Center for IPE student spotlight: Tommy Lau, University of Michigan School of Dentistry

The Center for Interprofessional Education works with undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all ten health science schools across the University of Michigan. Get to know the remarkable learners who are learning to work in interprofessional teams while earning their Michigan degree.

Tommy Lau (he/him) is a fourth-year Doctor of Dental Surgery student in the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. He has been a co-chair of the Center for IPE’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) since 2021 after joining an IPE student organization during the pandemic. Read on to learn how Tommy has developed as a leader, why IPE is important to him as a dental student and his advice for fellow students.

Tommy Lau, School of Dentistry

What drew you to your field of study?

In college, I studied biomolecular science and had the chance to serve as a teaching assistant for several of my classes. I was particularly self-conscious about my flared teeth, and that encouraged me to see an orthodontist for a consultation to improve my speech and appearance. My initiative to take charge of my own health led me to embark on my journey in dentistry.

Why did you decide to attend the University of Michigan?

Growing up in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan drew me to pursue my studies in my hometown because of the number of outstanding leaders in the field across campus. I didn’t always know where life was going to take me, but the opportunities and resources here supported me to be the best that I could be. Inspired by the atmosphere here, I’m determined to bring some change in the community and the world.

How are you involved with the Center for IPE?

I sought out more co-curricular involvement at the peak of the pandemic because I craved more interpersonal connections. I joined Sling Health, a student organization that is affiliated with the Center for IPE that focuses on bringing students from different disciplines to invent novel devices and software applications targeting unmet clinical needs. After that first-hand, collaborative and rewarding experience in IPE, I applied and was selected to serve as one of the student co-chairs for the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) for the Center of IPE. Since leading SAC in 2021, I have helped bring health professional students together while polishing my leadership skills and assisted in planning the Health Professional Education (HPE) Day in 2023. 

Serving on the planning team for HPE Day was a pivotal experience for me, as we dove into the perspectives and needs of the current faculty and students in the IPE space. Bringing together our colleagues, especially highlighting the work from our colleagues at the UM-Flint campus, for the student-led panel, sparked a lot of interest in discussion throughout and after the event. I’m grateful that we have the space and event to recognize the beauty of student involvement in IPE development.

Why is interprofessional education important to you? 

Providing care is never a stand-alone task: it’s always teamwork. Being in dentistry, many patients perceive our field as a stand-alone entity. Interprofessional education is fundamental to help us, the future dentists, to consider a patient’s well-being and to approach and improve their oral and overall health in a comprehensive way. 

Since serving in the clinics, I have been grateful for my experience with IPE. When I am communicating with providers in the hospital settings or with specialists about my patient’s medical concerns, I am appreciative of the knowledge I have learned about other health professional fields so that I can convey my perspective and inquiries in a mindful and concise way. With IPE, I feel more confident in alleviating the burden on my patient to bridge the communications between providers across different fields.

How have you grown since becoming involved with the Center for IPE?

Besides learning about other fields, my leadership style has evolved. My experience and involvement with the Center for IPE has challenged me to transform my focus of leadership into bringing out my team’s strengths. I’m always inspired by my team and the qualities every individual offers and how I can help amplify those traits as the head of the team. 

Tommy with his team for Give Kids a Smile 2023, an event that aims to provide screening, cleanings and preventative care for children between 4-14 who otherwise cannot receive dental care.

What do you want your fellow students to know about IPE?

If there is one piece of advice I could give to my fellow colleagues and classmates, I would say that there is a place for everyone in IPE! I have broadened my horizon a lot as a person from connecting with people outside of my immediate field. From interacting with other learners in medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing, social work and more during my time as a student when I am solely dedicated to learning, I see other colleagues as part of my team. It’s refreshing to interact with people that are passionate about things other than teeth, and I can already feel my willingness to collaborate with them on my path.

What is your ultimate career goal after graduation?

I am currently applying for residency in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. My ultimate goal is to bridge sustainability and orthodontics through research and advocacy. 

What do you like to do for fun outside of school? 

When I need to take a break from the dental clinic or research lab, I walk down two blocks from the dental building and practice the carillon (the bells) at the Burton Memorial Tower. Playing the carillon could be physically challenging as it requires the carillonist to shift their balance to their core to allow their feet to play the pedals. Polishing my ergonomics, musicality and arranging music for the carillon to diversify the music repertoire allows me to recharge. (Check out this video for more on how music enriches Tommy’s dentistry journey).

What is your favorite spot on campus or place in Ann Arbor?

My favorite spot in Ann Arbor changes as the season progresses. In the spring and summer, I love relaxing in the blooming peony garden at the Arb and going on runs. In the fall, I invest my spirit cheering for Michigan at the Big House. In the winter, I like to enjoy my favorite food and try new dishes at various restaurants on Main Street.