Dr. Oscar Peña, (MCB 1995, UCLA School of Dentistry School, 1999) enjoys his work as an endodontist; he enjoys the satisfaction of helping people who are in pain and getting his patients back to better oral health. He appreciates living in Tucson and owning his own business, OMP Endodontics. There were a few years, however, when Peña’s career aspirations would have had him playing drums in a rock band and be on MTV.
Peña grew up in Nogales Mexico, where his father was a dentist and had his own dental practice. “I wasn’t much into school in high school. I just wanted to play drums and be on MTV.” After his junior year in high school, Peña was concerned he wasn’t going to graduate and transferred to Nogales High School in Arizona because he heard high school would be easier there. He barely graduated from high school, but he felt some pressure to go to college. He moved to Tucson, enrolled in Pima Community College and attended classes for a few months. “That didn’t work out” Peña said with a grin. He stopped going to class and moved back to Nogales Mexico. “I didn’t even withdraw from my classes; I received Fs in some classes and a few professors were kind enough to withdraw me from their class.”
When he moved back home, his dad invited Peña to work with him in his practice. This was a turning point for Peña “I realized life in music would be challenging and unpredictable. My dream of becoming a rock star dwindled and I really enjoyed working with my dad. I literally fell in love with dentistry when I was working with my dad. I read books about surgery and implants and was excited about the field and what I could learn.” The experience of working, getting paid and helping people was a life altering experience for Peña.
Having spent many hours with his dad that spring, he realized he enjoyed learning; “My dad made the schooling seem doable even though I wasn’t much into school. I realized that when I enjoyed the learning, the school part was easy.”
Peña decided to go back to school and started back at Pima Community College. He had to overcome the grades from his first semester at PCC, but he was excited about school now that he had a firm goal to go after. “The key difference was determination and perseverance and I wanted to learn! If I focused on the learning, the grade came with it. I loved the courses and was learning so much. The ‘A’ was a lot easier to accomplish when I focusing on learning rather than focusing on the grade.”
Peña spent three years at Pima Community College and completed the prerequisites he needed to complete his dental hygienist degree. He almost went this route, but by this time, he had a lot more confidence in school. He was getting straight A’s and decided to transfer to the UA and get his BS. With his passion for learning ignited, he felt he had a good chance to complete his BS and get accepted into dental school.
With a scholarship and acceptance in the Honors College, Peña started his first semester at the UA. He chose MCB because it is very broad in scope. “I knew I could take a lot of life science classes and would have many options for classes. I didn't want to be narrowed to one science field, and felt MCB offered that.”
During his senior year at UA, Peña applied to dental schools. He chose UCLA School of Dentistry because he had heard that was the best dental school on the west coast. They were also part of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) program, so he could get in-state tuition in California. He moved to Los Angeles and attended dental school. “Dental school was quite challenging. I had clinical experience with my dad already and I felt more confident as a student. The stories of ‘I'm not a student’ had quieted down. It was all about dedication and perseverance. Once I had the experience at UA knowing I could do it, getting through dental school was the next step.” Peña received his DDS in 1999.
When I asked Peña if he had any advice for current or incoming students, he shared this “If you are not sure what you want, focus on your general requirements then start looking into some fields you may like. Volunteer, do an internship and talk to people in those fields. Be honest and ask them for honest answers of what it's like. What is the job satisfaction? What is the pay? What are the headaches? You have to make money at your career. You should do what you like but you have to face reality too. Once you find something you think you like, experience it!” He also believes that focusing on the learning and not grades is important. “Stick to the goal of learning, not so much the grade. The rest falls into place.”
Peña is happy that he found his passion and pursued it and has a thriving practice. That doesn’t mean there weren’t, and still are, challenges. He had a poem that he taped to his desk, by Leo Piggott, that he referred to when he had challenges and felt like quitting. He read that poem often and it motivated him to stick with it and meet his goals.
As Peña walked me out of his office, we passed by the employee lounge and taped to the cabinet was the poem “Don’t Quit” by Leo Piggott, the same poem Peña taped to his desk and referred to many times while in school. Thanks for the words of inspiration Dr. Peña; we’re certain your patients and your team at your practice, are grateful you didn’t quit!
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit--
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns;
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won, had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit;
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.
© Leo Piggott, 1931
- With thanks to Sheree -