Russell Smith, D22

School: School of Dental Medicine 

Degree: Doctor of Dental Medicine 

Home: Geographically, South Carolina, but, really, it’s the places, people, and memories that you take with you wherever you go 

Why was the School of Dental Medicine the right place for you? 

I’m a transfer student; I spent a year at a different dental school, and I didn’t like it. The school didn’t seem invested in its students. That’s a big part of the reason why I chose this place: I felt like it could offer a strong community. I had the sense that the dental school genuinely cares about students, and I felt sure that I would come out of here a good doctor. That’s an important part of my journey: I wasn’t happy where I was, and now I can say that I am.  

Another factor for me was the grounding in clinical work that Tufts has to offer. The relationships among the dental school, the medical school, and Tufts Medical Center let you do a lot more here than you can do at many other dental schools, such as making rounds and treating medically complex patients. And the preclinical experience was just so thorough. 

Particularly valuable experiences outside of the classroom?  

My community service work. I volunteer for a nonprofit that was started by a graduate of the dental school. We give veterans free dental care, offering those who sign up for our project $2,000 of free, comprehensive dental care each year. Also, every year around Veterans Day, we bring vets into the clinic and we spend the day giving them as much dental care as we possibly can. 

Helping veterans has a special place in my heart, because both of my grandfathers served in the military. One of them was homeless at one point in his life. After he came back from World War II, times were hard, and he started abusing alcohol. Then he found a program that helped him get his life together. In a roundabout way, that kind of became my mission: helping people get their lives back on track—even if it is through dentistry. A lot of the patients I see just want someone to talk to; they want to know that somebody cares. They tend to be a forgotten part of society once they leave the service. It really matters to me to show them that others do care. My next move is a New Orleans residency in prosthodontics, and there’s a VA hospital right down the street from the school I’ll be working in; I’m hoping to open a similar clinic there. 

The adjective that best describes you is... 

Determined—even relentless. I just keep going no matter what, for better or for worse. Sometimes there are obstacles that you have to work through to get to where you want to go—I’ve seen obstacles in the clinic; I’ve seen obstacles in community service—but you just keep pushing, and you do it for the right reasons: that pretty much explains who I am. 

This profile originally appeared as part of the series “Profiles in Inspiration: Commencement 2022 Spotlights."

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