Meet Richard Peterson, D23

School: School of Dental Medicine

Degree: Doctor of Dental Medicine

Home: I grew up in San Diego, and I’ll love it forever, but home is anywhere I can challenge myself and grow.

What is the single most important thing you learned at Tufts?

That I can trust myself to choose the right paths. My whole life, I wanted to be an architect. I enrolled in a community college after high school, majoring in architecture. Around the same time I got braces, knowing I’d eventually need jaw surgery—orthodontists had been telling me that for years. As I was going through the process, I got interested in dentistry. I started to think maybe I wanted to go that route rather than architecture.

It seemed crazy to pivot. I’d never performed particularly well in science classes, but I did it anyway: I changed majors, transferred to a four-year institution, and earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

But I just scraped by; I didn’t get great grades, and I doubted myself a lot. I pushed the Dental Admission Test back many times. Eventually, I course-corrected, completed a master’s, took the test, and applied to Tufts, but I never fully believed in myself until I got here. Because of the support I received, I learned that I can pursue the paths I choose—and I can succeed.

What’s one adjective that best describes you?

Resilient. Despite giving up on my goals many times, I kept going. I pushed myself to do things that were extremely difficult for me—like finishing my bachelor’s (and even doing it with a double major in biochem and religion), taking a break from school to work for a few years, earning a master’s degree.

Neither of my parents went to a four-year college, and no one in my family has a science background. I didn’t have role models for this type of educational journey, and I depended mostly on myself to make decisions and make things happen. And I never believed I would get into dental school—but I kept going anyway.

How would you complete the following sentence? “In ten years I will be…”

An oral surgeon. After graduation, I’m doing a one-year general practice residency in New York City, but the goal is to apply to oral surgery residencies afterward and eventually do for others what was done for me: correct jaw issues through surgery.

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