Rutgers School of Dental Medicine students Vanessa Bustos, Anna Aquine Kujaruk, and Fabiola Cuba Valencia have been awarded National Health Services Corps scholarships. The scholarship program provides financial support in exchange for the awardees’ commitment to practicing in communities with limited access to care after obtaining their degrees and licenses. Approximately 10 percent of the applicants receive this competitive scholarship, according to the National Health Services Corps.
Coming across the scholarship on a Facebook group, Vanessa Bustos, Class of 2026, began to dig deeper. The more she learned, the more she realized how it aligned with her plans after dental school.
“It was a perfect fit for me,” said Bustos, a native of Virginia and a first-year student in the traditional DMD program. “There are other scholarships, but I felt like this was the only one that was like, ‘Yes, this is exactly what I want to do afterward.’”
Bustos graduated with public health degree from the University of Virginia, where she did a capstone project on dental caries and education of the Latino community. After graduating, she worked in a pediatric dental office as a dental assistant. As an undergraduate and dental assistant, she noticed how important it was to communicate basic yet preventative information to patients.
“When I was reading through National Health Service Corps’ mission statement, it was about helping the community, being part of the community, and also being educators and advocates for your patients,” she said. That resonated with the aspiring dentist.
Another reason that drew her to the program was her own family’s experiences. “My parents are from Colombia, and the health care system in the United States is kind of difficult when you’re not fluent in English,” she said. “We need diversity in health care, and if I could be that one person that’s there for someone like my parents, I would love to be that person.”
“When we received the award, it was a surprise. We were crying. We were so happy,” said Anna Aquine Kujaruk, Class of 2024. “We both have children; everything is so hard for us, and this kind of news was like God’s blessing: keep on studying, going forward.”
A native of Cuba, Aquine Kujaruk received her doctor of stomatology degree with a “Gold Stamp,” the highest academic award for university students, in her home country. Following that, she went to Venezuela for a dental medical mission. But something unexpected happened there. Besides delivering care, she was asked to collect information on patients’ political views. Refusing to do this, she came to the U.S. as a political refugee.
“When I came here, Cuba stripped me of all my documents. My dental degree and everything,” she said. It took years for her to get her papers. When she finally did, she decided to relaunch her career in America. She made a Facebook post during the pandemic, looking for a study buddy for the boards. Fabiola Cuba Valencia, Class of 2024, messaged.
Cuba Valencia followed in her mother’s footsteps and received her DDS degree as well as a master’s in pediatric dentistry and stomatology in her native Peru. But love brought her to the U.S. “My whole life changed,” she said. “It was a hard decision because I left everything: my degree, my specialty, the world that I love. I was in one of the main hospitals in Peru.”
Teaming up, Cuba Valencia and Aquine Kujaruk first passed the boards, then applied to Rutgers School of Dental Medicine for its internationally educated DMD degree program. Here, they found a supportive community, including associate dean for admissions Rosa Chaviano-Moran, whom Cuba Valencia describes as “a person who gave us the opportunity to follow our dreams and to earn a dental degree here.”
This story by Kardelen Koldas originally appeared on the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine news website.