Shifting gears: from dentistry in Pakistan to hygiene in Canada

26 June 2020

Ayesha Haq, BSc DH '20

Since ninth grade in Pakistan, I planned to be a dentist. It’s one of those things back home. You're encouraged to choose medicine, dentistry, or engineering. I had good marks and got into both medicine and dentistry. I felt there was less pressure in dentistry: it's a hectic life choice and hard, but I could leave work at work.

I got into dental school in Pakistan. There, the first two years are theory and a bit in the dental lab, never interacting with patients. When I married two years into my program, I debated finishing my degree, but I knew the course structure is different from Canada's, so there was no point.

In the programs here, we study and also practice at the same time. It makes sense to me! You understand better because you're actually applying it.

Dental hygiene, take 1

In the pre-professional year here, I had to take English classes. It wasn't only the medical and dental parts of English, but learning patient communication. I knew how to read, write and speak English, but I would mainly communicate in my native language.

I modified my plan a bit. I talked to people who got into dental hygiene. I decided to start there and then prepare for the dental exam. It seemed easiest to transition from first-year hygiene into first-year dentistry since you're learning similar things so I gave myself a year.

A good surprise

But my plans were interrupted! In 1st year, I became pregnant with my son. I wasn't planning on having him, but he was a good surprise.

I really appreciate my instructors’ support to help me shift my classes around! I took fall of 2nd year off and my husband took time off during my winter term in 2nd year. We don't have any other family here, so we have no other support for our son.

My classmates were also amazingly supportive. If ever I had problems or my son was sick, even for important meetings or clinical appointments, I could switch dates with friends, or my instructors gave me extensions on my papers. Everyone was so understanding and cooperative.

It’s such a tight-knit class and has really helpful instructors. We all got through it because it's so supportive.

Shifting gears

Even returning from my maternity leave, I still planned to transition to dentistry. Throughout the next year, I shifted from simply accepting the practicality of staying in hygiene with my new child, to thinking how much I enjoyed interacting with patients as a hygienist, to appreciating the field itself. My feelings solidified in 3rd year and hygiene became my ride or die.

I enjoy interacting with my patients at a more personal level. During your care, you ask about different aspects of their life and social circumstances and structure your hygiene care based on that. You feel more like you're involved with their lives. I'm a social person, and I enjoy that.


Our instructors suggested we practice for a few years to solidify our muscle memory and skills. We'll get faster and better. Then I plan to study more! I want to do my masters one day, and I hope to find an interesting topic through my continuing education.

I took a break from trying to get into dentistry, and now I've graduated! I'm still being fulfilled with hygiene education, and I'm pleased I stuck with it.