Guided by faith and altruism, CELS student pursues dream of dentistry

For Umu-Kultumie Tejan-Jalloh, dentistry is not only a lifelong goal, it’s her passion. A junior medical laboratory science major in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS), Tejan-Jalloh aspires to open a dentistry practice in her home country of Sierra Leone. She hopes to increase awareness of the importance of dental hygiene and break the barriers around women in dentistry.

Growing up in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, Tejan-Jalloh discovered her passion for the sciences early on. “When I was younger, I did well in chemistry and biology, so I knew I wanted to go into medicine,” she says.

During high school, Tejan-Jalloh had the unique opportunity to shadow a local dentist in her hometown. The experience of working in a dentist’s office left an indelible impression that only strengthened Tejan-Jalloh’s desire to pursue a career in dentistry.

“I felt like I was supposed to be there; I could see myself working as I dentist,” reflects Tejan-Jalloh of her experience. According to the World Health Organization, there are fewer than 10 dentists serving a population of 7.7 million people, all of them male. But Tejan-Jalloh is not discouraged. In fact, she hopes to change the face of dentistry in the West African country by opening her own practice one day.

The first step in realizing her dream was to pursue an undergraduate degree from the University of Rhode Island. She started out as a biology major, later switching to medical laboratory science in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology.

“URI is an accepting place, and I was able to branch out and learn about new cultures,” says Tejan-Jalloh, who is also involved in student groups like the Students Alliance for the Welfare of Africa and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

In addition to her involvement in student clubs and tutoring through the URI Academic Enhancement Center, last summer, Tejan-Jalloh pursued an internship opportunity with a local dentist. Working at Dr. Frank Delmonico’s office, she learned about the art of tooth construction, applying her classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios in dentistry.

“Most of the employees in the office were female, so it was empowering to see women working all around me,” notes Tejan-Jalloh, who aspires to change the notions around women in dentistry in Sierra Leone, where achieving gender equality remains a challenge.

“I have had people tell me that it will be hard to finish dental school and specialize, while also having a family,” she adds of the double standard women encounter in the workplace. 

At the conclusion of her internship with Dr. Delmonico, Tejan-Jalloh traveled back to Sierra Leone on a mission to help educate her community about the importance of dental hygiene, and introduce the next generation of students to the field of dentistry.

Equipped with new knowledge and 144 dental kits, Tejan-Jalloh donated toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to children in need, held educational presentations for her peers, and distributed informational pamphlets to help encourage more students to pursue a career in dentistry.

As she completes her junior year at URI, Tejan-Jalloh continues to give back to her community and excel academically, achieving the Dean’s list and maintaining a high GPA.

“I believe with God all things are possible,” says  Tejan-Jalloh, who plans to finish her studies next year, apply to dental school and seek scholarships that will allow her to pursue her career goals while continuing to give back to her community.

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Tejan-Jalloh (third from left) and her peers donating dental kits to children at a primary school in Sierra Leone.
Tejan-Jalloh (third from left) and her peers donating dental kits to children at a primary school in Sierra Leone.