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Alexa Nicholson: The 2023 Dr. D.S. Precious University Medal in Dentistry winner
(Bruce Bottomley photos)
Alexa Nicholson (DDS’23) was basking in the welcome heat of Mexico as she celebrated the end of dental school with some classmates, when she took a call from the dean, Dr. Ben Davis. After reassuring her that he was calling with good news, Dr. Davis informed Alexa that she is this year’s winner of the Dr. D. S. Precious University Medal in Dentistry.
"I somehow managed to stammer out a thank you," says Alexa.
It was a happy surprise for Alexa, although she is no stranger to receiving awards as a dental student. She finished her first year with the Charles Bell Memorial Prize for second highest marks in the class and last year she and Melanie Girard both took home the Dr. J. Stanley Bagnall Memorial Prize for highest academic standing in all subjects.
Drawn to the creative side of dentistry
When asked what led her to study dentistry, Alexa says she wishes she had "a more inspiring story". She says she was always interested in working in health care and just started shadowing different jobs to see what she might like.
"Dentistry really seemed interesting to me," she says, "and I liked that it had a creative side as well as being very science-based."
While she was finishing her BSc in biology (with a surprising economics minor) at St. Francis Xavier University in 2018, she applied to dental school at Dalhousie, but didn’t get in. Undaunted, she spent a year working on the reception desk of a dental practice in her home city of Saint John and applied again in 2019. This time she was successful.
With what appears to be characteristic good humour, Alexa says that, in hindsight, her year of working in the dental practice was the best thing that could have happened to her.
"I learned so much, particularly about the business side of things, which as students we don’t get a lot of exposure to," she says. "So I definitely felt more confident applying to dental school the second time."
Alexa says she was happy to be part of the class of 2023 because she ended up with so many great friends. When COVID-19 struck and upended their first year halfway through, those friendships helped them weather the storm.
The challenge of COVID-19
"We were lucky that we had time to get to know each other and connect before COVID arrived and our classes moved online," says Alexa. "I think COVID made us a lot more collaborative. Our study group also became known for having Christmas lights on in the CHEB when we were studying!"
One of the highlights of Alexa’s fourth year was taking the public health elective and spending a week on rotation in the dental clinic at the Eskasoni Community Health Centre. "It was a great opportunity to work with different populations, including a lot of children, and treating different cases," says Alexa.
Last year’s Dr. D. S. Precious Gold Medal winner, Hannah MacDonald (DDS’22) works at the Eskasoni clinic and Alexa says she was a "great mentor" for the class.
Alexa feels that the experience gained in Eskasoni and other outreach rotations will be useful when she takes up her associate position at East Point Dental in Saint John this summer. The practice is owned by Dr. Tara (Avery) Scichilone (DDS’03).
Time for hobbies
After four years of dental school, Alexa is looking forward to the routine of working regular hours. Another bonus is having free time to enjoy some of her hobbies again, including skiing and sailing, watercolour painting (something she learned from her grandmother), and baking. While she doesn’t see herself on the Great Canadian Baking Show anytime soon, Alexa is definitely looking forward to enjoying her normal creative outlets – in addition to dentistry.
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