This profile is one in a series highlighting School of Dentistry alumni, donors and students.
Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 16, 2018 -- A fair chance is what Amin Jaffer wanted when he came to the U.S. from his native Pakistan as an 18-year-old.
He wanted to earn his college degree, graduate from dental school and set up a dentistry practice, free to pursue a life of his own design based on merit and hard work.
More than three decades later, he is now Dr. Amin Jaffer, an established dentist in Ann Arbor who has succeeded nicely with the opportunities he encountered - and is now passing along that concept to his two children. "I think it so important that people need a fair chance," he says. "Everybody wants a fair chance."
He says that wasn't possible as he came of age in the 1980s in Pakistan, where corruption and the need for political connections limited opportunities. Following a sister who had come to this country earlier, Jaffer moved to Miami, Fla., and earned degrees at Miami Dade Community College and Florida International University, where he studied science and biology. When more of his extended family from Pakistan settled in Ann Arbor, he came north after college and applied to various dental schools. He was considering Detroit Mercy and Case Western before the late-arriving offer from the U-M School of Dentistry allowed him to pursue his DDS in the same community where his family lived.
After graduation in 1997, Dr. Jaffer spent two years as an associate dentist in Dearborn Heights, then shared space from a dentist in Ann Arbor for four years. In 2004, he moved his growing practice, Arbor Dental, to its current location on Platt Road near Washtenaw Avenue. He also sees patients once a week at his Taylor office staffed by an associate. "I always had on my mind, even when I was in school, that I wanted to own my own practice," he said. "I had that vision in my head. I just knew where I wanted to be."
And where he is today could be called a reflective state, in part the function of a successful mid-career professional looking back on his journey and, in no small part, because his daughter, Hina, decided to follow her father into dentistry. She will receive her undergraduate degree from U-M this spring and enter the U-M School of Dentistry this summer.
Which of course refreshes a father's memories of dental school. He remembers that the first two years were entirely classroom work, something that has since changed - for the better, he says - to allow clinic time for first- and second-year students. He recalls the excitement of new dental chairs arriving in the school's clinics, and how a professor once described private practice. "It was mentioned that when you are in private practice, you are the Lone Ranger. If anything goes wrong, you are it. No matter what is the issue, you have to fix it. So I still remember that. I think that was very helpful."
And yet no dentist can be prepared for every problem, so it was important to be tutored by world-class faculty who explained the science and strategy behind problem-solving. He sprinkles his recollections with professor names like McNamara, the Heys brothers, McCauley, Jacobson, Fitzgerald. "I think the education and the foundation was so solid," Jaffer says of his time at the dental school. "You can't really prepare for every situation. You have to teach the underlying principle, which has to be so solid that you can act on it and be able to figure out anything that comes your way. Faculty can have a solid foundation, but if you can't transfer it to the students, that's another thing. So that's the thing that I was really fortunate to be able to receive and to learn at Michigan."
That's some of his reasoning for pledging a generous gift to the school's major renovation and addition project that begins this fall. His gift goes toward one of the new clinic operatories that will be installed during the renovation.
"I really wanted to give to the school, especially in the context of my story - an immigrant coming here and making such a great life. I was so grateful not just to this country and the people, but also to the school. It was just awesome. What dentistry has given me and what the school has given me, I'm just so … ," his pauses, emotion rising in his voice. "I'm really, really grateful for the life here, for the career."
Even today, long after his path was established, he says he regularly talks with his wife, Muneeza, daughter Hina and son Omar about the need to show gratitude for the opportunities they received and still receive. He reminds them of the history behind why his family left its homeland - that they wanted to leave corruption behind and seek out fairness. "Because of what we got here, because of what this land gave us, we will leave this place better than we found it, not worse. I've made this point with my children so many times."
"We will never forget it. We will never forget it," he says twice for emphasis.
As for the future, it's possible that his daughter could join him in his practice. They've talked about it. "I would love for her to do her decision and her thinking on her own. Whatever makes her happy," he says. "If she has a passion for doing a certain thing, then I don't want to force her to come and help me here. I mean, I'd love for her to come here and help me, but …"
And then there is son Omar. Only a fifth-grader at age 10, he's already looking for fair chances and opportunities. "He talks about taking over my business," Dr. Jaffer said, smiling.
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation's leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu. Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (734) 615-1971.