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Dr. Derval Clarke attended U of T Scarborough from 2004 to 2008. Today his practice extends to several communities in northwestern Ontario and has made five humanitarian trips to Jamaica. (Photo courtesy of Derval Clarke)
Tuesday, September 12 - 2017
Raquel A. Russell

As far as he can remember, U of T Scarborough alum, Dr. Derval Clarke always wanted to help people.  

“Helping people is just part of me,” he says. “Whatever career I chose, it would have been one that helps people.”

Today, Clarke does just that through a dental practice that extends to several communities in northwestern Ontario with his main base at Nipigon Dental. He recently returned from a trip to Jamaica, the country where he was born and raised. As part of the efforts of the humanitarian group Jamaican Dental Mission, Clarke has made five trips to the island to provide service for people unable to afford dental services.

Clarke’s journey to dentistry began after graduating from high school in Jamaica. U of T Scarborough was put on his radar by his father, who was already living in Toronto with other members of Clarke’s family.

“Helping people is just part of me,” he says. “Whatever career I chose, it would have been one that helps people.”

“My father felt that U of T was the best school in the world,” Clarke says. “I was strongly encouraged to apply.” He chose to enter the Integrative Biology program U of T Scarborough.

Soon after beginning his studies, Clarke attended a conference organized by the Life Science Department. There, students spoke of their post-undergraduate experiences and the fields they chose.

“One of the speakers was a gentleman attending U of T Dental School, and he talked about the positive impact dental school had on his life,” says Clarke. “That piqued my interest in this industry.”

With his focus now set on dental school, Clarke continued to be involved on campus.

During his early years at U of T Scarborough, he served with the Scarborough Campus Student Union, first as first-year representative and then as Life Sciences representative. Later, he served on the SCSU Board of Directors and as a teaching assistant.

However, it was his working relationship with the late U of T Scarborough Professor John Bassili that is permanently etched in his mind. He says it helped get him into dental college.

“I loved that guy a lot,” says Clarke. “I can’t even remember whether or not he taught me a course or not, but what he did do for me was give me an opportunity to support my studies.”

Bassili began the 21st-century push for web courses at U of T Scarborough, Clarke says. When he started the program, he needed people to record the courses and put them online.

“I was one of the students that he selected to work for him and that was huge for me,” says Clarke.

Working with Bassili gave Clarke the opportunity to interact with a professor on a personal level. Bassili even wrote a letter of recommendation for Clarke to get into Howard University College of Dentistry in Washington, D.C.

“I know it influenced my getting into dental school. I was able to get the recommendation of a professor who knew me personally, knew my work ethic and knew what I was striving for – he freely gave that reference.”

Clarke believes if he didn’t attend dental school, he would’ve found another way to help people, and says everyone should do the same.

“On our mission in Jamaica, a lot of the volunteers are not dentists or dental students - they’re just people who want to help, and they find their way to Jamaica.”

Clarke and his colleagues teach volunteers how to sterilize instruments or take names and registration. Volunteers also work with the team to organize toys for the small kids that they treat, he says.

“A lot of people think that you have to be a dentist, doctor or pharmacist to help people. You don’t have to be any of those things to help; you just have to go.”