Gaining Experience

In my previous post one week ago, I spoke in some detail about the make up of the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Today, I would take a different subject that is equally as important as preparing and taking the DATs; it is EXPERIENCE. The complete application to dental school is not limited to the grades that you receive in your classes nor any extra curricular activities you participated in, but experience working with/shadowing a dentist is equally important as well. Your experiences speak volumes about the type of individual you are. There's no doubt that all your experiences, professionally or otherwise, play a vital role in the application process to dental school.

Dentistry Experience
This refers to any experience you have (paid or volunteered) within the field of dentistry. It is extremely important to gain knowledge, background and experience with the profession. There are several options where this is concerned.
1. Shadow a dentist - This will give you the real would experience of the daily activities of a dentist. Shadowing a dentist involves only observing the dentist's activities. Shadowing a dentist from each area of specialty (Click here for Dental Specialties) would also be a good idea as this will give you a much broader scope and knowledge of the entire field of dentistry. Dental schools usually require a minimum of 60-80 hours of dentistry experience.
2. Dental Assistant - This provides a more hands on approach, more so than shadowing, which allows an individual to gain experience in the field of dentistry. Dentists are always looking for assistants to perform routine tasks so that they can focus on more complex procedures. Assisting allows you to be more involved with dental procedures and around the dentist's office. A vast knowledge of basic dentistry will be acquired. The requirements of a dental assistant position may vary by state. For some states it is required for assistants to be licensed or certified, while in other states assistants needn't prior knowledge of the field as they are allowed to do whatever the dentist asks of them, or they receive on the job training. You can find out from your respective states is certification is necessary to work as a dental assistant. I worked as a dental assistant prior to completing my undergraduate degree. As a dental assistant I performed routine tasks such as scheduling appointments, chair-side assistance, taking and developing radiographs, sterilizing rooms and equipment, etc. This experience did give me a window into the inner workings of the field of dentistry, which I treasure up to this day.

Work Experience
As an undergraduate, some students have the privilege of attending school without working, while some may have to work. If you are in the latter, but your job does not allow you to observe the daily tasks of what dentists do, do not despair. All it means is that you will need to be a little creative with some of your spare time. My suggestion would be to volunteer at a dental office when your schedule permits to compensate for your time spent working at your job. It is of paramount importance for you to stand out as a leader at your job because you may want to use your employer as a source of reference. You definitely want your employer to regard you as a valuable team player, and asset to their institution. On one hand you may not obtain any dental experiences, but you can surely make up for it as a valuable employee, which can augment your application. On the other hand, your part time volunteer dental activities will compensate in the end. When its all done, the dental committee will see you as a consistent, diligent and dedicated individual, who, despite such a handicap, was able to successfully thrive in the process. You will also have an opportunity to write briefly about some of your leadership experiences at your job in your personal statement. Dental committee members like a well rounded candidate.

Community Service/ Volunteering
Gain experience through community service and volunteering. Admissions committees like to see individuals who are involved and have a passion and commitment to serve! Note that you can do anything you so desire where this is concerned. You do not have to volunteer at a health care facility you can for example volunteer at a geriatric or pediatric facility reading for the elderly, or children, especially if you have an interest in going into pediatric dentistry.

Research Experience
This can vary depending on the opportunities that present itself to you. As an undergraduate student, I participated in research activities looking at soils in urban environments, and on the Chelation of Manganese using P-aminosalycylic acid (PAS) and Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA). The experiences had nothing to do with dentistry, but I seized on the opportunities that presented itself to me. Being involved with the soil and manganese research was an eyeopener. Not only did I learn about the importance of soils and chelation, but I had an opportunity to present my research findings at local and national conferences such as Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists (MACUB) Conference at Montclair State University in New Jersey and in Phoenix, Arizona at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) conference. So, you can never tell where research experiences will lead you. What is important as an undergraduate student, is to participate in research activities, despite not in the field of dentistry. Again, to the dental committee, this will add to your diversity.

All in all, remember, do not limit yourself despite your experiences. Give your best in all that you do, even if it may not relate to dentistry. The key lesson is for you to stand out as a leader, despite your experience.

