Courtney Clayton ’11 found career inspiration in one of the unlikeliest of places.
It was during a trip to the orthodontist’s office that the self-described shy fifth-grader with a slightly crooked smile found her calling.
“I was so excited about getting braces,” she said of the dreaded adolescent rite of passage. “I liked the neck gear, the elastics and the retainer.”
From that point on, Clayton set her mind to one day straightening out smiles the way her orthodontist had done for her.
When I learned what braces could do, I was convinced that orthodontics should be my field.
“When I learned what braces could do, I was convinced that orthodontics should be my field,” she said.
On Friday, Clayton will clear one of the biggest hurdles to becoming a dental professional by finishing her doctor of dental degree program with nearly 200 others in the graduating DDS Class of 2015 from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.
A good sport
Clayton began her undergraduate career at USC in 2007, prepared to hit the books hard to be able to get into dental school.
She even went so far as to give up another passion — sports — for a while to stay focused on getting good grades.
“It felt strange not playing any sports. It strengthened my organizational skills and kept me on my toes,” said Clayton, who has participated in sports since age 5.
After a few months into her freshman year, she realized just how much she missed competing.
“I needed to get back into the routine of practicing every day after classes since that is how it always had been for me growing up,” Clayton said.
She decided to walk on to the USC track and field team, which welcomed her with open arms.
Clayton realized that academics and athletics didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“There’s really nothing like being a student-athlete at USC,” she said. “All the athletes look out for each other, and we received advisement from the Student Athlete Academic Services department, which is really good about helping us manage our schedules and studies. They also provided tutoring services, computers and much-needed free printing for all athletes.”
With the support of her teammates and advisers, Clayton managed to balance a hefty course load with year-round track practices that could be strenuous. In 2011, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a pre-dental emphasis and was accepted into the Ostrow School.
Conquering dental school
“Dental school is not easy,” Clayton said. “It really requires a lot of practice. Luckily, I had a great class, so we would help each other through the tough times.”
Though the one-time long jumper no longer had time for the track, she stayed active with community outreach programs.
She became a member of the Student National Dental Association, which volunteers at community dental health screenings, delivers oral hygiene instruction to elementary children and addresses the USC dental school community about issues of importance to African-Americans.
She also spent Saturdays teaching local high school students about topics in dentistry as part of the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a USC-based program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for college.
But her service work didn’t stop there.
“I had the opportunity to provide dental services and oral health education to some of the most impoverished communities of the world in Nairobi, Kenya and Treasure Beach, Jamaica,” she said of her work as part of USC’s Dental Humanitarian Outreach Program.
“These trips were some of the most rewarding experiences of my life, being able to travel to these countries, treat patients and receive such smiles of relief and appreciation in return,” Clayton said.
Next up: an orthodontics residency at the Ostrow School, which she begins one month after commencement.
“My orthodontics residency means three more years at USC,” she said. “I am very excited to be a Triple Trojan!”