Joke Alesh is a Dentist and a Wedding and Events Planner who aims to improve the oral health of underserved minority communities.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Joke Alesh and I’m from Providence, Rhode Island. Both my parents are Nigerian and I identify as Nigerian American. I’m a new Dentist and I also have a wedding and events planning company. I’m a fun, happy person but I’m also very serious; I’ll be graduating with my Masters in Public Health this May (2016). I have a real academic side and my interest is in oral health in underserved communities, mainly in black communities, in the United States. I’m also interested in getting more under-represented minorities interested in dental careers.
Why did you choose your profession?
I have wanted to be a dentist since I was four years old. When I was little I had a lot of cavities and therefore had to go to the dentist often and my dentist was amazing. I had so many questions and he always answered them. At the end of my appointment he would let me take the gloves and I would go home, sit my mom in my little chair and do dental exams on her. Then in high school I started working in a dentist office and it just clicked that that was what I was supposed to be doing. It works for me now because of the kind of things I’m interested in, in terms of improved care for minorities, and I feel like dentistry is a gate way into people’s health. I can spend about an hour with my patients talking to them about their health and their life and then encourage them to see their primary health provider. The profession is also good for me because I have always wanted to be a mother and dentistry is a lot more flexible than if I went into medicine for example.
It seems ethnic minorities don’t see visiting their dentist as a priority. Don’t you think more needs to be done?
I agree, but it’s not just ethnic minorities but everyone in general, many people don’t see oral health as a priority. Especially from people from an underserved or low income community; the dentist is not going to be a priority if you have so many things to think about, like if you are going to eat that day. For a lot of people, going to the dentist will be seen as going for a cosmetic issue as opposed to a health issue.
I just graduated, I’ve been working for 8 months, but in dental school I did a lot of outreach activities: I was president of an organisation that focused on minority oral health issues, I also worked on getting more young people to become more interested in dentistry and now I work in a community healthcare centre which is in a predominantly low-come, Haitian, Spanish, black-American community. That way I see a lot of my patients who normally would not be able to receive dental care and I hope that in my career I would be able to do more outreach work in the community where I am in now and also in my community in Rhode Island.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy teaching people about oral health care and oral hygiene. I didn’t know how to properly take care of my teeth until I got into Dental School; it seems like a little thing and as you grow older you become embarrassed in saying that you don’t know how to brush your teeth but there are a lot of people who don’t know how to do it at all and I enjoy telling people how to do so. Even nutrition wise, I can advise patients on how what they eat can affect their oral hygiene. I love spending time with my patients and teaching them so that they don’t have to come back to me with the same problem.
Has being a black female dentist poised any challenges for you?
I wouldn’t say it has poised any challenges yet but in some ways I have protected myself in that I work in communities where a lot of my patients are black. With a previous employer that I had, you could tell that he didn’t respect that I was black and a female but I generally don’t take things personal from people who don’t know me personally. People can feel how they want to feel but I earned my position, their opinions don’t affect any part of my life. I haven’t had any major situations – I come home happy every day.
You also mentioned you’re the founder of a wedding and events company, what inspired you to start it?
I’m really organised and very anal. I am an over the top person about everything; whenever I have parties it is always over the top. I plan events for my friends and family and everybody always told me that I should go into event planning and I started to think that maybe I could. I think Instagram also played a role. I saw all these wedding posts on Instagram and even though I wasn’t engaged I knew I was going to be, so I started to look for who could be my wedding planner in my area and I couldn’t find any. So in my senior year of Dental School I decided to establish Primary Weddings and Events. I just started researching about wedding planners and what type of work they do. I hope to do a course on Event Planning when I finish my Masters as it’s something I really enjoy.
How are you managing being a dentist and running your own business, most especially a business that can be quite demanding at times?
Do you think there will be a time when you will choose one over the other?
I don’t think so. I think it’s important to delegate, so for Primary Wedding and Events I hope that one day I will have a team of event co-ordinators who will plan their own events just under my own umbrella, and with dentistry I hope to open up my own office and have associates. In general I don’t think I could because I don’t think it suites me.
What essential lessons have you learnt owning your own business?
I think it’s important to be organised and to be upfront. As motivated as I am as a person, I like to please people but I think in business you have to be really upfront, be professional and official.
Another thing I’ve learnt is that it is important to do your research and play your role. If you’re telling someone that you are providing a service to them, make sure that you have a back-up plan of a back-up plan and that you are going to provide what you said you would provide them.
I’ve also learnt that you have to choose your clients. In the beginning I just thought that whoever came to you, you just had to work with them but you have to decide whether a certain person is going to be good for the vision you have for your company.
Has there been a memorable event that you’ve been most proud of?
The last event was the event I was most proud of. It was just a baby shower but I felt I had learnt from some of the mistakes that I had made from previous events. I knew exactly how much time I needed to set-up, I knew exactly how many helpers I needed and I felt like this is the way I wanted everything to look and how I want my company branded. Of course I will not know everything but that event made me feel like that was how I wanted my company to look going forward.
What inspires you and keeps you going in life?
I think first is my mother. My mother worked really hard. She came to the US when she was about twenty years old and she created a life here for my brother and I. She took care of us so much and I want to make her proud and give her the things she couldn’t give herself because she had to take care of us.
Also I want my life to mean something, not for anyone else but for myself. I feel so blessed to have said at four years old I want to be a dentist and now I am, and I can say I want to open up an events planning business and my fiancé is there picking flowers with me and helping me. I am so blessed, it would be so crazy for me to say I am tired. Tired of what? Life is so amazing and I just want to be worthy of the blessings.
There are a lot of Nigerians aspiring to do positive things in diaspora despite the negativity portrayed. How do you think Nigerians abroad can positively promote the country globally?
I think kind of what you’re doing; creating a platform to say this is what is actually happening. When I think of Nigerians I think of my community and how everybody is doing so well and the support system from my community is like non-other. Broadcasting that image and being pillars of examples is what we really need to do.
Do you think it’s important for young Nigerians to be more connected?
I think it is important and a lot of it is in the religious community, so if you stop being religious you might loose that connection. My mother in law for example is part of an Ijebu descendants association but as youth we don’t have a lot of community organizations like that but it’s really important for us too.
How do you think a community like NNC can be a part of creating such connections?
It would be a good idea to have ambassadors in different regions. Therefore, although NNC is primarily an online platform, regional events would allow members to feel part of a larger community.
Where would you like to see yourself in a few years?
I never really have 5-year or 10-year plans anymore, I literally just move forward with the opportunities that are in front of me. I do my best and give my all to every opportunity and I’ve continued to find success. I just want to continue to be happy!