She worked hard to challenge the national dental board examination – a road not many new immigrants would dare tread.

It was a cold blustery spring day in 1998 when Michelle first set foot in Canada. She came to attend a funeral. She was given a parka to put on but as she stepped out of Winnipeg’s airport, a sudden gust of frosty wind on her face gave her a chilly welcome she would never forget. She had no plans of staying in Winnipeg as she had left her heart in Manila. 

Two years earlier, Michelle graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) Faculty of Dentistry. Her diligence and hard work paid off as she was awarded the Most Outstanding Clinician medal. Dr. Michelle Agpalza-Santos takes after her tatay (dad), Dr. Ezra Agpalza of San Agustin, Isabela, who worked his way to become a dentist and eventually owned a small dental clinic in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Michelle recalls stories of her dad’s inventiveness and resourcefulness; he sometimes had to improvise or even build his own dental equipment.

 “He modified the aquarium pump and turned it into a dental suction. Back then, there were no power tools!” she relates. Her father also sold his homemade dental equipment to his classmates to help pay for his tuition. His example was a source of inspiration for the young Michelle. After graduation from university and passing the board exam, Michelle found herself helping around in her dad’s dental clinic until she came to Canada. Her mom, Teresita Agpalza, who is from Sta. Rosa, was likewise a hard worker. She gave up her career as a teacher at Arellano High School to take care of her family.

Encouraged by relatives in Winnipeg, she decided to explore the requirements of earning a license to practice dentistry in Canada. Driven by a thirst for knowledge and a deep sense to expand her horizons, she worked hard to challenge the national dental board examination. A road not many new immigrants would dare tread. Undeterred by the hoops and hurdles that must be overcome to get a Canadian license, she went ahead and took the first three of four exams that were offered only in BC. For her last exam, she had to travel to Nova Scotia. This was a practical exam, so she had to bring along her own patients and pay their way and lodging. Four exams, many sleepless nights, and a sizable bank loan later, she obtained the coveted license to practice dentistry in Canada. This was no small feat for a young newcomer with foreign credentials. Michelle is now a member of the Manitoba Dental Association and the Winnipeg Dental Society, while still a member of the Philippine Dental Society.


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