This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Ashiana Jivraj, D.M.D. ’21, jokes that she was born in a dental chair. Her mother worked through most of her pregnancy as a general dentist, and Jivraj spent most of her childhood — from 7 to 17 — being shuttled to and from the orthodontist’s office.
While it would be easy to assume these are the reasons Jivraj was destined for a career in dentistry, it was in fact a trip to India during her sophomore year of college that set the course.
“I wound up working in a dental clinic and saw the immense challenge that the social determinants of health brought to patients,” she said. “I consistently saw people deciding between whether they would take care of their tooth or put food on the table. It was that systemic challenge that drove me to pursue dentistry with the goal of bettering equitable access to care.”
Jivraj’s path pursuing her dental degree has been unconventional from the start. She entered the Doctor of Dental Medicine program at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) in August of 2015 as a member of the Class of 2019. Two years into her pre-doctoral education, Jivraj decided to pause her dental education to pursue an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School.
“While pursuing my M.B.A., I discovered my interest in strategic thinking and trying to determine how we solve pain points for our patients and stakeholders,” she said. “The M.B.A. widened my scope to allow me to understand and explore so many different fields and industries. I was reminded that this mission of increasing access to care was why I came to Harvard and I learned that the private sector could have an incredible impact on this space. Returning to HSDM from the M.B.A. program, I had a renewed outlook about why I wanted to pursue the D.M.D. and what I wanted to learn.”
The option to pursue a dual-degree at Harvard had a tremendous impact on Jivraj’s experience as a student.
“The opportunities at Harvard and HSDM … have inspired me to invest my time into organizations that are pushing the envelope in health care,” she said. “I think that HSDM offered me an opportunity to understand how important oral health is, especially in the grander scheme of health care. I feel so fortunate to be in a program that has encouraged me to think outside of the box when it comes to solving problems.”
While at HSDM, Jivraj has served as the president for the Class of 2019 and is currently vice president for the Class of 2021. She was a coordinator for the ACTION clinic, a student-run pediatric dental clinic offered once a month in Cambridge. Jivraj volunteered for HSDM’s annual Give Kids a Smile event and has served as the treasurer for HSDM’s American Student Dental Association (ASDA) chapter.
Jivraj’s research has focused on value-based health care and she has worked closely with Jane Barrow, M.S. ’87, associate dean for the Office of Global and Community Health and executive director of HSDM’s Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine.
“Dean Jane Barrow has been an incredible mentor for me over the last five years. I walked into her office for the first time, perched on a chair and told her I loved global health and I wanted to do something in her department. Five years later, she has helped me nurture my passion for community health, pushed me to understand how the economics of it can overburden the system, and driven me to ask for better from everyone around me,” Jivraj said.
In just a few weeks, Jivraj and her classmates will celebrate Commencement and Class Day and join the ranks of HSDM alumni. Although her journey to become a dentist included a detour to Harvard Business School, as well as a global pandemic, it was the people that she met along the way that have been the most memorable part of her experience.
“[They] have shaped me into the person I am,” she said. “The Class of 2021 is a spectacular group of people, and I know they will thrive at doing whatever they attempt. I can’t wait to join them on the journey.”