Student group launches bursary program for students interested in dentistry

Sama Banaei (DDS ’21) created and co-founded Pathways to Dentistry – a student-led initiative that provides young an all-encompassing view of dentistry as a career option, and a bursary program to provide financial aid to marginalized populations.

Tarwinder Rai - 03 May 2021

Sama Banaei (DDS ’21) reflected on his time during his pre-professional degree and noticed he was one of the few in his program that considered dentistry as a potential career. He felt the reason for this was that students were simply uninformed about the field. As he gained admission to dental school, he realized many that chose a career in dentistry had gained familiarity of the field through their parents, relatives or family friends.

He also realized that there was a significant population of students that didn’t have the strong financial support that is necessary to pursue a pre-professional program.

Hoping to change these barriers in accessibility, Banaei created and co-founded Pathways to Dentistry – a student-led initiative that not only provides young adults with an all-encompassing view of dentistry as a career option, but also establishes a bursary program to provide financial aid to marginalized populations.

“Pathways to Dentistry aims to minimize the barriers between the profession and communities that have been financially marginalized as well as to provide insightful information to all prospective students regarding the program and field of dentistry,” says Banaei. “We aim to provide a more equitable opportunity to pursue dentistry as a career.”

This inspired Banaei and the rest of his team to develop and deliver presentations to prospective high school and undergraduate students on a potential career in dentistry or dental hygiene. It further led them to create a bursary program that provides incoming pre-professional undergraduate students financial relief. In addition to these projects,
they have also begun developing a hands-on summer program for prospective students to provide an early exposure to dental procedures.

“It was important for us to develop these presentations for students because we believe dentistry is a hidden gem and we wanted to provide students with more clarity. We touch on many of the key elements of dentistry and explore the fundamental factors in deciding if dentistry would be a good career option for them,” says Banaei, adding their last event had over 100 students in attendance.

“Despite the financial resources available to those in need, there is still a considerable gap that deters students from pursuing professional programs like dentistry,” says Banaei. “And this is where the Pathways to Dentistry bursary program provides support.”

“We realized that there were many bright young students in financially difficult situations that wouldn’t even consider dentistry due to the huge financial risk for them. Payment for their pre-professional education by themselves would create a profoundly stressful environment when attempting to balance finances with academic excellence and a devastating debt situation if they fell short of admissions. The bursary program will help cover the costs of their undergraduate education as well as provide them an avenue in admissions to the program,” added Banaei. “We are excited to have the opportunity to bring the dental community together in helping these students pursue their aspirations of becoming a dentist.”

When asked about the mission statement for the initiative Banaei replied, “Our goal for Pathways to Dentistry is to create a foundation of accessibility for prospective students. We want to be leaders in this initiative as this would be the first program of its kind in any dental school in Canada. In addition, we also aim to be mentors for students that want to learn more about dentistry as a career, as well as the programs we have available here at the University of Alberta.”

For those interested in providing donations to the Pathways to Dentistry Bursary Program please contact More information about upcoming presentations will be posted on their Facebook page “Pathways to Dentistry”.