Dr. Emily Letran

Each of us has a unique gift to contribute to society

By Nika Jazaee

Emily Letran is a general dentist with more than twenty years of experience in her field. She owns two specialty practices in Southern California, US. Emily was only 13 years old when she left Vietnam on a fishing boat with her aunt to pursue a new life in the states. She is today acknowledged as a driven entrepreneur and successful business coach. Read her fascinating story from a refugee to magna cum laude, Masters of Science, UCLA graduate, setting up her own business, and now the author of five books.

You were only 13 years old when you arrived in the US as a refugee. What can you tell us about your early years as a refugee in a new country?

I was born in Vietnam, a war torn country, at the end of the 1960’s. I came to America as a refugee, one of what they called “the boat people.” I left Vietnam with my aunt on a fishing boat, survived several months in a Malaysian refugee camp, and came to the new country with the main luggage of HOPE and FAITH. When I first came, I spoke very little English, and had never known the true meaning of freedom. During those early days, the goal I had set for myself was very clear: simply to survive. I made choices every day to support that goal. I translated almost every word from English to Vietnamese to better understand the concepts being taught to me in school. I delivered newspapers every morning at 6am to earn money to add to the governmental help we received. I slept on the floor in our two bedroom apartment for several years. There were ten of us living in that one apartment. I walked or biked to school regardless of the weather, borrowed money to go to college, lived frugally throughout dental school, holding multiple jobs during each Spring break and every Christmas vacation. Throughout those years and all the way to college, I never lost sight of my goal: I wanted to have a professional career where my status and my income would make my family proud, and I studied very hard to achieve that goal.


You went from a refugee to magma cum laude, Masters of Science, UCLA graduate and are now running two multi-specialty dental practices in southern California. How did you manage to get this far?

There is a famous quote that says, “A goal without a plan is just a dream” so commitment to action is one of my secrets to success. I didn’t want to look back at life saying “I could have, I should have”. My plan in high school was to learn English well enough so that I would not need to use the dictionary in my backpack every time I did a reading assignment. I gave myself a deadline of three years, reading a lot of books, paying attention to the way teachers, friends, and news anchors pronounce words on TV, etc. and by my senior year in high school, I was in Honors English. When I was at UCLA Dental School, I knew I might want to further my education, possibly in a specialty, and I chose to do a Masters degree while in dental school. With the curriculum already very rigorous, I added more classes and research for the Masters program, which included evening and weekend commitments. I had the clarity in the goal to establish “an edge” for myself and set boundaries of time in my schedule to finish my DDS and Master of Science degrees concurrently in four years instead of six.

Four years later, when I wanted to purchase my first dental practice with practically no money, I learned how to present myself as a confident professional, even though I only had a few years of experience. I designed and presented my business plan, and succeeded in getting the loans to buy another three practices after that. I believe that having the clarity and vision of what I wanted, setting clear goals, and commitment to action are the keys in my personal success story.

Why is it important for you today to help others to achieve more in life?I believe we are put on this earth for a purpose and we should fulfill our God given potential. Achieving more in life can mean different things to different people.

For me, achieving more means several specific things:

  • Having more clarity, confidence and courage to step into your power, doing what you want to do
  • Having more time and energy for yourself, your family, your friends, so you can spread your love and compassion
  • Having more influence and success, which could mean more money, so you can create more social impact, whether it is building a larger business creating more jobs or contributing to charities.

It is important for me to help others achieve more in life because I feel we would have a better society if each person is living a better life, maximizing his or her potential, and can contribute more to each other. Because I have done it and am living proof of the process, I teach my clients on High Performance, focusing on CLARITY, ENERGY, PRODUCTIVITY, COURAGE, INFLUENCE, to transform their daily lives and make a difference in the lives of others


You are not only a hard working businesswoman, but also a mother, how are you balancing career and family life?

I don’t strive to achieve complete balance in career and family life. I have learned to create and draw good boundaries between the two. I follow my blueprint for productivity, where I plan out my day, week, and month schedule, yet allow the flexibility to accommodate unexpected things and special moments in life. I plan block time scheduling, which is uninterrupted working time on a project, without the checking of email, facebook, or phone calls, unless they are scheduled calls. I have a ‘Not To Do’ List as well as a ‘Not Now’ list, so I do not engage in unplanned activities, and I work towards the end results, concentrating on the most important tasks (e.g. revenue generating activities). My calendar is filled out with important family activities first, such as birthdays, get-togethers, kids’ school performances, family vacations. I make sure I have ‘white space’ in my life, which is unscheduled time for myself, so I can stay renewed and energized. What I find is that a lot of my clients get frustrated with a busy schedule, missing time with the families, and having no opportunity to “wind down”, because they never “schedule” that time into their daily work life. Having the clarity of what is most important in our lives and why it is important, is the first step I work through with my clients. From there we can easily arrange and allow “stuff” in our lives to achieve better boundaries and “balance” between work and life.

