As the youngest resident at Eastman Institute for Oral Health, Ghida Askar considers herself very lucky to have been accepted right out of dental school.
“When I came here I didn’t expect the age difference,” admitted the 23-year old Orofacial Pain resident. “I love it here because of all the diversity. Everyone wants to support you. The faculty are all amazing and they really help us a lot.”
Like how to actively listen to patients, she said. “Orofacial pain encompasses all types of pain including pain outside of the teeth. I’ve learned how to listen to what the patients are saying, and what they are not saying.”
A native of Lebanon, Ghida says her father, who was one of the first dentists in the country’s rural Beqaa, is one of her biggest inspirations.
“When I was a kid, I learned that people come to the dentist when they’re in pain,” she said. “I was always intrigued to watch him treat patients. He would sit with them and listen, and they would leave pain free and very grateful. That’s how I grew up seeing the world.”
A frequent visitor to his clinic, Ghida’s favorite toy was waxes. “My dad taught me about the different waxes and how to carve teeth into them. I could carve a full set of teeth in soap by the time I was 13 years old.”
Ghida, who has three brothers, says there is a lot of inequality that women face in Lebanon’s rural areas. “In some cases, the brothers’ education may be prioritized over the sisters’.”
But her mom, who Ghida describes as a highly educated and very strong woman, always told Ghida she is equal to her brothers.
As a result, Ghida went to dental school in Beirut Arab University and is fluent in Arabic and English. She participated in many leadership projects there and joined the Lebanese Association of Dental Students. She was able to participate in the International Association of Dental Students, and went to a conference with dental students from around the world. They participated in oral health awareness projects, treated patients in underserved areas and helped refugees. Her second year of dental school, she became the head of the editorial board and participated in other projects. These experiences helped her to become accepted by the U.S. Embassy and participate in a life changing trip.
For five weeks, 80 women from 20 countries, including Lebanon, met in Washington, D.C. where they learned about the importance of leadership, equality and empowerment, and how to improve their leadership and communications skills.. They learned about important women leaders throughout U.S. history, including Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Marguerite Higgins, Rosa Parks and Sandra Day O’Connor, to name a few. Each participant was assigned a mentor.
“Coincidentally, the mentor they chose for me was an orthodontist in Michigan who was Lebanese,” Ghida said. “She was a great mentor to me. She actually told me to come to the U.S. to continue my education. I felt like that trip shaped me into the person I am today.”
Her plans were always to become and endodontist, because she thought it would be rewarding to help patients be relieved of pain and save teeth.
“But when I learned that orofacial pain was a specialty, I immediately knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
And then Covid hit, and her board exam was delayed to August, 2020. Four days before her flight, though, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and billions in property damage, as well as leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. Considered one of the most powerful accidental artificial non-nuclear explosions in history, it caused more than 200 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and billions of dollars in property damage, leaving some 300,000 people homeless.
Unsure at that time if the explosion was related to a conflict or terrorism, Ghida didn’t want to fly out of Beirut. She wanted to delay the test, but her mom strongly encouraged her to go. So she went, she passed and then began researching residency programs.
“I remember reading about pain modulation, and pain perception and I found it to be really intriguing,” she recalled. “The work being done in this area in the Eliav-Khan Lab was the driving force to come to Eastman.”
Ghida's not entirely sure what she wants to do when she graduates next year with a master’s degree and a certificate in Orofacial Pain, but is considering a career in academics. “I feel like it expands your mind beyond dentistry and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much,” she said. “I love research and the area of pain modulation. It’s so much bigger than I am, and I want to know more about it and work in this field.”