If you're interested in Dental Assisting, Find out from your respective States or call local dental offices and find out about their requirements. You can also grab the Essentials of Dental Assisting book to get started.

Dental Admission Test (DAT)

The DAT is a standardized examination that all (U.S and Canadian) students wishing to apply into dental school have to sit. The test is designed to measure your general academic ability, your comprehension of scientific data and your perceptual ability. 

You should consider sitting the exam at least 1 year or a couple months before applying to dental school. That way, you can apply to those schools that best matches your scores (and overall performance).

The Dental Admissions Test has four sections:
1. Natural Sciences - Biology (40 items), General Chemistry (30 items) and Organic Chemistry (30 items)
2. Perceptual Ability - Two and three dimensional problem solving.
3. Reading Comprehension - Dental and basic sciences reading passages.
4. Quantitative Reasoning - 40 items including algebra, trigonometry, numerical calculations, etc.

Click here for DAT study and test preparation materials.
To read more about the DAT or to apply to sit the exam, visit the (ADA) American Dental Association website.

Are you well rounded?

You can get all A's and still flunk life.  ~Walker Percy

Dental Schools love to see well rounded individuals. In fact, a well rounded individual is usually preferred to the individual who is solely academically strong. But, what makes a well rounded individual? First know that dental schools like to see that you have a diverse educational background and that you have taken a wide range of coursework. Contrary to common belief that in order to apply to Dental School you should enroll in the sciences, one can major in any course that they want to as long as the required coursework is completed (Click here for a list of required coursework). Next, be aware that they love to see students that are well involved in different activities. Get involved with different extracurricular activities; what do you enjoy doing? It may be sports, volunteering at your neighborhood health clinic or anything of the sort. You should also consider doing some research, as this allows you to gain an appreciation of the practical applications of knowledge gained in the classroom. Next, show involvement in the field! Dentistry involves superior manual dexterity skills and excellent hand-eye coordination. If you aspire to be a dentist, you must engage in activities that will develop these skills. The admissions committees at the different schools  like to see that you have been engaged in activities that  develop these skills prior to admission into Dental School. Activities that will help in this regard include playing a musical instrument (piano, guitar, flute), or producing three dimensional artwork (jewelry-making, ceramics, sculpture). Working in a biology lab performing fine detailed tasks such as dissections can also be a good way to develop manual dexterity skills, as can be working in a dental lab. In addition to this, you must demonstrate a growing knowledge of the profession, and show involvement in your community as this speaks volumes to your commitment to serve.

Pre-requisite Confusion?

In one's quest to pursue Dentistry, there are a set of requisite courses which you have to secure in order to apply or be matriculated into Dental School.
Why are there prerequisites anyway? Simple, prerequisite courses serve to insure that all accepted students have the fundamental knowledge to successfully complete the advanced courses of the dental curriculum.  Different schools may require different courses but for the most part there are a set that all schools typically require. These courses include:

1. Biology with labs (1 year)
2. Inorganic Chemistry with labs (1 year)
3. Organic Chemistry with labs (1-2 semesters)
4. Physics with labs (1 year)
5. Calculus (1-2 semesters)
6. English and or Writing (1 year)

Strongly suggested coursework usually include Sculpting, Basic Business (any), Biochemistry, Microbiology and Physiology.
The above courses are "suggested" courses and will not affect admissions decisions if not taken. However, they will be pretty helpful once you get in to Dental School.

Visit individual Dental School websites for particulars on requisite courses.

Undergrad. What Now?

By the time we enter College as undergraduates, most of us have a pretty good idea of what we want or hope to become. This idea is what leads to us choosing a particular field of study.

If you wish to become a dentist, you have to first attend undergraduate school and then dental school. Your undergraduate career should be geared towards aspects thereof and you should also engage in activities which will complement your career choice. Some of these activities may include shadowing a dentist or a doctor at his or her own practice, volunteering at your local health clinic or anything related. Note that dental schools like to see well rounded individuals both academically and otherwise. Note also that dental schools have no preference when it comes to your major or course of study. You can usually take any course you wish as long as the prerequisites are fulfilled. Needless to say, you will need to do well academically.

Related Posts with Thumbnails