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10 Under 10: Dentistry takes top prize in former figure skater’s life

September 15, 2021

By Jean Williams

Photo of Dr. Deshpande with her parents in India
First degree: Dr. Sampada Deshpande with her parents after she received her first dental degree in India in 2013.
Editor’s note: Sampada Deshpande, D.D.S., of Seattle, is one of the recipients of this year’s 10 Under 10 Awards, which recognizes new dentists who demonstrate excellence early in their careers. Dr. Deshpande is the founder and president of the New Dentist Business Club which provides interactive education to new dentists in all practice modalities in Seattle. A general dentist, Dr. Deshpande recruits speakers and mentors for new dentists to learn more about practice management and regulatory process in the profession. For more information, visit ADA.org/10under10.

Dr. Sampada Deshpande put some of her other professional interests on ice to pursue dentistry. As a child and teenager growing up in the Middle East, she danced and sang and competed professionally as a figure skater. Everything is cool now, though (bad puns aside). Thanks to dentistry’s famed work-life balance, she gets to maintain her other talents as side passions.

“It’s kind of funny to think about it because I grew up in such a hot country, and then we ended up going ice-skating, which I think makes a lot of sense,” she said. “I really enjoyed ice-skating. I still ice skate even now, like I do figure skating, but not on a professional level anymore.”

Growing up in Muscat, Oman, she launched her pro skating career encouraged primarily by her mother.

“I was, I think, six or seven when my mom took me to my first figure skating class,” Dr. Deshpande said. “I started competing when I was around nine or 10. I was very little. My mom and I actually traveled to Hong Kong, and we traveled to Dubai for different competitions. It was really exciting at the time. I didn’t realize what an amazing opportunity I had growing up, but it was all because of my parents, particularly my mom. She really, really believed in me, and she wanted me to experience all of that as a kid.”

Alas, she reached the culmination of this career when she was around 15.

“I had to focus on my academics and make sure my grades were good for dental school,” Dr. Deshpande said.  

Her family relocated to Dubai just around the time her skating career was ending. Her parents still live there to this day.

“I did get a few silver medals and gold medals,” Dr. Deshpande said. “We have all of those framed up in my house in Dubai. Everything is on the walls.”

The trajectory to dentistry involved putting emphasis on academics, as Dr. Deshpande said. She knew early on, even with the figure skating, that she wanted to work in health care somehow.

Photo of Dr. Deshpande ice skating
Former pro: Dr. Deshpande, a former professional ice skater, competes in Dubai in 2004. “I really enjoyed ice-skating. I still ice skate even now, like I do figure skating, but not on a professional level anymore," she said.
“My parents, because they were immigrants, they really understood the importance of giving back to the community,” she said. “So, we would volunteer as kids, my sister and I. My sister is five years older than me. We would volunteer frequently doing little things in and around the community. That made me realize I wanted to be in health care.”

In grade 10, her school counselor suggested that she shadow different health care professionals. That experience figured prominently in her choosing general dentistry, which she did after also shadowing a general physician, dermatologist, optometrist and maxillofacial surgeon. Dr. Deshpande ultimately ended up coincidentally choosing the same dental school in India where the dentist she shadowed had attended.

“It was really the work-life balance that attracted me to the profession,” Dr. Deshpande said. “I had all of these hobbies that I wanted to continue being involved with, even as an adult. That drove my decision to go to dental school.”

In a manner, Dr. Deshpande is twice the dentist that many of her peers are. That’s because she was first educated in dentistry in India at Manipal University, from which she graduated in 2013, before deciding to pursue the career in the U.S. Coming here meant re-doing parts of her education and securing new credentials as well.

One of her fellow “10 Under 10 Awards” recipients, Dr. Amber Ather, who also eventually emigrated to the States, had been her instructor at Manipal University. He taught in the restorative and endodontics department and is himself a previous student at the school.

“We went to one of the best schools in India,” Dr. Deshpande said. “It is an amazing institution. As fate would have it, both of us ended up coming to the U.S.”

Dr. Deshpande earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington in 2018. She previously worked as a general dentist for Family Care Dentistry and Oral Health, in University Place, Washington. Recently, she moved to San Francisco with her husband and joined a private practice there.

Photo of Dr. Deshpande with parents, husband
Second degree: Dr. Deshpande with her parents and then-fiance-now-husband during her 2018 graduation from the University of Washington to receive her second dental degree.
A strong desire to work with vulnerable populations led her to seek postgrad training in that realm, which she completed via a fellowship with the Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program at the University of Washington. The determination to focus on special needs patients came from an epiphany of sorts.

“About two years after I had finished dental school, and I was working out in the real world, I was actually in [large group] practice,” Dr. Deshpande said. “This does not reflect anything negatively about [the practice model], but it’s just I was extremely burned out. I was commuting to work about one hour each way and I was doing just a lot of general dentistry — and I wasn’t really enjoying it very much. I was feeling very disillusioned and disappointed actually because here was a person who had chosen dental school twice, and I was so excited about finally practicing, making money, serving people and starting my career. But I was very, very tired all the time.”

She was left asking herself what needed to change in her life. Her husband recommended a book — Simon Sinek’s “Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team” — that helped put her on track to answers. She completed exercises in the book that helped her to isolate her true passions.

“That process actually helped me to connect with a memory I had back from Manipal University when I was a dental student in India,” Dr. Deshpande said. “I was very actively involved in student council. It’s like how we have student government over here. I actually was president of the student council in my final year.

“We had organized a dental clinic for a center. It was a recreation and play center for kids and adults with special health care needs. That was a single moment that kept making its way back into my mind because I had so much fun organizing that clinic, and it was just very, very fulfilling to be able to have the dental school work with the center and provide just an amazing experience.”

Aside from serving vulnerable populations as a passion, Dr. Deshpande also gets pretty excited about another particular aspect of dentistry.

“I really enjoy extractions and implants,” she said. “I love anything to do with surgery. So, my dream practice would be a combination of [both].”

Dr. Deshpande is very active in organized dentistry, including previously serving on the Seattle King County Dental Foundation’s Board and leading the New Dentist Business Club, which she founded. She enjoys writing and contributes to the ADA New Dentist Now blog. She also has plans to publish a book she’s written called “Persevering” to help other foreign-trained dentists successfully attain education and credentials to practice in the U.S.