Profile: Amir Sanjabi

Amir Sanjabi
IDS Class of 2016

Hometown: Lund, Sweden

Career Plans: To go into private practice as a general dentist.

"I'm very fortunate to have such a caring group of people in my program. Here, everybody is backing each other up and helping each other so no one falls behind."

Dr. Amir Sanjabi, IDS '16, is truly an international citizen. He immigrated from Iran to Sweden at the age of five; grew up in Lund; attended dental school in Stockholm; worked as a dentist and clinical instructor in Oslo; took continuing education classes in cities across Europe and the United States; and is now Pacific Dugoni's first International Dental Studies (IDS) student from Sweden. Despite being the first from his country, he's quick to highlight the diversity of his class as a whole and how meeting students from other countries has enhanced his dental school experience.

"I'm learning so much about different cultures," says Amir. "You develop yourself in that sense because you see the drawbacks of my education, the positives of their education, and vice versa."

Amir considers himself lucky to have seen many parts of the world. His father is in the airline business, so Amir was used to traveling frequently with his family. Although he grew up in the small community of Lund, he was able to spread his wings in Sweden's capitol as a dental student at Karolinska Institutet. He then moved on to Oslo, Norway, where he divided his time between governmental and private practice dentistry as well as serving as a clinical instructor at the University of Oslo.

Building and maintaining connections has been a key part of Amir's success as a dentist in Sweden and Norway, and now as a dental student in the U.S. When he decided to move back to Stockholm from Oslo in 2010, he contacted his former supervisor and immediately was offered a job.

Amir has many other connections who have guided him on his path to becoming a dentist. "Sometimes you end up somewhere and just by chance, you get to know somebody who will share their experience and get you into new lines of thought," says Amir. One of the first clinic owners Amir worked for was very engaged in continuing education; by his influence, Amir sought out opportunities to learn new technologies and techniques through CE classes in Scandinavian countries as well as the U.S. It was one of a handful of influences that drew him to pursue a career in dentistry in the U.S. Amir has other connections to the U.S. as well — his brother completed an Advanced Education in General Dentistry program in Texas, and his wife is originally from California.

Amir learned early on the importance of having a good dentist. As a child, he fractured his front teeth and he began to realize how often we take our teeth for granted, when in reality they are vital to performing in social situations and everyday life. As he got older, he also developed an interest in medicine, but the work-life balance of dentistry and a tradition of practicing dentistry in his family ultimately attracted him to the profession.

"Every day is a variation, and I really like that with all these factors, you could create such vivid job opportunities," says Amir.

Transitioning from a full-time job back to full-time student life was a challenge for Amir at first. He was working in the dental clinic right up until a couple days before the start of the school year and had little time to settle in before the first day. On top of the rigors of dental school, he also had to adjust to life in San Francisco — and the United States.

What made the transition easier for him? He credits the IDS Department staff and his supportive classmates. "I'm very fortunate to have such a caring group of people that I'm doing the program with," says Amir. "Here, everybody is backing each other up and helping each other so no one falls behind."

At Pacific Dugoni, Amir appreciates that the environment is collaborative rather than competitive. He praises the school's humanistic approach and the dedicated faculty and staff. He also feels lucky to live and learn in San Francisco and to be in the first batch of students at the school's new facility. Amir says that Pacific Dugoni offers something for everyone, such as research opportunities and volunteer work.

Taking care of underserved populations is one of Amir's passions. As a new dentist in Oslo, he had a patient who had severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and had a difficult time getting dental care because of his condition. When the patient missed his first appointment, Amir was upset because he had blocked off several hours for the patient. But Amir later learned about how the patient's time-consuming OCD rituals created huge barriers in his patient's life — and how just one trigger could set off a spiral of rituals. When he began to understand the challenges his patient faced, he was even more determined to help. The extra attention and commitment paid off when Amir completed the treatment and was later contacted by the patient's parents, who were thankful for the ways a new smile had transformed the patient's life. Amir says that the process was truly a collaboration requiring effort and commitment from the patient and his parents.

Amir wants to continue serving people who desperately need dental care but may go unnoticed — groups like single mothers or domestic violence victims. In Sweden, healthcare is covered by the government and there is not quite as dire a need for pro bono services. But in the U.S., Amir hopes to respond to the dental needs of underserved groups by becoming more involved in volunteer projects such as CDA Cares and other dental outreach programs.

Where will Amir's journey take him next? His goal is to become a very well-rounded general dentist with his own private practice. He's excited for the opportunity to continue making personal connections with his patients and working alongside them to complete their treatment. "I think it's a big part of our profession," he said. "I've been blessed to have had these circumstances."