Second Lt. Lara Way has seen The Dental College of Georgia change a lot over the years.
“When I first started as a patient here (in 2006), it was located across the street off Laney-Walker,” she said. “Getting to see the transformation from this little building on the corner to this huge education commons and state-of-the-art dental school has been incredible.”
Way is currently a second-year dental student at DCG and is a recipient of the U.S. Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. Through the program, qualifying students can receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychiatric nurse practitioner, psychology or optometry program.
She committed to run for the University of Georgia before transferring back to attend Augusta University. She ran cross country for the Jaguars and was most valuable player her two years on the team as well as Female Athlete of the Year. She was also an All-Peach Belt Conference selection and academic All-American.
After becoming unhappy during her time in Athens, she also realized coming home to Augusta would help her chances of being accepted into DCG. She had been dreaming about attending the college since she was a little girl and toured the facility as a 15-year-old in high school.
“My dad was a professor at the nursing school here. I knew when I was very young that I wanted to come here after graduation. I just knew this was the best place for me,” Way said.
Following in his footsteps
When Way and her brother, Joe, were growing up, their father, retired Maj. Peter Way, would buy them U.S. Army uniforms to match the ones he wore.
Peter Way, who is a former professor at the College of Nursing, said Lara knew the terminology but never said she wanted to be in the Army.
“She said, ‘I want to be a soldier,’” Peter Way said. “And even before we had the conversation when she was 20, I knew that in some capacity, that this was what she was going to end up doing.”
As the events of 9/11 unfolded, Lara Way saw firsthand her father in action and how he put his service over himself and his family.
“He was a nurse practitioner in the Army,” Lara said. “And when 9/11 happened, that day he drove to the nearest Army base and said, ‘I’m ready; send me to Afghanistan.’ He deployed to Afghanistan when I was 6. And his job there was as medic for not just the soldiers but for the people of Afghanistan. Hearing the impact that he had on the people there really inspired me to pursue a career in military medicine.”
During her senior year of college, Way began preparing to apply for dental school when she met recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Brian Duby, who explained to her the benefits of joining the Army to pay for dental school and what it would mean to serve her country as a dentist.
“I just kind of kept thinking back to all the amazing things that my dad had done and knew that this was the path that I wanted to do. I was accepted in December to dental school and commissioned in March for the Army.”
One step closer to becoming a dentist
Being a former student-athlete has made Way’s transition to full-time dental school student easier. As a science major, she spent most days in the classroom from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with three- or four-hour labs twice a week. She’d exercise for an hour before her dinner break and then would hit the books for 2½ hours before bed.
Nowadays, she’s keeping up the same kind of schedule but is able to do it with a clear passion and knowledge of what’s ahead.
“(School has) definitely been difficult, but it’s not supposed to be easy, because here at DCG, we’re training the best of the best to be dentists and to get the most clinical experience,” Way said. “I love everything that I’m learning, and it’s just kind of exciting, in a weird way, every day to come to school and know that you’re getting one step closer to becoming a dentist.”
Appearing on the small screen
Way also appears in a promotional video on YouTube talking about her decision to join the Army.
She said the videographer was inspired to tie in her time at AU with her time running for the program and interchanging that with the HPSP scholarship and the athleticism and determination that came with the award.
“My recruiter actually nominated me to do it; he thought it was really great that I had this military background with my dad and my grandfathers,” she said. “He let me know that I had been chosen for it. And the Army brought a videographer to come here, and we spent the entire morning filming it.
There is footage in the video of Peter Way commissioning his daughter, which Lara said was “such an incredible experience.”
“I was definitely crying, and I think he was holding back a few tears,” she said. “It was just kind of something that I had dreamed about.”
Peter Way didn’t know much about the HPSP scholarship when Lara was applying for it but found out the extent of what it covers and thought it was amazing while also providing a lot of reassurance.
“You hear about the debt that most students graduate with, and those professions, the money earned certainly makes it easier to pay that off,” he said. “But to graduate not having debt hanging over your head, you get a clean start on your profession. You have guaranteed placement, you’re serving your country, and joining a greater cause to protect what we have.”