“Really Blessed and Thankful:” GSDM parenting students share how they balance dental studies and family life


From left to right, the families of: Grecia Jimenez DMD AS 24, Oleksandra Olishkevych DMD AS 24, Nassr Al-Nuaimi DMD AS 25, Sahiba Lakhani DMD AS 24

Sahiba Lakhani DMD AS 24 had two major life goals: Becoming a mother to two children and attending a United States-based dental program before she turned 32.  

On Thursday, June 1, 2023, Lakhani handed in a final exam, ending her first year at GSDM. She went home, got glammed up, and did a maternity photoshoot. As soon as the photographer captured the last photo, she rushed with her husband to the hospital for her scheduled induction. By 8 a.m. the next morning, her second child was born–one month before Lakhani’s 32nd birthday.  

Like Lakhani, many GSDM students have remarkable stories about how they balance their dental education with parenthood responsibilities. We spoke to seven GSDM students to learn how they maintain a healthy school-life balance and to hear the advice they want to give to fellow parenting students.  

Building Your Village  

A famous proverb states that “It takes a village to raise a child,” meaning a robust community is needed to provide a nurturing environment for a child to develop and thrive. 

Originally from Venezuela, Grecia Jimenez DMD AS 24 completed her first round of dental school, joined a traveling remote dental service group, and finished a pediatric dentistry specialty program before she got married and had her first child. With her first child, she was working part-time and had lots of help from her parents and paid nannies. When she moved to the United States, she was nervous about how she was going to have a dental career and raise her child without her go-to external support.  

She and her husband decided they were going to make her career goals and their family work, no matter what. Jimenez decided to first get her dental hygiene license and try for another child before applying to dental school.  

Now, Jimenez is the mother to two daughters, 10-year-old Lucia and 4-year-old Emilia, and is almost done with the DMD Advanced Standing program at GSDM. Over the past two years, she and her husband have created an elaborate, but manageable routine. The morning commute is one of their many obstacles, which includes dropping off their daughters and Jimenez at three different schools.  

“I have my husband, [he] helps me with everything. We have to coordinate times and schedules,” Jimenez said. “It’s complicated, but it’s the way it has to work.” 

Oleksandra Olishkevych DMD AS 24 also said couldn’t have succeeded in her dental studies without her number one support system: her husband. Olishkevych graduated from dental school in Ukraine in 2011, before having children. When she started at GSDM, she had to adjust to being a dental student while also parenting her now seven-year-old daughter Emily. She said her husband made it possible.  

“Without him, it would be very challenging,” Olishkevych said.  

Olishkevych also credits the supportive nature of her fellow GSDM students, both in the DMD and DMD AS program. She said their assistance, no matter how big or small, helps.  

“I don’t have to hide the fact that I have a child and I will come home and do homework with her, Olishkevych said. “Everyone is supportive. All faculties are supportive, all students, even students in the DMD programs who [may be] a little bit further from becoming a parent, are tremendously supportive. 

Husband-and-wife Mohammed Ghidan DMD AS 24 and Gihan Zanati DMD AS 24 had recently started the Advanced Standing program when their son Zain was born during Intersession in 2022. Throughout Zain’s first year-and-half of life, the couple relied on each other to create a schedule that worked.  

For the first seven months, the couple said they alternated nightly duties on who fed him throughout the evening, so one could get a more restful sleep. Now that Zain doesn’t need to be fed every two hours, Ghidan said they have shifted to a slightly different schedule: Zanati goes to sleep earlier in the evening while Ghidan watches TV and cares for Zain. When Ghidan goes to sleep hours later, Zanati is “on-call” for late night needs and is ready to wake up earlier for the morning.  

“We [have] managed being parents and being students,” Ghidan said. “The only thing that was bothering us when we were at the school was that we were sleep deprived. That was the most stressful part of being here all day in school [was not] getting enough sleep.”  

