CDM Class of 2020: Jin Chang
With no horse racing involved whatsoever, Jin Chang will achieve a “Triple Crown” in short order: His upcoming graduation from the College of Dental Medicine (CDM) will mark the completion of his third academic program at Columbia University (whose emblem is a crown), at three different schools.
Chang started his Columbia journey after serving in the U.S. Marines, where he was first a pilot and then a forward air controller at a time when the United States was heavily engaged in military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He began looking into other careers, including medicine, and ultimately settled on dentistry because he felt it was a good fit for his personality—nerdy and social—and because the dentists he spoke to expressed great satisfaction with their occupation despite its physical demands.
As an undergraduate student, Chang’s academic focus had been economics, so to get up to speed on dental prerequisite courses such as biology and organic chemistry, he enrolled in the postbaccalaureate program at Columbia’s School of General Studies (GS). He was accepted into the DDS program at CDM and chose to complete a concurrent MBA at Columbia Business School.
Chang’s path was far from ordinary even after he started dental school. He remained in the Marine Reserves while at CDM, and between his second and third year he was called back and deployed overseas. The dual-degree program he chose was unusual too, he explained, because the MBA program—which he described as “eye opening”—is geared toward students who have prior work experience, whereas most dental students begin their DDS training soon after college.
When he reached the clinical portion of the CDM curriculum, Chang quickly found that developing an awareness of a patient’s cultural practices was essential. “You really need to know your patients to understand why certain things happen and to treat them,” he said, recalling a young patient who came in with a mouthful of cavities. In meeting with the patient’s family, he realized that the underlying problem was likely the parents’ lack of knowledge about good toothbrushing habits and the common practice in their community of drinking only bottled water. He was able to address the issues more fundamentally by explaining the benefit of fluoridated tap water and share recommendations for good oral hygiene. “It’s really nice when you see that you’re making an impact, one person at a time.”
Chang enjoys working with children and their families, and after receiving his dental degree will stay on at Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian for a pediatric residency. Likening the mouth to a painting, he said, “I want to make sure the canvas children start off on is nice and clean. To start them off on the right foot, while they have teeth that are replaceable—and once they get their permanent teeth, hopefully they know better, and we can maintain a nice healthy oral environment.”
Outside of academics, Chang played rugby for Columbia’s dental/medical school and business school teams. “It brought me back to the that brotherhood that I had when I was in the military, to be part of a team again. There’s a lot of camaraderie.” He also participated in the admissions committee or society at each of the three Columbia schools he attended, knowing prospective and incoming students appreciated having someone they could speak to candidly.
Chang describes his time as a Columbia student as wonderful and unexpected. “I had such a good experience here. It’s the community that Columbia fosters that made my experience so worth it—the caliber of the students at the dental school and GS, and everybody I’ve met. Honestly, it was so great that, though eight years is a long time, I wish it were longer.”