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Aspiring Dentist Walks in Three Worlds

Native American student Joaquin Gallegos, Jicarilla Apache/Pueblo of Santa Ana, has managed to balance walking in three worlds while studying to become a dentist.
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He originally planned on becoming a medical doctor, but some hands on experience in the form of an internship at the Center for Native Oral Health Research at the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the University of Colorado Denver, changed all that.

Now, Joaquin Gallegos wants to help his community strive for better oral health by becoming a dentist. The center’s research program looks at oral disparities among minority populations, something Gallegos feels he can help change.

“There are even fewer Native dentists than there are Native doctors so I feel that I could be of more assistance to my community being a dentist than being a doctor,” Gallegos, Jicarilla Apache/Pueblo of Santa Ana, said in an American Indian College Fund (AICF) video.

He is currently majoring in public health at the University of Colorado Denver, something he says requires walking in other worlds.

“There is the Native world, the Anglo-American world, and then the medical world—and you have to be able to understand and navigate all three if you are going to make a difference,” he told AICF. “I have to be coherent and competent enough to be well-versed in all three to make a difference, but continue to work and be a productive member of my family, tribe and community.”

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That balancing act was difficult when during the 2009-2010 school year he had to travel back and forth from Colorado to New Mexico to be with his mother who was hospitalized and endured two brain surgeries. He missed classes and spent a lot of time making up schoolwork.

But succeeding is important to him, no matter what it takes to balance those three worlds.

"Our ancestors became what they had to become in order to survive and help their people transcend through that time period. And so today, Native youth have to find out what they need to become in order to transcend this time period to a successful future,” he said in the release. “With the dedication that has been instilled in me by the generations before me, I am confident this will come to be. By having my academic, cultural, and spiritual actions align with both tradition and future, I trust my education can help Native communities advance in health and well-being.”

Gallegos is the recipient of a number of AICF scholarships that have helped him on his educational journey.

Joaquin Gallegos talks about walking in three worlds: