In honor of International Women's Day, we sat down with Jaleena Jessop, Ultradent's Director of Clinical Affairs. She is also a practicing dentist. In our conversation, she discusses how, through hard work and determination, she achieved her goal of becoming a dentist despite coming from a very conservative background where women weren't encouraged to pursue careers. 

Jaleena Jessop, DDS, Ultradent's
Director of Clinical Affairs

What made you want to be a dentist?
I didn't think I wanted to be a dentist, initially. I started working with my dad at the dental office when I was twelve years old. I was putting trays together, doing sterilizations, and stuff like that. Then I started assisting my dad when I was about 13 or 14. For me, dentistry was all I had ever known, so when I started thinking about what I wanted to do after high school, I became interested in exploring other options. I've always had a strong desire to create my own identity and pursue a career despite my conservative background.

In high school, I wanted to go into nursing, so I began assisting a labor and delivery nurse named Sharon who was a part of our community. I loved working with her and found it fascinating, so that was my goal. So, I chose obstetrics and gynecology, or ob-gyn, so I could spend my days delivering babies. 

You came from a very conservative background where women weren't typically encouraged to pursue careers during that time period.
Yes, I did. The community definitely didn't encourage it–it was more like they discouraged women from achieving careers. However, my parents were always very supportive of their children pursuing their dreams–whether we were daughters or sons. That really showed in my father's family. He has several siblings with various degrees. 

So, after high school, you started pursuing your degree?
Yes, I started taking my prerequisites at Salt Lake Community College. After taking my classes, I had a very traumatic experience with the loss of a nephew with the doctor I was shadowing. After doing a lot of soul searching, I decided I didn't have the heart strength for ob-gyn. I needed to be able to be stronger than I am to be good in that profession. I needed to be able to take losses like the one I witnessed in stride, and it was just too emotionally difficult. That experience caused me to rethink my future, and I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted in the end was to help people. I knew healthcare was a passion, but I loved art as well, and it was these qualifications that led me to change my course to pursue dentistry instead of ob-gyn. 

Did you want to go to Loma Linda Dental School, your father's alma mater?
Not necessarily. It was about getting into a good, clinically minded dental school more than anything else. I ended up at Loma Linda not only because it gave good clinical experience, but also because Neil (Neil Jessop, Jaleena's husband) was able to get a job in their research department, and it was important to me that he was happy. I also wanted to get into a dental school because I worked hard, not because I was Dr. Fischer's daughter. That was really, really important to me, so I worked my butt off for my grades. In fact, when I applied, no one even knew I was Dr. Fischer's daughter, I applied using my married name-Jessop. I left "Fischer" off of all of my application forms. I left all affiliations with Ultradent and my dad off of any records that were submitted to dental schools. Not because I wasn't proud of them, but because I wanted to get by on my own merit. I wanted to know, for myself, that I had earned what I worked for and I'm so glad for that. 

Dr. Dan Fischer, founder and CEO of
Ultradent Products, Inc., with his
daughter, Dr. Jaleena Jessop
When you decided to go to dental school, what was your father, Dr. Fischer's reaction?
Growing up in a very conservative society, I'm very lucky to have been able to, in a sense, jump ahead of the times by being a woman who went to dental school, thanks to my dad always believing in "smart girls." He was very progressive in that aspect and a champion for women's education. There weren't very many women in dental school or women dentists at the time, so that was huge for me. He was ecstatic about my decision to go to dental school.

And then, after graduation, I found a space where he and I could practice together. I paid the rent for a while until I could afford to buy the office, and I slowly built up a practice.

When did you have your two children in all of this?
I had a one-year-old daughter and a four-year-old daughter when Neil and I packed up and left to go to Loma Linda. It was difficult balancing motherhood and dental school, and then building a dental practice through all of those years, but I did it with the help and support of my husband and family. In fact, without the support of my mom, Aleena, helping me with my kids, applying to school would not have been doable.  I am a big advocate of women supporting women.  

What does being a dentist mean to you?
Caring for people. That is the most important aspect of my job–the human side of it. It is so personally fulfilling and incredibly meaningful for me to look after and care for people. I love it.

Do you think women bring a unique aspect to dentistry?
Oh yes. I think women bring an incredibly nurturing quality to the profession that is undeniable, especially in a field where many people grow up being afraid of the dentist. Women, I think, see dentistry as a means of fulfilling people's needs and caring for their patients in addition to getting the task at hand done.

Do you see women increasing in dentistry in the future?
Absolutely–and not only because of the nurturing and caring side to what they bring. There's a mechanical aspect to it, too.  I had someone that was very close to us at Ultradent tell me once that I shouldn't be doing dentistry because "women aren't mechanically minded." I believe women bring a very fine, gentle, and technical touch to the field that is inherent.  I also believe we are very capable of visualizing and understanding mechanical aspects of any profession. Of course, men bring their unique strengths as well, but as far as women go, that's what I see in women that is so amazing when it comes to dentistry.

What would you tell your daughter if she wanted to be a dentist?
Well, it's funny you should ask because my youngest daughter, Cambri, is going to be a dentist. She'll apply to dental schools in about a year-and-a-half. We're so excited about that, and I would dare say my dad is even more excited about it! I'm thrilled for her. We are so proud of both of our daughers! Kazia and Cambri are both strong, beautiful women with good work ethics and big hearts. We couldn't be more proud of them.

For any other girl who is thinking about going to dental school, what advice would you give her?
Make sure you're not going into it for the money (tears up). Do it for the people and the care you'll be able to provide for them.

Dr. Jaleena Fischer Jessop currently runs her own dental practice, works as the Director of Clinical Affairs at Ultradent Products, Inc., is an adjunct professor at the University of Utah Dental School, and also serves on both the National Advisory Board as well as the Admission Boards of the University of Utah Dental School, which just admitted a class of 50% women for Fall 2018. 

Learn more about Ultradent's involvement in International Women's Day