When Cristina Parsons, D21, learned she was expecting a child her first year at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, she didn’t expect she’d have to take six final exams in the last month of her pregnancy.
The fact that she powered through, gave birth a week after, and three weeks later returned to take another final (and earned an A on that exam) is a testament to Parsons’s resolve to finish dental school on time. A big part of that? The support network she had around her while in dental school, especially the support of her friend, fellow parent, and D21 classmate, Chrislyn Fite.
Offering that support came naturally to Fite, who had begun dental school with her two-year-old son in tow.
Parsons and Fite met the first semester of dental school through the upper-class students who were assigned as their clinical mentors, or “vertical integration partners”--known as VIPs--who were best friends themselves. Parsons and Fite’s friendship sparked right away, and when Parsons got pregnant, the two became ever closer.
“We both have a strong faith. We think it was God. It was so unique that we became friends and she got pregnant,” said Fite.
Parsons and Fite, though each had children of different ages, noticed it was hard to find the resources they needed as parents who were also dental students. That led them to start their own parent-student organization at the dental school in Fall 2017. Fite, who moved to the Boston area sight unseen, said that despite strong support from Dean Robert Kasberg, associate dean for student affairs at TUSDM, she had desperately wanted more information beforehand about where to live, and logistical aspects like commuting and child care, to prepare her for her move to the area.
“There are so many extra things we have to consider when coming here with kids, like daycare and transportation, even for students like me who became pregnant,” said Parsons. “We realized that we could be here to support each other, even with something as simple as suggestions about what is there to do around here with kids.”
The friends said that, at last count, there were 30 parents in their dental school parent support network.
Their support of one another in school was strong, too. The two perfected the art of studying over FaceTime, even before the pandemic. Parsons said her pregnancy was challenging at times and she would sometimes miss class. Fite would then either study with her remotely or in person to help her catch up.
They would also motivate one another to get to school on the early side, get projects done, and then be among the first students to leave school, in part to pick up their kids from daycare in Melrose, Massachusetts, where they both lived.
“We would help each other and work around the kids’ schedules. I could not have gotten through dental school without that help. Then, with the transition to clinicals, we were on the same floor; Chrislyn would come help me set up or I’ll help her with hard cases. We would help each other out at any point,” said Parsons.
Fite and Parsons each credit Dean Kasberg’s unwavering support for much of their successes at Tufts. In addition, Marmar Mesgarzadeh, assistant professor of comprehensive care, was a big support during Parsons’ pregnancy.
The pair also cited class president Joseph Dudlek for being a huge supporter—and a sometime babysitter—who taught them how to study, learn memorization strategies, and take exams.
Fite said she feels grateful to have learned a lot about cultural differences during her time at Tufts, given that the staff from TUSDM is from all over the world. “I can see anyone’s perspectives, and I’m so intrigued by everyone. I feel like my husband, my son, and I have grown so much,” ” she said. “That alone makes me a better healthcare provider.”
Parsons agreed that dentistry is not just about treating teeth. “It’s about how to provide that holistic patient-care experience with people from all walks of life and learning to connect with human beings,” she said.
In addition to their school network, Parsons and Fite each relied on their own families for support during their time at Tufts. Fite’s parents traveled to Boston once a month from Indiana to visit her and her husband and watch their son, while Parsons’ mother lived with their family for three months after their son was born.
The pair, who are both married to their high school sweethearts, expect their friendship to endure. Parsons, who is originally from Florida, will return to the Tampa area in June to work as a dentist in a private practice, while Fite, who hails from Indiana, plans to move to Asheville, North Carolina for a similar role in a private practice.
And, yes, they do plan to see each other frequently given that the drive takes less than 10 hours. “I’m devastated to be parting. I’m really sad about it. I think we’ll maintain our friendship. We’re really good travelers,” said Fite.
Profile written by Meredith Berg.
For more student profiles and full Commencement coverage, visit commencement.tufts.edu/coverage/dentalmedicine2021.