Lynn explores research as a clinician-scientist through NIH program

Headshot of Sarah Lynn on a branded background

If you asked Sarah Lynn, DDS ’23, what she would do with her life a few years ago, she never would have thought research would be part of it. 

After pursuing basic science research in her undergraduate program, Lynn found herself much more drawn to the practice of dentistry. Knowing she wanted to have a career in healthcare, “I was more focused on being a good provider,” she explained. “There are so many things to learn, and I wanted to be a good clinician and interact well with my patients.” 

But her time at the School of Dentistry showed Lynn that there is more than one kind of research—and being a researcher and a clinician are not mutually exclusive. 

“We have some really good professors who help you start thinking about how to make clinical decisions,” she said. “A lot of those should be based on research.” Lynn’s didactic coursework opened her up to the way research informs clinical work—and revealed to her how much more there is to discover. 

Lynn began to explore research opportunities with faculty mentors, ultimately deciding the best course of action would be to complete her clinical requirements and take a research year. “There were so many things that I wanted to do, and I knew if I graduated without investigating this path for myself, I wouldn’t have this kind of opportunity again.” 

That’s what brought Lynn to the NIH Medical Scholar Research Program, a year-long training opportunity that pairs clinicians who are not pursuing doctoral degrees with a research mentor in the National Institutes of Health. Lynn is the only dental student in this year’s program, which also consists of 50 medical students from throughout the United States. 

Lynn is working with Janice Lee, DDS, MD, MS, clinical director of the craniofacial anomalies and regeneration section of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, where she is exploring the presence of TMD in Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. 

She enjoys the work, as well as the interprofessional experience of working with so many medical students. “I get to answer questions for my medical colleagues that they don’t learn in medical school,” she said. “It’s also a great program for someone like me who didn’t come into dental school expecting to do research. It’s a way to explore research without giving up your clinical practice.”

Lynn hopes her experience will encourage others to take on research and explore opportunities like the Medical Scholar Research Program. 

“I’ve enjoyed so much of the experience already, and I want other dental students to know that there is so much opportunity in this program,” she said. “The program is inspiring and helps us learn, and the mentor experience has been so supportive. Coming to work every day is really a joy.”