What started as a root canal ended as an awakening for 2023 University of Washington Bothell alumna Lynda Trang-Dai Phung.
Sitting in a long blue chair with excavators and dental burs in her mouth, she did not sit tight fisted and anxious as she had originally anticipated she would. Instead, she was alert and intrigued by what the medical professionals were doing and why.
Phung was getting her root canal done by students at the UW’s School of Dentistry for a lower price than most dentists charge. This also gave the major in Biology an insider view into the profession, and despite the unavoidable discomfort of the procedure, Phung found herself enjoying her time — even while longing to be the one performing the root canal rather than receiving it.
“It was during the procedure that I realized I wanted to become a dentist,” she said. “Not only did I like the hands-on aspect of the job, but I liked their impact.”
The experience also inspired Phung to make an impact on the UW Bothell campus community, even as a student.
Growing up, Phung said she needed more education on proper oral hygiene and its importance. “My parents were not well informed, so they passed their limited oral hygiene knowledge onto me. I was never told to floss or to use mouth wash — the basic but important steps,” she said. “Because of what I went through, I wanted to apply my curiosity and new knowledge to help others with their oral hygiene.”
Prior to this, Phung had been planning to attend medical school. Switching career paths her junior year felt daunting but “after that root canal, I knew dentistry just had to be in my future,” she said.
In this new pursuit, Phung also decided to get more deeply involved on campus outside her classwork, joining the Pre-Dental Club and the Filipino American Student Association. And in recognition of her engagement, service and drive, she has been named one of the UW’s 2023 Husky 100 honorees.
Each year, the UW recognizes 100 undergraduate and graduate students from the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses who are making the most of their time at the University. The recipients actively connect what happens inside and outside of the classroom, applying what they learn to make a difference on campus and in community. Phung is one of eight students from UW Bothell recognized last academic year.
It might be surprising to learn that the knowledge Phung gained in her Introduction to Sustainability class is actually what helped her most in her pursuit to become a dentist. Although the two fields don’t have a direct correlation, there is a concept that applies to both: the great potential impact of an individual.
“When we discussed climate change, my professor brought up the point that many people have a dangerous mindset — the belief that their actions and efforts do not matter,” Phung said. “People often believe that even if they tried to combat climate change, there would be no point because, in their mind, the condition of the earth is far from being resolved. This way of thinking leads to inaction and makes people give up before giving anything a chance.
“Although they are just a single person, they are an essential piece of the puzzle,” she said. “I realized that this could apply to everything, not just a person’s role as an individual in combating climate change.”
Phung also explained that, prior to taking this class, she almost gave up on her dream of becoming a dentist. “I wasn’t sure it was worth it, given I was in my junior year. Most of my friends had already gained experience in their fields with internships, and starting from scratch felt really intimidating,” she said. “The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that it was worth it.
“I know that I am just one person,” Phung said, “but I also know that I am an essential piece of the puzzle and can make a difference — and if that means even preventing one person from having to get a root canal then I will feel like it was worth it.”
Applying this concept in more ways than one, Phung also decided to harness her personal power by joining the Filipino American Student Association to aid in the club’s mission of working on social justice, leadership and professional development with fellow students.
Through the club, she next became acquainted with the Northwest Filipino American Student Association — which brings college students together from across Washington and Oregon — and became one of its outreach committee members. She is perhaps most proud of her work in registration planning for the regional Filipino Olympics and Conference.
The event, held at Saint Martin’s University in April 2023, served as an opportunity for organizations across the Pacific Northwest to build community through educational workshops and fun-hearted, competitive games.
“It was so great getting to meet students from other universities and to connect and share ways to increase awareness and support for the Filipino community,” Phung said. “I will forever cherish the memories from this event as I will with FASA as a whole. I am just so grateful. It was more than a club. It was a community — one that made me look forward to going to school.
“It taught me the importance of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone,” she added, “and immersing myself in new experiences to grow and become the best version of myself I can be.”
Empowered by her time in FASA, Phung join the Pre-Dental Club as well, taking on the role of public relations officer. In the position, she pitched the club and its mission to classes of first-year students and spoke to local elementary school students about the importance of dental hygiene and how to properly care for their teeth.
“Witnessing the curiosity and excitement of the students was inspiring,” Phung said. “It reminded me that curiosity is something that we should retain even as we age.”
In the spirit on lifelong learning, Phung worked to pique greater engagement of college students by organizing a number of informative events through the club, including a virtual conference that featured admissions representatives from dental schools who shared about the admissions process as well as what a typical day looks like for a dental student.
“It can be hard to figure out what you want to do in college, so I think that this event was great for undecided students and aspiring health care professionals to gain more insight into the field of dentistry,” Phung said. “I used to be unsure of what career I wanted to pursue, and I think if I was able to attend an informative conference like this a few years ago, it would have helped me tremendously.”
Kristen Labrecque, a Natural Science & Pre-Health Professional Pathways adviser who participated in the 2023 Husky 100 nomination process, said she is “proud to have Lynda represent the UW to the community.
“As a patient herself, Lynda was served by Huskies in a way that inspired her. She has taken that inspiration not only as a spur for her own career pivot but also as one that prompted her to give back — both to the UW Bothell community where she serves in leadership roles and also to the larger community where she is leading our youngest prospective Huskies in their pursuit of oral health.”
Now an alumna, Phung said she plans to attend dental school and one day use her skills to help underserved communities.
“I come from a low-income family, and neither of my parents graduated high school because they immigrated to America during the Vietnam War,” Phung said. “They came here and raised five kids and had to depend on food stamps. We had to rely a lot on our community growing up, and now I want to give back.
“I am so grateful for all that UW Bothell has given me,” she said, “and I’m even more grateful to have the opportunity to pass it on.”
As a patient herself, Lynda was served by Huskies in a way that inspired her. She has taken that inspiration not only as a spur for her own career pivot but also as one that prompted her to give back — both to the UW Bothell community where she serves in leadership roles and also to the larger community where she is leading our youngest prospective Huskies in their pursuit of oral health.Kristen Labrecque, Natural Science & Pre-Health Professional Pathways adviser