Serving others leads to a fulfilling career change

Peter Wilkinson

When Peter Wilkinson, DDS ’22, reflects on what drew him to dentistry, one aspect stands out: the people.

“I started out college in engineering, then I got a job in a research lab and considered pursuing a research career,” recalled Wilkinson. “But that seemed socially limiting and when I thought about what I really cared about, I realized I wanted to work with people and make a difference in their lives.” 

That brought Wilkinson to healthcare where, as a college senior, he began volunteering at Hope Dental Clinic in St. Paul which provides free dental care to people in need.

He liked his work there right away, which likely came as no surprise to his parents, both of whom are dentists and School of Dentistry alumni who have also volunteered at the clinic. His mother, Sandy, graduated in 1982, and father, Chuck, in 1985. Chuck practiced at HealthPartners until his 2019 retirement; Sandy, who maintains a private practice in Newport, MN, plans to retire soon.

Wilkinson is applying to oral and maxillofacial surgery residencies, as he found himself drawn to oral surgery, particularly interested in treating pathologies of the head and neck. But again, it is the potential of working with a wide range of people that most excites him. 

“I like the diversity of the patients we see,” he said. “They come from throughout Minnesota with problems ranging from acute trauma such as a broken jaw that needs immediate surgery to skeletal malformations that require planning out multiple surgeries over several years.”

Part of what made it possible for Wilkinson to pursue this rewarding work are the scholarships he has received, including the C.A.L. and Esther J.E. Anderson Scholarship. Endowed in 1994, the scholarship was created by the Andersons’ estate to provide support to students like Wilkinson.

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“I think one of the main reasons I received the Anderson scholarship, which focuses on volunteering and service, is the role that community service played in my upbringing,” said Wilkinson. “Both my parents volunteered and encouraged me to do so as well. I’m glad I did, as my life is so much richer as a result. Plus, it’s fulfilling to serve patients in the same clinic where I first gained exposure to dentistry as a volunteer.”

The scholarships Wilkinson received have played an important part in his journey. “Dental school is expensive, and I’m planning on a lot more education, so every little bit helps,” said Wilkinson. The scholarships have also given Wilkinson more flexibility in terms of how many residencies he can apply for, as they help cover application fees.

What’s more, the scholarships help him build his CV. “I’m proud of my contributions and accomplishments, and they are a substantial part of what I carry forward as I apply for residencies and work toward what I know will be a fulfilling career, one in which I continue to volunteer my time in order to help others receive the care they need,” said Wilkinson.

To learn how you can have an impact by supporting U of M dental students, please contact Emily Best at [email protected] or 612-625-6811.