Although they did not do the GSDM Advanced Standing program at the same time, Nassr Al-Nuaimi DMD AS 25, father to 10-year-old Nawar and 5-year-old Naya, couldn’t imagine being at GSDM without the encouragement of his wife and GSDM alum, Noor Al-Noori DMD AS 22.    

Al-Noori, along with their two kids, moved from Iraq to Massachusetts in 2020 when she started at GSDM. Al-Nuaimi stayed in Iraq, as he had finished his PhD from King’s College London in the U.K. in 2017 and needed more time to prepare for a future move.   

He said he is experiencing everything she did at GSDM, but realizes it is not the same situation as they are both in the U.S. Nowadays, Al-Noori is a full-time dentist working for a DSO practice half an hour from their home while Al-Nuaimi is embarking on the second year of his program at GSDM.   

“She was the one who did this whole journey alone before me, so she has to get the credit for that,” Al-Nuaimi said. 

Like her peers, Lakhani said her husband and parents have been instrumental in helping raise her two kids, 2-year-old Zaarib and 1-year-old Omaira. She also credits the guidance from her GSDM classmates, particularly noting her appreciation for friendship with Nidhi Ogha DMD AS 24. 

“When I go home, I feel so grateful that I have somebody who’s waiting for me,” Lakhani said. “With my kids, I have somebody who is looking for me. In terms of my parents, as somebody who is cooking for me, waiting to eat with me. In terms of my husband, somebody’s there to care for me, help me, guide me, and stand by me all the time. When I come to school, I have so many good people around me. I feel really blessed and thankful.”  

Photo submitted by Grecia Jimenez DMD AS 24

Organization is Key  

Once there is an established community, it becomes time and determination to create an organizational system that works.  

Karolina Wasilewski DMD AS 25 works with her husband, mother, and aunt to perfect the morning and evening routine to care for her 4-year-old son Erik. With a four-hour round-trip commute from her home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, to GSDM, she must account for every minute that she is not in school. She said everything, as minor as packing Erik’s lunch, is planned–but the system works.  

“Organization is a big thing. With his school and my school, I have to be organized with everything,” Wasilewski said. “I have plenty of people to help. That’s my biggest advantage and I can’t imagine doing those things like going to school without having some support.”  

Time is of the essence for Al-Nuaimi, as he follows a rigorous daily schedule. On a normal day, he wakes up at 6 a.m., prepping backpacks and breakfast. He wakes everyone up half an hour later and races them to their school. He needs to drop them off at 7:30 a.m., giving him only thirty minutes before his first lecture.  

He needs to end his day at GSDM by 5 p.m. so he can pick his kids up from their afterschool program that ends at 5:45 p.m. During soccer season, there’s the extra complication of his son’s practices every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. There are back-up plans in case the timing doesn’t work perfectly, he said. Al-Nuaimi said he and his 10-year-old Nawar use Apple Watches for quick communication needs if anything deviates from the norm.  

“I need to be very sharp with my time,” Al-Nuaimi said.  

Beyond their sleeping system, Ghidan said the couple made an informal “study group” together, dividing who reads the content and makes summaries for each other. He said organization systems aren’t just for child rearing, they’re for education purposes as well. As the two of them are in the same dental program, sharing the same schedule and group practice in the Patient Treatment Center, he said it has allowed them to manage their stress, study schedules, and expectations of each other.  

“We have to be at the top of it,” Ghidan said. “If you trip, it’s going to take a long time to stand again and to follow up with the cases and everything else. Being proactive is the key.”  

Maintaining a School-life Balance  

Parents first, students second—that’s the motto in which the parenting students interviewed for this story believe.  

Jimenez said she separates her school life from her home life. She said she does anything related to her studies physically at the dental school. Once she leaves the building, she disconnects solely to focus on taking care of her kids. She said she wants to be present in her kid’s lives as much as possible–including brushing their hair and picking out a special outfit for their picture days.  

“Always your kids go first, always, always, at least for me,” Jimenez said. “It’s hard, but it’s doable.”  

Before their bedtime shifts, Zanati said she and her husband make an effort to spend quality time with their son and also just the two of them. 

