People enter the career of dentistry for a multitude of reasons – some of your future classmates in school will come from dental dynasties of two generations of dentists and others will follow more non-traditional routes. Some of your classmates might have certain career-related advantages over you – maybe they were hygienists or even former MDs.
Yet everyone’s pre-dental years consisted of hours of shadowing or assisting licensed dentists or providers. Gaining dental professional experience is crucial in the dental school application, in fact, just as controllable as your personal statement. Your resume of professional experience is evidence of your hard work and dedication to dentistry as a craft and not just a career, which is what your good statistics suggest.
Dental experience demonstrates the follow to admission committees:
- Dedication – Maintaining a high GPA and studying for the DAT take tenacity, perseverance, and most of all, TIME. Time is the ultimate investment in your application and time spent shadowing and dental assisting will demonstrate your commitment to dental medicine. An applicant with 100+ hours of shadowing will inevitably be viewed with greater accord than someone with fewer than 20 hours. The high-hour applicant has demonstrated his/her dedication to the dental school application and dentistry as a whole. Perhaps the 20 hour applicant decided to willy-nilly apply to dental school in between their pharmacy school (not hating, just making an example) applications, just to see if he could be accepted. Dental school admission does not work this way, Deans of admission and directors will reward dedication to dentistry.
- Networking – It can be awkward to initiate contact with a dental office when you have such tall requests for shadowing, sterilization, and assisting. When you shadow a dentist, the doctor (and assistants and hygienists!) is/are making an investment in your future at their expense. You are a guest in their office and frankly, a potential liability if you behave poorly or compromise patients. Building good connections with the office you shadow is important, as this dentist very may well write you a letter of evaluation when you actually apply. Shadowing provides you with an opportunity to network with the office and build connections that will last well into your dental career.
- Trustworthiness – Referencing the point above that you may very well be a liability on the doctor’s office if you screw up, an uninformed shadow might violate HIPPA law or increase patient anxiety. Hopefully, you will maintain a sense of professional decorum and actively observe your attending doctor, respecting patient privacy and learning the basics of bedside manner. Professional experience demonstrates to the admission committee that you are trustworthy enough to sit chair-side with a patient and observe, or even help – the first signs of a good clinician.
- Understanding the day-to-day job of a dentist – But most importantly, dental schools want to ensure you truly know what a dentist does on a day-to-day basis. Dental school is an expensive investment – the average price of a dental education far exceeds that of most other health professional schools. The cheapest schools, likely your resident state school, are subsidized by the government to churn out X number of dental graduates a year. Not only are you investing money and time into your dental career, but the state and federal governments are as well. Therefore, schools do not want students that are seesawing on dentistry. They want dental students that are committed to the profession with little chance of attrition. Schools want to make sure their investment in a student is sound by ensuring a student understands what dentists actually do! Finally, it gives you, the applicant, an understanding of what dentistry is firsthand, and not secondary to Instagram videos of traumatic mouth injury.
Hw do you find these experiences? During my time as a pre-dental, cold calls were my go-to. I moved to Colorado Springs for college and didn’t know any dentists or people that might recommend me. I had called up my regular dentist in Denver and though he had referred me to a few contacts in the Springs, these offices were far from my college dorm without a car.
Don’t be afraid of cold calls to the office and introducing yourself to the office manager. The office manager will often ask to call you back after consulting with the doctor, but most dentists love having shadows because they love what they do. Having a shadow offers them an opportunity to share their love for their craft with others, grooming someone to potentially take over their practice in a decade. 😉 By the time I had submitted my AADSAS application, I shadowed at six different offices: two general dentists, one periodontist, one oral surgery office, one pedo volunteer clinic, and one prosthodontist.
Below are my recommendations for cold calls:
- Call with a purpose in mind. If your aim is to shadow this dentist for an extended period of time, perhaps over the course of a semester or even an entire year (a few hours every week), be clear with the doctor. Some doctors are more willing to entertain extended opportunities than others. If you aren’t clear and up front, many doctors will assume you only want to come in for a day or two.
- Use professional language. Nowadays, people are just so afraid to be on the phone. Texting and email reign over basic phone calls, when really, calls are far more efficient. It should really go without saying, but begin the phone call by introducing yourself with your name and where you go to school. State that you are a pre-dental that wants to gain professional experience by way of shadowing, helping with sterilization, and perhaps assisting. Ask if the office manager if they would be willing to discuss this opportunity with the doctor and call you back later. Always thank the office manager upon close of the call.
- Offer to bring by a resume or cover letter to the office manager. One office manager even recommended I bring a headshot so she could remember who I was. A resume or cover letter for your office will give them an idea of who you are and what your aim for shadowing or gaining experience is. It will also demonstrate your dedication and commitment, exuding professionalism and casting the best light on you. Remember, this dentist may very well be penning your letter of evaluation for AADSAS.
There absolutely exists other options besides cold calls. Below are some additional recommendations:
- Ask your friends or even professors at your college who their dentist is. Getting a so-called referral from the people you know is one way of introducing yourself to the dentist. If your non-pre-dental friends and professors enjoy the company of their dentist, you might like observing and learning from that practice.
- Use your pre-dental or pre-health club – ask for recommendations. Often, fellow pre-dentals are happy to share their stash of contacts with friends – after all, there’s no reason to be competitive. Every applicant is different and collegiality should be fostered in a community in which you have common goals. Pre-health clubs (or even pre-health advisors in your college’s career center) might even have a years worth of local doctor contacts and resources for their members to utilize. It’s all about asking. Make sure you sign up for your school’s pre-dental and pre-health listservs, often, your best resources are your peers. You can even contact alumni that are currently in school.
- Find dental-related volunteer opportunities in your state. Colorado has COMOM, short for Colorado Mission of Mercy. COMOM is a series of two days of free clinic in a different Colorado city every year. For 2017, COMOM will be held in Pueblo, CO on October 13 and 14. I highly suggest you sign up to volunteer at an event here – you’ll be absolutely blown away by the guerilla dentistry performed at such events and the tears of humility shed by patients so grateful for their dental care. Other states have similar events (often with the same Mission of Mercy name). Colorado also has KIND, or Kids in Need of Dentistry. KIND is a nonprofit organization providing affordable dental care for pediatric patients.
- Ask your current dentist. If you are comfortable with your family dentist, why not ask for an insider’s tour of their office and get to know them beyond your own need for a class II? If you are away from home for college, shadow your home dentist when you return for a break.
Stay tuned for another post on how to make the best out of your professional experience in the dental office.
*This post is sponsored by Colorado ASDA
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