I don’t strive to achieve complete balance in career and family life. I have learned to create and draw good boundaries between the two.

Can you please tell me more about your ‘Free Dentistry Day’ – where you provide basic dental care to veterans and families of disadvantaged backgrounds. Why is this important for you?

I shared the story of how I came to the US as a refugee with the luggage of HOPE and FAITH, after several years of the Vietnam War. So many people had helped me in this journey. My family received financial aid from the government. I learned from the first ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, who had a lot of patience for me, all the instructors who gave me their time when I felt lost, got help from my friends who lent me their last dollar to fix my broken car, and the bankers who had faith in giving me the loans for my practices when I was a young graduating dentist. I truly appreciate and believe I received all that help for a reason. It was for me to rise above my circumstances, create my success, and in turn help others to achieve theirs.

My Free Dentistry Day is a day once per month where we open our door to serve the veterans, those who gave the most for the country and with whom I feel a tie because of the Vietnam war, and for the families of disadvantaged backgrounds, who I could personally identify with because of my background story. I provide free basic dental care purely to show my gratitude and compassion. I take this philanthropic journey because I want to be a single link in that big chain that improves humanity, lifting everyone up along the way.


More women are getting into the business industry and they believe they can achieve more than perhaps we think, why do you think it is important that women take more of a lead or believe in themselves more?

I believe each of us has a unique gift to contribute to society. As women, some of us have taken a back seat, staying home, taking care of the family, raising children. When we get into business and take a more leading role, we should approach that with the same level of “commander” thinking, just as we plan for a fifty people party flawlessly at home! We should also be comfortable handling business with its perplexity, because running a business is very similar to running a home with multiple children, each one requiring a different level of attention. Women should believe in themselves because they have handled many tough situations, from childbirth, to raising children, to taking care of elderly parents. Sometimes they may need to be reminded of what they had already achieved to appreciate their success and find the courage to go on. In my coaching, I often remind my clients of their past achievements, to appreciate what they have now, and develop the courage to step into their power, accelerating to the next level.

In my coaching, I often remind my clients of their past achievements, to appreciate what they have now, and develop the courage to step into their power, accelerating to the next level.

What were your challenges you had to face when building up your career, were there times when you felt like giving up or things just got too hard?

I faced several challenges in building my career. From the very beginning of being a female dentist, I always had to answer to some judgmental questions and statements, ” How long have you been doing this?”, “I have never seen a female dentist before”, “Did you go to school here or in another country?”.Several years ago, I also learned the “growing pain” of accelerating too fast in business , where I spread myself too thin, and the structures I had were not ready for all the changes. This was when I started to develop systems in the offices and delegate more functions to my staff so that I could free up my time from the business. I have been blessed to have mentors, coaches and supportive friends, so I never felt like giving up! When I face a real challenging situation, I find time to reflect, ask myself why this particular project is important to me, and after getting that clarity, I would go on to design my plan of action. When I am clear about what I want, it would be easy to concentrate on the main activities and not get distracted. I think sometimes we see a problem as “too hard” because we are too close to it. If we step back, try to look at it from a different perspective, get a coach or mentor to evaluate with us, the problem will appear more manageable.

Finally, how do we keep going? Especially as women, because it can get challenging to break through as a woman even today, we for example need to learn how to collaborate more, would you agree?

I believe we can keep going if we have the clarity of our goal, the commitment to the goal, and the willingness and power to take action towards the goal.As women, we need to realize that there are plenty of opportunities out there for us, that all we have to do is look, and take the initiatives. My mentor, Sharon Lechter, taught me to ask the question “Why Not?” Why not take the challenge? Why not try something new? Of course, we should be prepared with sufficient skills and knowledge and have a great support system. In this modern age, we really do not have to figure things out by ourselves. I belong to an international business organization called CEO Space, which emphasizes accelerated business growth through mentorship, collaboration, and cooperation. CEO Space Founder Berny Dohrman personally does coaching at the business forums, which meet five times a year in Florida. When I go there, I feel like I’m “home,” because there are a lot of women entrepreneurs, and we show up not just to learn about accelerating our business, but also to help each other grow businesses. I firmly believe we can break through challenges if we decide and commit to our goals. The journey to success sometimes is not fun but it is always rewarding, because we learn from it, intellectually and emotionally. It is the reason why I choose to do High Performance Coaching and business consulting in addition to my career in dentistry. I want to help women entrepreneurs learn the skills and establish their support systems, whether with a coach, a mastermind group, or a support group, so they will never feel alone and will be able to achieve their goals in their quest for success.