Class of 2023
“In watching my mentor—my father—I have witnessed first-hand the happiness that follows when passion meets purpose.”
School of Dental Medicine Class of 2023 student Gabriella “Bella” Koussa couldn’t pinpoint the one reason or moment when she chose to pursue dentistry, but her father, Nadeem Koussa (DEN ‘94) played a major role in her gravitating toward the field.
“Like many others, I have a mentor in my life who sparked my interest in dentistry,” said Koussa. “I am beyond blessed to say that my mentor is my father. He earned his dental degree in two countries, persevering while barely knowing English after immigrating to the United States.”
Cleveland native Koussa says that having that kind of model of determination has helped her get through dental school—along with having her family close by.
“I would not have made it to this point in my life without my family’s endless support and encouragement,” she explained. “To say that I am fortunate to go through dental school with my family nearby is an understatement!”
Having her family in the area wasn’t the only reason Koussa chose Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), however.
“The reputation of the university is unmatched,” she said. “It was not a difficult decision to make!”
Her patients are also happy that Koussa chose CWRU for her dental education.
Nick Hanson, Carlton Road residential community director in the university’s Office of Student Affairs, recently began receiving dental care from Koussa at the SODM dental clinic.
“I started working in student affairs at Case Western Reserve several months ago and needed a pretty significant amount of dental work done,” said Hanson. “I have pretty bad dental anxiety and Bella is so patient, understanding and reassuring throughout the process. She takes the time to thoroughly explain everything that is going on and is always happy to answer my questions. I actually look forward to going to the dentist now!”
After graduation, Koussa plans to continue serving the Greater Cleveland area by practicing alongside her father.
Class of 2023
Third-year dental student Jennifer Jung was born hearing impaired in her right ear, but it was not diagnosed until she was in the sixth grade. Her diagnosis, and the experience leading up to it, sparked her interest in treating a patient as a whole being. It deepened her understanding of those with differing abilities, and piqued her curiosity for how those individuals complete normal tasks on a day-to-day basis.
During her time as an undergraduate student, Jung studied American Sign Language (ASL) for three years. This education opened her eyes to just how important communication is, and how many different types of communication exist.
“Communication is very important to me,” said Jung, “and learning how each individual communicates is very important to good patient care.”
Seeing the world in a new way, Jung became interested in dentistry.
“Dentistry has an all around improvement in wellbeing for the whole individual. Yes, we deal with chewing, breathing, the health of the physical teeth but we also treat the emotional and mental health of a patient,” Jung said. “If you aren’t confident in your smile, chances are that you are not going to show confidence in other areas of your life.”
Though she is passionate about her studies, dental school has not been easy for Jung.
“It has been a humbling experience for me,” said Jung. “What you plan in life doesn’t necessarily happen. You have to learn to adapt.”
The challenges she has experienced during her time at Case Western Reserve University have given Jung opportunities for her to meet individuals and realize specific interests in the dental field she would not have discovered otherwise. These experiences led her to many research opportunities in Craniofacial Orthodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, and Interprofessional Community Health.
Jung is active in several clubs and organizations, serving as the Co-President of the Orthodontics and Craniofacial Orthodontics Club, President of the Graduate Society of Medical Humanities, and is a part of the Graduate Student Council.
Her goal at the end of her studies at the School of Dental Medicine will be to continue her research efforts with the hope of specializing in Orthodontics.
“The holistic improvement is what draws me to that speciality and providing specialized care to those who need it,” she said.
Class of 2023
When one thinks of dental medicine, art is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. However, for Alexandra Yazdani, the artistry of dentistry is what continues to draw her to the profession.
“There is a lot of artistry in dentistry,” the now third-year student explained. “Dental medicine is aesthetic as well as scientific—it uses the right brain and the left brain.”
Yazdani grew up dancing competitively in all different styles: ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and contemporary. She also enjoys practicing visual arts and loves to draw so it’s no surprise that she began studying a discipline where she could utilize her whole brain, a fusion of all her passions.
Dentistry is also a family affair for Yazdani.
“My father actually went to Case Western Reserve and graduated from the dental school.”
Back home in Toronto, she spent a lot of time at her father’s private practice watching him work with patients. His skill in working with people captivated her, further sparking her interest in becoming a dentist herself. For Yazdani, it all comes down to having empathy and connecting with the patient.
“The hardest thing for some people in dealing with patients is understanding that everyone is different. Not everyone has the same oral health literacy, and not everyone has the same financial status,” she said.
Yazdani shared that the great thing about the School of Dental Medicine (SODM) is how the students are prepared to treat the whole patient and not just their mouths. The school’s Dental Clinic provides students with real world patient experience, giving them the opportunity to interact with all different kinds of people from the community.
“Some people are very anxious and I have been able to develop a lot of patience and empathy for those who need to stop and take a break or who need a little more explanation about a procedure,” she said.
When she needs to decompress from the stress of studying or working with patients, Yazdani spends time with the friends she has made at the SODM.
“No one else understands what we go through—we are all in it together, and we really rely on each other. The people are what sets CWRU apart.”