I vividly remember getting off the airplane. I grabbed my sister’s hand because I was scared. All around me were people with different skin colors, signs with letters I could not read, and a language that I could not understand. America was my new home and it was vastly different from what I knew in Vietnam.
My name is Janice Doan. I am a concentration camp survivor, an American immigrant, and today I am a practicing dentist and a published author. This is my story …
Life in Vietnam
1975 was a chaotic year for my family and me. The Vietnam War had ended, but our lives were far from safe. During the war, my father had joined the US Army to help fight against the North. After Vietnam reunited, we tried to escape by boat numerous times. Our last attempt to escape resulted in my family getting caught, separated, and sent to a concentration camp. I was around five years old at the time.
It’s not a pleasant memory, as I was placed in a camp with my mother, sister, and brother. Our father was separated from us.
We starved at the concentration camp because there was no food. What my mother could manage to find, she gave to our younger brother since he was so little at the time. I remember my sister and I were mostly on our own.
A few months passed and a miracle occurred, my grandparents along with our aunt and uncle were able to save enough of their own money to have us bribed out of the camp.
After we left the camp, our father was nowhere to be found. My mother ventured out to find him, leaving my siblings and me under the care of our grandparents. Eventually, she found him, but he had been ordered to live in a rural area as an outcast. My mother decided it’d be best to stay with him. She would visit us at our grandparent’s home from time to time.
My grandparents put my sister and me in school, and with the little money they had, they were able to provide for our basic needs. While the course of my early childhood was difficult, I was lucky to have my family by my side and food to eat. Many were not so lucky.
Eventually, with the help of a sponsorship program by the US Military, our entire family left Vietnam and emigrated to the US. When I was 11 years old, I was finally reunited with my family.
My Path Into Dentistry
Nice, white teeth were not common in Vietnam. When I came to the US, I immediately noticed a difference in people’s teeth. My classmates in school had straight white smiles, while I did everything I could to hide mine. My teeth were far from perfect, they were crooked and discolored. Oftentimes, my classmates would tease me.
It wasn’t until I started college that I got braces. The day I had them removed and saw my straight smile in the mirror for the first time, I felt like I finally was my true self. This experience changed me and from that point on I realized that I could have the ability to do the same for others.
My older sister also decided on becoming a dentist. She graduated from USC Dental School and then went on to open a startup practice in San Diego with her husband. I helped her during the construction and opening and eventually I started to work at her practice in various positions. From reception and front office work to assisting her with patients, I did it all.
As soon as I finished dental school at USC and received my license, I went to work with my sister as a Dentist. A lot of the patients already knew me, so it was a nice transition since relationships had already been established.
Keys to a Healthy Smile After 40: 7 Secrets to Feeling 7 Years Younger – Our New Book!
A few years ago, my sister turned 40. She began to notice a lot of changes with her body from her vision to noticing fine lines and wrinkles on her face. One day she said to me, “Oh my god, I’m getting old!”
At this same time, a lot of our patients were going through similar changes that come with aging. Some talked openly with us about getting botox and fillers to hide deep lines in their skin and to add volume back into their faces.
We started to notice that we began to see less and less of these patients. They were spending their money on cosmetic procedures for their faces, but not allowing themselves a budget for dental care. It seemed that their oral health wasn’t a priority to them anymore.
What these patients didn’t know was that the best way they could look younger and stay rejuvenated is by maintaining good oral health. After all, as one ages, your teeth age too!
This inspired my sister and I to co-author a book, Keys to a Healthy Smile After 40: 7 Secrets to Feeling 7 Years Younger. It was released this year and shares our insights and tips on how one can look young and feel young by keeping a healthy lifelong smile.
With the release of our book, this has been a rewarding time in my dental career. Everyday, I get to do what I love.