Texas A&M School of Dentistry

Students

Cue the wedding bells

Students to marry day after graduation
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Graduating dental students Erik Hager and Cara Coffman, first met while interviewing at another dental school. Although it was not love at first sight, fate brought them both to Texas A&M School of Dentistry where friendship bloomed into romance, and soon they will be walking down the aisle twice – first to “Pomp and Circumstance” and then to the chime of wedding bells.

On May 24, Hager and Coffman will graduate with their Doctor of Dental Surgery degrees, and on May 25, they will wed at Christ the King Catholic Church in Highland Park.

“Most of our family and friends are from out of town,” Coffman said, “so it was easiest to combine it all into one big weekend. We really wanted people to have the chance to experience our graduation and wedding, both, over one weekend.”

First impressions

Coffman and Hager both knew they wanted to pursue dentistry, long before they pursued each other.

Coffman had problems with her teeth as a child and spent a lot of time at the dentist’s office growing up. This initially sparked her interest in the field, which solidified after shadowing a dentist and learning more about their daily work. Hager also chose to pursue dentistry after shadowing a dentist, but his prior experience with dentistry was limited. He did not have his first dentist appointment until he was 14 years old.

Coffman and Hager both grew up in Texas; Coffman in Fort Bend County, near Houston, and Hager in Kerrville, near San Antonio. Coffman received a Bachelor of Arts in biology and a minor in art history from the University of Arkansas in 2020, while Hager’s undergraduate years were spent at Texas A&M University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and a minor in bioinformatics in 2019. While the admission process to dental school was stressful, they both remember the first time they met.

Hager recalled noticing Coffman right away.

“I saw her and thought, ‘Wow, if these are the kind of ladies they’re letting into dental school, I’m going to be very happy here,’” he said.

Coffman added, with a laugh, “And I saw him and thought: ‘That man is way too tall, and that tie is too red.’”

At that point neither one guessed they would end up at the same dental school, much less engaged at the end of this arduous academic journey. But they became friends in their second year at Texas A&M School of Dentistry.

Coffman said the COVID-19 pandemic was a “mitigating factor” in their D1 year. With the majority of their class time online, it took a while for them to become friends and really get to know each other.

Coffman and Hager in the clinic building on the first day of their D4 year.

“Even though we were classmates, I don’t think we had a face-to-face conversation until the beginning of our second year,” she said. “We were good friends for all of D2, and we got together around the summer of our third year, so we’ve been together just shy of two years.”

Hager said it helped that they were both in the same clinic group – Group 6. They spent a lot of time working together, and when they both went home for summer break, Coffman came by to visit.

“My dad started badgering me,” Hager said. “You know, ‘When are you going to drop the act? You guys are clearly not just friends.’ From there, we spent more time together and eventually we decided to give this a shot.”

Hager proposed to Coffman over the 2023 Thanksgiving weekend in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Lifelong connection

One of the perks of finding love in dental school, they said, was meeting someone who shared similar goals and values. Since they were both under the same stress and facing similar struggles, they had a better understanding of each other and knew what type of support the other needed. They have similar goals for the future, too. They share a heart for helping others, and they both hope to become an integral part of their community through their respective dental practices.

But that’s not to say there wasn’t a bit of reluctance to date a classmate.

“This isn’t a big campus of 20,000 people,” Hager said. “There’s 100 of us. If things don’t work out, you’re going to see this person every day, and it’s going to get awkward.”

From left, D4 students Laura Maroto-Esteve, James Needy, Francesca Gall, Hager and Coffman at the Omicron Kappa Upsilon induction dinner in April 2024.

They agree it was a risk worth taking, though. Following their wedding, the couple will be packing up to move, but their first year of marriage will be spent apart, a stark difference from seeing each other in the classroom and clinic every day. Coffman is pursuing a pediatrics specialization at UT Health San Antonio, with rotations at the school of dentistry as well as the CHRISTUS Children’s Hospital. Hager, a captain in the Air Force, is going to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to start a five-year commitment as part of the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program, which paid for his dental school education. While in Nebraska, he’ll complete a one-year AEGD residency and use his training to provide care to active duty service members, Air Force retirees and their families. Upon completion of the AEGD program, Hager hopes to be accepted into the Air Force Prosthodontics residency program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

“It’s a big thing we have to contend with,” Coffman said. “Not only are you transitioning from student to doctor, but also from single person to spouse. Obviously, we have a great deal of commitment already, as an engaged couple, but definitely, once things are legal, it’s a whole different level.”

Hager said although they plan to visit each other, he thinks the time will pass quickly because they’ll both be so busy.

Hager and Coffman fell in love in dental school and were married the day after graduation.

As they prepare to depart and begin a new and exciting chapter of their life, they encouraged incoming students to not let the next four years slip by without making personal connections, but suggested they take things slow with dating relationships.  Hager emphasized the importance of being friends first and said “make sure it’s somebody you want to be with for the long haul.” He also said that, as much as he and Coffman enjoyed getting to study and work together, it was also important to prioritize personal time. Take some time apart to enjoy separate hobbies, he said, and give each other space every now and then.

Coffman added that it was good to prioritize studying and to really focus on your education. However, she said, you shouldn’t run away from relationship opportunities, if they arise. School should not be the end-all, be-all of life during your dental school career, she said.

“Life does not stand still for those four years,” she said. “People are going to get married, people are going to pass away, babies are going to be born, your siblings and cousins are going to graduate. Life doesn’t stop. You have to figure out that balancing act.”