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Dentist Survives Concentration Camp, Helps Others Write Life Stories

Janice Doan’s story is unique. She has spent time in a Vietnam concentration camp, fled to America, learned English, and together with her sister and brother-in-law, established a thriving 7-figure dental practice in Southern California. And her focus is to help others succeed and be able to experience many of the things she was unable to.
Ed Rabinowitz
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, August 1, 2018


“I never take for granted graduating from dental school. Every day I’m so grateful for what I have, and I want to give to others because I feel like I didn’t get a lot of that growing up. I want to make a change.” -- Janice Doan, D.D.S.
 

There are many individuals who immigrate to America and become successful dentists. Some received their education and training in their home country, others at U.S. institutions of higher learning.
 
All have interesting stories to tell. But none may be as unique as that of Janice Doan, D.D.S., who came to the U.S. from Vietnam at age 11.
 
That’s because Doan—together with her mother, 6-year-old sister, and 1-year-old brother—spent time in a concentration camp after getting caught trying to escape their home country following the Vietnam war.
 
“I remember I was always hungry,” Doan recalls. “My mother had to share her milk between me and my brother. And even though she tried to find food, like rice, to hold me over, her focus was more on my brother because he was a lot younger. It was very hard.”
 
But persistence paid off.
 

CULTURE SHOCK

Doan, who was eventually released from the concentration camp and sent to live with her grandparents in Saigon, made it to the U.S. thanks to legislation sponsoring the entry of people who assisted the U.S. government during the war. Arriving in San Francisco, she recalls, was a major culture shock.
 
“In Vietnam I was in a shelter,” Doan explains. “I wasn’t aware of different ethnicities, different cultures. I didn’t know there was an America, or where America was.”
 
She was an 11-year old thinking she was going on a big family trip, because that’s what her mother told her. Encountering her first Caucasian and African-American while walking through San Francisco airport was eye opening.
 
“I thought I was in a different universe,” Doan says. And then she stepped outside. “It was June, so it was not cold. But for me it was freezing. I was a little girl wearing such a huge jacket that you couldn’t even see me.”
 

DENTAL TRAUMA

Individuals pursue a career in dentistry for a variety of reasons. For some, they watched a parent build a successful career in the field; for others, a positive experience at a young age drew them to the craft. Doan wasn’t so fortunate.
 
While living with her grandparents in Saigon, around age 5 or 6, her grandfather, who was not a dentist, began removing Doan’s baby teeth using a pair of old pliers.
 
“He was holding me really tight, trying to keep my mouth open,” she recalls. “I was trying to get away and screaming at the top of my lungs. It was such a traumatic experience that it was forever implanted in my mind.”
 
Not only did Doan want to avoid a repeat experience at all costs, she wanted to make certain others would never face the same trauma. She would go on to complete her Doctor of Dental Science degree from the University of Southern California, and currently practices with her sister, Justene, and sister’s husband Roger Tran. And she never forgot that first dental experience.
 
“I help my patients gain confidence through dentistry with beautiful smiles so they can live a more enjoyable and fulfilling life,” Doan says. “I listen to what my patients want, and based on that I come up with a plan to help them achieve they smiles they’ve always wanted.”
 
And her reach goes far beyond the scope of current patients.
 

WIDER AUDIENCE

Doan and her sister Justene recently published a book called “Keys to a Healthy Smile After 40”, which, among other things, looks to dispel the myth that plastic surgery is the best way to rejuvenate one’s face. The book was written, Doan explains, to help answer the many questions patients had about how they needed to care for their teeth as they aged.
 
“We also decided to write it because at that point we wanted to reach more people within our community,” Doan says. “We were seeing patients a lot in our practice, but I felt like we weren’t helping as many people as we wanted to. So we wanted to reach out to a wider audience”
 
Doan does a lot of reaching. She is active with many organizations, including the USC Mobile Clinic, which delivers services and education to underserved communities; the USC Special Patients Clinic, which provides services to medically compromised, disabled and elderly patients; and the San Diego Give Kids a Smile Day program, a local arm of the American Dental Association’s national program that provides free oral health services to underserved children.
 
“I never take for granted coming to America,” Doan says. “I never take for granted graduating from dental school. Every day I’m so grateful for what I have, and I want to give to others because I feel like I didn’t get a lot of that growing up. I want to make a change.”
 
And that extends beyond dentistry. Doan is also passionate about helping others succeed in life. She, along with her sister and brother-in-law, are active with the Grant Cardone 10X Business Boot Camp, and look to help others succeed in starting their own business.
 

STAYING FIT

Maintaining an active lifestyle requires keeping a sound body and mind, and Doan works hard with a personal trainer every day. She rises at 5:30 a.m., gets to the gym and begins her regimen. She says it’s her outlet, and that staying physically fit allows her to accomplish what she wants to mentally.
 
It also helps her keep up with her 4-year-old son Jake.
 
“He is the most active boy you’ve ever seen,” Doan says. “He always keeps me on the go. But now that I’ve been training I have much more energy to keep up with him.”
 
That’s part of Doan’s life story, but what she especially looks forward to is hearing her patients’ life stories.
 
“Hearing other people winning in life makes it rewarding for me because I feel like I was able to be part of their journey,” Doan says. “And the more that people succeed, it makes me happy.”


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