Soren Christensen, D'20

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
Undergraduate Major: Operations research, U.S. Air Force Academy
Why did you choose Penn Dental?: “It has a strong commitment to growing excellent dentists, as well as a passion for research and the future of dentistry.”

Honored to Serve

Soren Christensen spent his undergraduate years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he had planned to train as a pilot. Those plans changed after a conversation with an Air Force dentist about careers in military dentistry. Soren was intrigued enough to accept an offer to shadow at the base’s practice.

“On a military base, the dentist treats members and their families as well as veterans,” he says. “I realized that I would have a mission to keep soldiers, sailors, and airmen in peak dental health so that they could be deployed effectively.” It was a mission that appealed to him, as was the chance to collaborate with dozens of other dentists in an atmosphere that stresses camaraderie and professional growth.

Soren was drawn to Penn Dental Medicine—his ‘dream school”—because of its passion for research and its commitment to the future of dentistry, and because of its students, whom he describes as “hardworking, friendly, very smart, and very serious about their education.” He was also impressed by the School’s focus on community outreach.

“The School is such an important part of the West Philadelphia community,” says Soren, whose years in Philadelphia are his first experience living in a major American city. “Many people rely on it for dental care, and the care they get is excellent.”

Connecting and Caring

As a busy dental student, Soren has made time for important community outreach of his own. For the past two years, he has helped organize the Philadelphia Oral Cancer Walk, a popular University City charity event, which draws roughly 300 participants and raises around $21,000 each year.

He also volunteers for Crisis Text Line, a free, 24/7 global nonprofit that connects people in crisis to trained counselors who can help. As a crisis counselor, Soren texts with a broad range of clients of all ages from across the country. “These people have no one else to turn to, and I’m able to help them when they need it most,” he says. He completed a rigorous, month-long training program for the post, and to date has logged more than 200 hours and helped 325 people.

Connecting and empathizing with people he has never met, validating their emotions, and making sure they feel heard and cared for are some of the valuable skills he has learned through Crisis Text Line. In his fourth year, Soren will have a chance to apply these skills in a different way when he joins Penn Dental Medicine’s Survivors of Torture Clinic (SOT), whose patients include refugees, prisoners, victims of domestic or street violence, and others with traumatic pasts.

“Dental patients are often in vulnerable and uncomfortable positions. For a victim of torture, those feelings are even more pronounced,” Soren explains. In the SOT, he will see patients four hours a week in place of a portion of his regular clinic duties. It’s an experience he feels will be invaluable, not only as a military dentist, but in any dental practice.

An Eye Toward the Future

Looking beyond his own experience as a dental student, Soren is helping to shape dental education for future generations as a district legislative liaison for the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). In this role, he is working with legislators in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C. to change the way dental students are licensed. Currently, Pennsylvania dental students are licensed through a live patient exam; Soren and the ASDA would like the state to allow alternatives, such as licensure through a residency or by virtual examination, which they believe is better for patients.

When he graduates from Penn Dental Medicine in 2020, Soren, who received an Air Force scholarship for dental school as well as his undergraduate studies, plans to serve for at least ten years as an Air Force dentist to pay back this funding. He could be stationed anywhere in the country or overseas. Having grown up in Sweden, Austria, Nicaragua, France, Bolivia, and Ukraine, he looks forward to seeing even more of the world through the Air Force.

“My goal is to serve my country as a good dentist who provides high-quality, up-to-date care,” he says. “And I’m sure I will get involved in causes I find important along the way.”

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