” she said. “I come from an underrepresented background in dentistry, and I hope that my experience will resonate with people like me.”