“After going back home, we have two hours to spend it just with [Zain],” Zanati said. “Then, he will go to sleep and if we have the energy and the power to study anything, we will do so, or we just relax.”  

It’s hard being in an intense academic program with young children, many of the students interviewed said. But despite spending so much time in lectures, Patient Treatment Center, or studying, Olishkevych said she makes sure the time she has with her kids is quality bonding experiences.  

“Sometimes one hour of quality interaction with a child can equal 10 hours of just sitting and to be present in a room,” Olishkevych said.  

Children are only kids for a short amount of time. Wasilewski said she wants to capture as many memories with her young son as possible, adding that it helps her put her hard work into perspective.  

“He’s only little at this time,” Wasilewski said. “We have our little routine in the evening. I always eat supper together, then we go take a bath, read books, and go to sleep. [Erik] keeps me sane.” 

Photo submitted by Oleksandra Olishkevych DMD AS 24

Parenting Students Give Advice and Encouragement  

Ghidan said it was a blessing in disguise that he and Zanati had their first child in dental school. There isn’t a perfect time to start a family, but they made it work. He advised families who are questioning if they should wait until they are done with their dental education to weigh their personal pros and cons.  

“Luckily, we had him in the school because we now have a plan to how to manage our relationship with our son or our future kids when we get to start working and being dentists,” Ghidan said. “There’s no good or bad time of starting a family or having kids.”  

Even though they have made the timing work, Zanati admitted it has been difficult. She said there should be no shame in asking for assistance from loved ones. Her support system has helped her every step of the way.  

“Ask for help whenever you need,” Zanati said.  

GSDM is committed to being part of its students’ metaphorical “villages,” according to Erica Stocks, GSDM director of student affairs, who noted that GSDM and Boston University offer various resources to support parenting students and ensure their academic success.  

Stocks said one of her top priorities is to help build a parenting student community. Stocks and GSDM Student Affairs have created a Family/Parent Support List-serv for GSDM students and residents with children, which currently has more than 150 approved members. The list-serv connects parents within the GSDM community, in addition to providing information on resources and local family-friendly events.  

Recently, Stocks has helped launch numerous initiatives open to the whole Boston University Medical Campus (BUMC) community, including a new pregnant and parenting students support group and a children’s clothing swap to exchange gently used children’s clothing. As a mother to two young daughters, Stocks said she knows firsthand how difficult it can be to be a parent.  

“We [want to] make sure we know the students coming in and have an understanding of what their needs might be and how are we supporting those students while they’re here so they can be successful and feel supported,” Stock said. “We want them to have a great time being here, whether it’s two years, four years, a year, or however long the program is.” 

Jimenez highly recommends using the GSDM/BU resources, including the Family/Parent Support List-serv. She noted that Stocks has sent out ideas of child-friendly activities and discounted museum info–both Jimenez has used with her kids.  

“You have to have good relations here at the school so they can help you out because there are a lot of things you have to do, and it’s impossible to do it by yourself without any help here,” Jimenez said. 

Fueled by her dental passions, Lakhani said she couldn’t imagine her life not being a dentist. She wants her children to see their mother as a powerful, independent person who is not afraid to chase her dreams. She hopes other parenting students will share her perspective.  

“The idea was that when I’ll be done with the school and this program, my kids will be able to understand that their mother is a working mother, and they would understand the importance of professional and personal lives,” Lakhani said.  

Sharing parenthood tales with the GSDM community encourages others, Al-Nuaimi said. He said prospective students may be worried about starting dental school if they already have children. He, and his fellow parenting students at GSDM, are living proof that it is possible.  

“If you want to make it work, you have the power to make it,” Al-Nuaimi said. “Sharing such stories, I think it’s going to be very motivation for people who are worried or have some suspicion that they can’t make it because of some commitment. If they have the desire, they can make it.”
For more information on GSDM/BU’s family resources, visit https://www.bu.edu/dental/students/resources/family-resources/ 


By Rachel Grace Philipson