Aruna Rao, D.D.S., was on a far different career trajectory from dentistry when she finished her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota. Long before her days specializing in pediatrics, she worked as a new engineer toiling to obtain Food and Drug Administration approval for penile implants.
"It is a conversation starter," she said of the memory. "My closest friends didn't know for a while. They were like, 'I can't believe you never told us this.' I was like, 'I guess you never asked.' It's a very large market, believe it or not, for men who have erectile dysfunction."
An interesting detour though it may have been, Dr. Rao, who currently lives in Minneapolis and practices in the region, had no intentions of staying there. She had studied biomedical engineering but decided before she graduated that she instead wanted to pursue dentistry. As is often the case, though, she didn't get into dental school on her first attempt. Turns out the delay was a disguised blessing, which is something she often tells pre-dental students today. The time was hardly wasted.
"I thought it was rewarding, and I learned a lot," Dr. Rao said. "I think I grew up quite a bit in that year off, just having some real-world experience versus going straight back into school, which I think is valuable for most professionals."
Perseverance led her to finally gain admission to dental school at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She earned her dental degree from there in 2012 and later obtained her certificate in pediatric dentistry from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2014.
The pivot to dentistry proved an astute move, if her ensuing successes are any proof. These include recognition as an ADA 2022 10 Under 10 Award winner for her early career accomplishments, including exuberant service to others, teaching, a demonstrated commitment to organized dentistry and demonstrated leadership.
She's a 2019 graduate of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, and in 2012, she won both an American Student Dental Association Award of Excellence and the Eleanor Bushee Award. The Minnesota Dental Association named her its New Dentist of the Year in 2020.
Additionally, Dr. Rao was an ADA delegate in 2019, 2020 and 2021. She serves on the ADA Council on Membership and is chair of the Minnesota Dental Association Membership Committee. She is also a past chair of the Minnesota Dental Association New Dentist Committee.