Saturday, April 24, 2010

Giving back.

While many of my readers are current dental students, a significant portion of you guys are predents or people simply interested in health professions. As I am studying for my national boards exam, I cannot but remember the stressful time of my life when I was just a biology undergraduate student hoping to get into dental school. During that time I lurked websites like SDN as well as local bookstores to find that one holy grail for any Pre- student – HOW TO GET INTO DENTAL SCHOOL? While I vaguely recall scanning through a book on Medical school admission, my sole source of information came from piecing the puzzles of know-how from the aforementioned website.

So, as I sit at my office desk on this beautiful San Francisco Saturday, I present you with a series of blog entries on that very subject – what are the steps that I need to take to make sure that dentistry is for me, and if so, how do I get into dental school? I will cover topics such as proper class load in undergrad, preparation for the DAT, how to pick a good research or community service project, and how to ace your interview. The target audience for this is entry to mid level college students.

Before I begin, I think a little more proper introduction is in order. I am a second (almost third) year DDS/PhD student at UCSF. I have interviewed dental school applicants for my school. I come from the University of Central Oklahoma, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Biology. The latter part of the information hopefully will make you see that it is possible to end up in a top notch school even if you are from a less than prestigious undergrad, assuming you apply yourself well and maybe use some of my advice.

Now let’s dive in to today’s topic.

How do I know if being a dentist is right for me? This be the most overlooked and undervalued question, while being perhaps the most important one. In my case, I somehow knew I wanted to drill people’s teeth since I was 5. Clearly, my case cannot be taken seriously since up until about the age of 18, I had no real clue of what that profession entails. The danger of not understand what dentistry and dental school is like is real. In my class of 88 alone, we had 5 people drop the program after the first year (2 after orientation!). That’s years of stress and preparation as well as thousands of dollars down the drain because they didn’t do proper research on what it’s like to be a dental professional.

So, back the question then – how do I know? Go shadow a dentist. Seriously. I know this may sound primitive but you’d be surprised how many people I know that haven’t shadowed an hour up until after taking the DAT! As you shadow, ask questions ranging to the scope of practice to lifestyle outside work. Try to see what the whole life of a dentist is like, not just the 8-5 part. Also, visit your local dental school and talk to the students. Trust me, professional students love to pet their egos in front of you guys, and will spill all kinds of helpful information. Another great way to get familiar with your future profession (and dental school admissions LOVE this bit) is to shadow other professions. Imagine being asked at the interview:
– Well, Timmy, what other profession have you looked at.
–None, just shadowed a dentist.
– So, then you don’t really know if you would like medicine or research any better or worse, can you?
Sure, if you are half-intelligent, you can wiggle out that one. But wouldn’t it be able to say that you explored other professions and came to the conclusion that Dentistry is truly your thing?

I encourage you to think of additional ways to get closer to the profession of your choice. The aforementioned, however, should get your pretty comfortable with what Dental school is all about. Finally, I’ll add that no matter how much you research, the best way to know is to be a dental student. ;)

Next, I’ll cover the basic features that admission committees look for in students. So stay tuned and feel free to ask questions.

-Because I can.


  1. How long will it take you to complete your DDS/PhD program? Which subject area is your PhD in?

  2. B,

    There are several routes to completing the PhD program. On average, it takes about 7 years to complete. However, at UCSF you get your DDS after the first 4 years, unlike many other schools, which withhold both degrees until the very end of the dual program.

    My interests are in evolution and development and I will most likely end up researching the molecular pathways of evolution of tooth morphology.

  3. Dentistry is an interesting social course. Even after you graduate, you still need to give services to your patients. You are one curious student. That is one of the traits that you must have. That can help you determine whether this is the right course for you. Goodluck! :-)

    Bianca Jackson

  4. This Blog is really helpful to me. Its a learning experience. Hope everyone feels the same.

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