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Grad profile: Alero Boyo

Posted by Cheryl Bell on June 12, 2023 in News
(Photos: Bruce Bottomley)

For Alero Boyo, convocation this year meant tying a bow on 17 years of university education. Her most recent degree, a combined Doctor of Medicine/Master of Science in Oral Maxillofacial Surgery from Dalhousie University, accounts for the final six years. The university accepts just one student into this program each year, so Boyo is the lone graduate for 2023  – and only the second female graduate from the program.

Back in 2006, when she was studying for her first degree at the University of Ottawa, Boyo didn’t dream of becoming an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, but she felt that a health sciences profession was in her future.

"I don’t think anyone knows where they’re going to end up, unless your plans are really focused," says Boyo. "And sometimes you have plans and then your plans change."

She explored both medicine and dentistry during her undergrad years as a medical science student, volunteering at a children’s hospital in Ottawa and a dental clinic for homeless and underprivileged people. But it was what she saw at the dental clinic – and the influence of a good mentor – that captured her interest.

Boyo’s next step surprised even her. "I decided rather late that I wanted to do dentistry," she explains. "So even though I’d written the DAT exam, I had missed the deadlines to apply to the Canadian dental schools that cycle."

So, "just to see", she applied to dental schools in the UK and Ireland and was accepted at the School of Dental Science at Trinity College Dublin, a five-year program.

"It was a great decision, and it gave me a different life experience," says Boyo, who enjoyed easy and inexpensive European travel while she was in Dublin, and the opportunity to make friends from many different places. The second term of her fourth year at dental school was spent as an Erasmus scholar on exchange in Stockholm, taking over the patient lists of a Swedish dental student who spent the term in Dublin treating Boyo’s patients.

A series of stepping stones
Dr. David Psutka, Boyo’s mentor from Toronto and an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, helped her think about her next step and encouraged her to consider specializing.  

Although her interest in oral and maxillofacial surgery was growing, Boyo decided to spend a "stepping stone" year doing a general practice residency (GPR) at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

"In Canada, you don’t typically apply for oral and maxillofacial surgery right out of dental school," Boyo explains. "A GPR gives you more hands-on exposure to complex cases, including oral surgery, so it helped me explore my options."

There are just five English-speaking oral and maxillofacial surgery programs in Canada, so it’s competitive to get in. The first time she applied, Boyo was turned down. Although it was disappointing, Boyo decided to spend a second stepping stone year at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry where she pursued an oral surgery internship.

She explains that the role meant functioning as a first-year resident, helping out in the clinics, being on call, and assisting in the operating theatre. "It was great experience to get, whether you wanted to pursue oral surgery or add to your skills as a general dentist," says Boyo. It also strengthened her applications to study oral and maxillofacial surgery the second time round.

In it for the long haul
Not surprisingly, Boyo says she had doubts and concerns before embarking on her six-year program at Dalhousie. "It’s hard work and a long commitment," she admits.

But she likes that oral and maxillofacial surgery is a "bridge" between medicine and dentistry. She also says that it’s really rewarding professionally, particularly in terms of the kinds of difference an oral and maxillofacial surgeon can make in some patients’ lives.

The work ranges from caring for patients who have been in accidents or are receiving cancer treatment, to dealing with wisdom teeth or treating temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Boyo says she enjoys it all, even though a typical day begins at the hospital around 6:30 am with rounds and doesn’t end until around 5:30 or 6:00 pm. It’s not unusual to study for exams in the evenings, plus residents are typically on call one night a week and one weekend a month. It’s a real job combined with being a student.

Boyo may joke about going to law school next, but really, she is happy with the path she has taken to get where she is. Each of her stepping stones gave her an opportunity to explore her options and to learn and prepare for the next step.

And that included coming to Dalhousie. "It’s a strong program and well rounded," says Boyo. Some other oral and maxillofacial surgery programs are only four years long, whereas Dal’s is six years and incorporates medical school as part of the program. "Did I enjoy all of it? Probably not, but it was all good learning," Boyo admits.

This graduation is the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Boyo. Her six years in Halifax have convinced her that this is now home. She will start work at a private practice this summer and also hopes to have a role supervising and mentoring undergraduate students in the Faculty of Dentistry.