This Pirate hopes to assist
underserved populations through dentistry.
Julio Morales is determined to help those in need
Julio Morales is a first-year dental student at East Carolina University, but his journey began many miles from Greenville, North Carolina.
“I was born in Manzanillo, Cuba, a communist country that lacked civil rights and opportunities for advancement,” said Morales.
Morales said his parents, both engineers, could barely afford a bicycle with their salary equivalent to $13 a month. “I never tasted a Snickers bar or drank Coca-Cola in my childhood,” he said.
“My birthplace’s ideology was not shared by my father, who brought me to the United States at the age of nine on a homemade raft across the Gulf of Mexico,” he said, adding that his parents were divorced and his mother stayed in Cuba. When he turned 21, Morales brought his mother to the United States.
The voyage to their new life lasted five days, until they were found by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the port of Key West, Florida. “There is a law that allows Cubans to stay in the United States permanently and given a resident alien card because of the political persecution in Cuba,” said Morales.
After completing High School, Morales joined the U.S. Army and gained his citizenship. He was stationed in Fort Bragg and served with the 82nd Airborne Division, completing an eight-month tour in Iraq. After military service, Morales received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Fayetteville State University in 2013.
Now Morales is the dental Class of 2018 president. He is also a member of the Hispanic Student Dental Association and meets with local leaders in the Hispanic community to provide education.
“We lecture them in proper oral hygiene so they can share that information with the community,” he said.
Morales said the death of his father in December has had a profound, yet positive impact on him as a person and as a dentist. “My father was my engine,” he said. “He was always there to cheer me on in my successes and lift me up during my failures. I now push myself to be a better person and dentist because I still want to make him proud.”
After graduation, Morales plans on practicing general dentistry in his hometown of Fayetteville.
Why are you studying dentistry at ECU?
My interest in dentistry began with my wife who was attending dental assistant school. I bought into the idea that I could keep my permanent teeth until my final day on this earth if I took good care of them. What attracted me to the ECU School of Dental Medicine was their mission statement, which emphasizes serving the underserved in the state of North Carolina.
What do you do as class president?
As the class president, I’m the link between the faculty and the students. There are monthly meetings where the Dental Student Government along with the associate dean of Student Affairs get together and discuss multiple topics, such as students’ concerns and university events or issues.
I also meet with my class cabinet once a month and discuss topics that include volunteering, social events, class budget and students’ concerns and suggestions.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in studying dentistry?
Being a dental student entails hard work, motivation, resilience, compassion and the desire to help others.
First, make sure that you really like the profession by shadowing a dentist. It is a long process to get to dental school, so I think it is important to really be sure about your career path.
Secondly, work hard towards achieving your goals. There will be bumps along the road, just regroup and keep moving toward those goals.
Lastly, never forget where you come from. Help those in need when you are up because there may be a time when you will need the same help from those same people on your way down.
Photography by: Cliff Hollis
Written by: Grace Haskin
College: School of Dental Medicine
Major: Doctor of Dental Medicine
Class: First year dental school
Hometown: Fayetteville, North Carolina
Hobbies & Interests: Good movies or restaurants and spending time with family
Clubs & Organizations: President of 2018 dental student class and member of the Hispanic Student Dental Association
Place on Campus: The simulation lab, where I get to practice my dental hand skills
Hangout: My classmate Carlos’s apartment
Place to Eat: Molina’s Cuban Restaurant in Miami
Class: Biochemistry of the digestive system
TV Show: Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead
Musician/band: Oscar D'Leon and Hector Lavoe
Movie: Forrest Gump
Most Influential Professor: Dr. Luis Sensi because he is very detailed and always expects the best from his students.
Dream Job: Doctor of Dental Medicine
and creative director
You Can’t Live Without: Family
Role Model: My Father.
Words to Live By: Do your best and you will never be disappointed.
Advice for Fellow Students: Never quit. That’s why planet Earth has survived for billions of years.
Something cool about ECU you wish you knew during your first year: This is my first year so I might have not found out yet, but I love how warm the people of this university are.
“Never forget where you come from. Help those in need when you are up because there may be a time when you will need the same help from those same people on your way down."
– Julio Morales