Eritrean narrates journey as UCU dentistry student

By Kefa Senoga
Yohana Eyob Ghebrekristos always held the notion that her dream would not become a reality through magic, but rather, by sweat, determination and hard work. Yohana dreams of a career in dental surgery. And she is almost there. She is in year five, the final year of study for the award of the degree of Bachelor of Dental Surgery at Uganda Christian University (UCU). 

Yohana began university studies from her home country, Eritrea. However, due to some difficulties at her university, in 2018, she traveled more than 1,000 miles to relocate to Uganda to cement her dream.

“I studied at the Orotta School of Medicine and Dentistry for a couple of years, but due to some challenges that our school was going through, I decided to relocate to Uganda to continue with my studies,” Yohana said. 

Yohana dressed in her medical attire.
Yohana dressed in her medical attire.

She was among the pioneer students for the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course at UCU. With that UCU pioneer class expected to graduate in July this year, there is hope that the high dentist to patient ratio in Uganda will drop. Uganda has 320 dentists licensed to practice in a country of more than 45 million people, resulting in a shortage that the Uganda Dental Association attributes to limited training institutions.

While many people would have second thoughts about leaving their country of origin to study on foreign land, it was not the case with Yohana. The passion and determination she had to pursue a career in dentistry, coupled with the comfort of living with her sister, who is employed as an information technology professional with the United Nations in Uganda drove her to UCU. 

“My passion for dentistry started when I was 13 years old. During that time, I used to visit my childhood dentist, Dr. Fessehaye, to restore the cavities that I had in my teeth,” she said, noting that the level of professionalism with which Dr. Fessehaye carried out his work attracted her. Another thing that made Yohana fall for dentistry, she narrated, was the rate at which patients regained hope after visiting the dentist. 

Yohana notes that when she developed the love for the profession, she started engaging with the dentist, who was also a family friend, more often, to try to understand what it meant to carry out the job. 

“He would tell me what’s required to become a dentist. When I finally shared with him my desire to join the profession, he gave me invaluable advice that made me appreciate the career even more,” Yohana said, noting that she has since learned that dentistry involves more than just extracting teeth. 

Yohana working in the phantom lab.
Yohana working in the phantom lab.

Yohana said she is glad she joined UCU School of Dentistry, because she is not just taught by lecturers but “dental experts with good character.” For instance, the Dean of the UCU School of Dentistry, Dr. James Magara, is one of Uganda’s celebrated dental surgeons. Dr. Magara, who was part of the pioneer class of dental surgery at Uganda’s Makerere University, has been a practicing professional since 1988.

Yohana says UCU has also provided an opportunity for her to grow in her faith. She and, indeed, other students, credit UCU for its strong Christian foundation that they say reinforces their religious beliefs. One of the favorite programs is the lunch-hour Christian fellowship that is conducted at the university every Tuesday and Thursday.

As a dentist, Yohana notes that it is her role to identify a gap in relation to oral health literacy in the community and then use every opportunity to educate the community about oral hygiene, noting that scholars have affirmed that good oral health leads to good general health.