Leonardo “Leo” Marquez, an immigrant from Mexico, has been pouring his heart and soul into his dream of one day becoming a dentist in the United States.
And Promise Community Health Center again will play an important role as he takes the next steps in his career quest.
Leo, who previously served at Promise from August 2016-May 2017, has returned to the health center to work as a dental assistant/interpreter as he makes the next preparations for applying to dental schools.
He’s happy to be back at Promise.
“It’s great. It’s great because it was the place where I had the opportunity to be in the dental field,” Leo said, noting he didn’t have a lot of experience when he first started. “Promise was my opportunity to integrate into how dental care works in the United States. I wasn’t completely sure at the time if I wanted to become a dentist. While working at Promise, I realized how great dentistry was in this country, and I saw that I had a lot of opportunity to help people here. I then had no doubt that I wanted to become a dentist.”
Leo hails from Colotlán, Jalisco, Mexico, and completed his dental training at Universidad Guadalajara Lamar in 2015. After serving his social service for six months as the dentist at a small clinic in Mexico, he moved to Rock Valley in February 2016 to join his family who had immigrated there a few years earlier. His desire was to save enough money and learn to speak English well enough to enroll in the Dental International Student Program at a university in the United States.
In the meanwhile, he served in the dental assistant role at Promise for about nine months to get a start on his career.
His immersion into life and work in the United States gave him a good boost in learning English, but he decided to enroll last fall in an English program at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX, for international students looking to get into graduate schools.
“I had the opportunity to really study English in an advanced level with classmates from around the world,” Leo said, noting the irony that he was the only Mexican student even though Texas is highly populated with people from Mexico. “It taught a lot of grammar and a lot of writing.”
While in school, he also became employed as a part-time dental assistant at Brident Dental & Orthodontics in Austin, TX. There, he met several dentists who came from countries from around the world and had followed similar paths as he was seeking. He also worked alongside dental assistants who were also chasing the same goal of getting into dental school to become dentists someday.
“It was really helpful for me because I was around people who already were doing what I wanted to do. I had opportunities to talk to them, and they gave me some advice,” he said. “I realized that it is doable what I wanted to do. Two years ago, I was trying to be a dentist over here, but I didn’t even know how to do it. I didn’t have a plan to get it. I started to think about how I’m going to be able to go to dental school.”
After a semester at Texas State, Leo decided to return to northwest Iowa in March so that he could study full time for the National Board Dental Examination. He plans to take the first part in July, and the second part in November. As an international student, he’s required to pass both parts of the exam before he can enroll in dental school instead of afterward. He also will be required to pass the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam.
He saved up as much money as he could so he could focus all of his attention on studying, without having to work, for a few months.
“Right now, I have a really good feeling about it because I’ve been sacrificing a lot,” he said, noting that his lifestyle has been “a little too boring” because he hasn’t been doing the fun activities many people his age do. “Right now, I have my ambition for my career. I know how to do it and have to stick to it. Education is the key. I have to study hard.”
Leo decided to return to Promise after being encouraged to do so by a former coworker as he continues to prepare for his tests. If he passes the tests, he will begin applying to many different dental schools next February with hopes of enrolling in one in the fall of 2019.
“I know the rest of the year will be tough for me because I will be working and studying, but it will be worth it,” he said. “I feel on fire. I really want to do it. I’m passionate about it.”
MORE ABOUT LEO:
To learn more about Leo Marquez and his background, read this story.