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A Look at Some of Our 2017 Graduates

June 6, 2017

The stories of our 2017 graduates are as diverse as the students themselves. Two of our graduates, Shaun Abrams and Amy McFarling, also are included in's video feature for commencement

Shaun Abrams
Fifth-year DDS/PhD program
Propelled by Dreams

Shaun AbramsShaun Abrams’ dreams brought him 3,000 miles, from New York to California, to study both science and clinical care. Abrams is finishing his doctorate and his first year of dental school as part of the School of Dentistry’s DDS/PhD program.

“UCSF always was my dream school,” Abrams said. “When I expressed interest in doing a dual degree, my mentors always put UCSF at the top of the list” of schools he should consider: “Because of the high caliber of not only basic scientists, but also clinicians. They knew I would be pushed to grow clinically and scientifically.”

Scientific highlights include research on fixing a congenital facial defect in a mouse model, and exploring how this might be applied to humans. That experience “is driving me to push the bounds of research, to think big, to take risks going forward.”

Abrams is at a unique crossroads: finishing one educational journey while still in the throes of another. “One thing I’m really excited about, post-commencement, is continuing in my clinical training. Graduating from the PhD program has been such an enriching experience; I’m looking forward to the next phase where I can focus on clinical care.”

Studying in the DDS program “allows me to reconnect with what got me passionate about health care and dentistry in the first place,” Abrams said: “the interactions I had shadowing my mother, who is a dentist.”

Abrams credits the dreams of his parents, both immigrants from Guyana, as almost as great a force as his own.

“Watching my mom graduate from dental school when I was 6 years old — the tremendous amount of joy and pride I felt in that moment will always stick with me,” he said. “And my dad, watching him [pursue] his MBA, helping him type his papers — when I was in high school, he would wake me up and we would type those papers together. Those formative moments showed me the value of hard work , determination and sacrifice in obtaining your dreams.”

Amy McFarling
Fourth-year DDS
A Wild, Rewarding Ride

Amy McFarlingWhen asked to summarize her UCSF experience in three words, Amy McFarling’s response was tumultuous, rewarding and humbling.

“Everyone was very surprised when I chose to go to San Francisco. I was surprised too,” the Texan said. “Being away from them was certainly a challenge.” Part of what lured her West — a personal relationship — proved a challenge too. But, “I just happened to be in a space where I thrived anyway … this is where I was supposed to be.”

McFarling, like many, found the work of learning dentistry tumultuous as well. “You’re trying to juggle all your patients, get things done for them, while managing paperwork — it can be frustrating sometimes, when all you want to do is take care of your patients and their needs.”

The flip side of that reveals much of what’s rewarding.

“There are not many other times in my adult life that are as rewarding as a patient saying, ‘Thank you for helping me get the smile I wanted,’” said McFarling, who is heading back to the Lone Star State to start residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery.

She credits UCSF not just for molding her into a dentist, but also “helping me figure out who I am as a human being and a health care provider. I really didn’t know what I was made of.”

And that has helped McFarling manage the humbling times.

“You can practice all you want on mannequins or in the simulation lab, read all the articles, look over all the PowerPoints … it comes down to the day when you actually do something, it can be either completely not textbook at all or just doesn’t go how you planned,” she said.

To other students who may feel out of their league: “I certainly felt like that. It’s not a mistake that you’re here: Your name is on your lab coat, your name is on your station for a reason. Don’t forget that. Things are going to be hard. But it’ll be OK.”

Irene Cheng
Fourth-year DDS
More, Bigger, Better

Irene ChengNot so long ago, Irene Cheng thought she would become a marine biologist. But she found the discipline short on personal interaction. At about the same time, a friend’s father offered her the opportunity to intern in his office.

“He was an oral surgeon, and he was the one who told me that dentistry was not just about drilling and filling,” Cheng said.

“With a dental degree, I could be pushing for legislation, go into public health, research, academia, be at a community clinic, go into private practice — so many different opportunities.”

She was convinced.

“Going into dentistry is probably the best thing I’ve decided in my entire life,” Cheng said. “Dental school has been fulfilling — humbling, but fulfilling. Whether you’re educating patients on oral hygiene or doing a filling, what you’re doing is making changes in your community. UCSF makes you realize you’re part of something bigger than just yourself.”

That became evident even within the campus setting. “UCSF has always been the prime example of what happens when you put a very diverse group of people together. It’s all about diversity and changes and innovation, and I never understood how that came together until I got to the school,” said Cheng, whose next plans are a general practice residency in San Diego. 

“You put all these people together, everyone challenges each other. When people challenge you, you open your mind up to different things, and that’s what makes you grow. It’s how things become better, how things are innovated. And that’s why I love UCSF.”

— Terri Hunter-Davis