MICHAELANGELO AUST '02 once dreamed of owning a garage full of Ferraris, but his heart got in the way.
Aust, who earned a dentistry degree from Marquette University in 2006 after completing a science degree at PSU, comes from humble beginnings. During high school, he and his mother experienced homelessness, used food stamps, and received public health care. It's little wonder he yearned for something better. "I saw dentistry as my avenue to financial freedom," he says. "I thought owning a large dental chain was a way to make money."
Then he met a woman, who later became his wife, doing her postgraduate dental residency at an HIV/AIDS clinic. Aust got a job there and it changed him. "The AIDS clinic opened my eyes to how few alternatives people have for health care," he says. "As an evolved society, we should provide basic health care for everyone and be measured by how well we take care of the poorest."
Today, Aust is a dentist at the Marshfield Clinic in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It's a Federally Qualified Health Center that specializes in serving the poor. "Typically, we get Medicaid patients, but we also take private pay patients and use the profits to help pay for poor patients," he explains. The clinic also provides physical and mental health care.
Helping the poor so inspired Aust that he and other classmates formed Compassionate Dental Care International (CDCI), a nonprofit that provides free dental care in Third World countries. They recently built a dental clinic in the Dominican Republic. The dentists themselves fund the effort. "On my first CDCI mission, I increased my student loan to buy dental supplies and pay for my plane fare. The patient sits down, points to what hurts, and we treat it."
And what happened to Aust's dream of being a dental chain tycoon? "The person with the 14 Ferraris was who I thought I wanted to be," he says softly. "But this work helps me stay true to myself."
By Bobbie Hasselbring