Pre-Dental Talk Episode #8: Dental shadowing, assisting, the DAT, & more!

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This article accompanies Episode #8 of CrackDAT.com’s Pre-Dental Talk, hosted by Iman. Check out the podcasts here — topics range from information about the dental school application process, to advice for the DAT, to interviews with dental school faculty and students!

Episode #8 is all about pre-dental experiences (shadowing, assisting, and more)! In this episode, Iman interviews Lauren, a pre-dental student who has spent hundreds of hours shadowing and working as a dental assistant. Lauren has wanted to be a dentist for nearly as long as she can remember. Her initial desire to be a dentist was motivated by her positive experiences with her pediatric dentist, but Lauren said that it was shadowing and assisting that really solidified her passion for dentistry. Listen to Episode #8 here or watch the YouTube video linked below, and read on for a summary of Lauren’s advice for getting dental experience, no matter where you are in your dental journey!

High school experiences

Think you’re too young to be getting dental experience as a high schooler? Think again! If you’re interested in a career in dentistry, you can absolutely begin immersing yourself in the field in high school! Lauren did a dental internship in high school. She would leave school for part of the day and work at an oral surgery office, taking patient history, sterilizing instruments, and assisting. Although these hours didn’t count towards the number of shadowing hours required by dental schools — the ADEA AADSAS application only focuses on post-high-school experiences — Lauren said this internship was a valuable experience and will be something she can talk about during her interviews. This was her first time being on the other side of the chair, experiencing dentistry from the perspective of the dentist rather than the patient.

Pre-dental societies and advisors

Lauren has been a member of a pre-dental society since her freshman year of college. Being a member gave her access to DAT workshops and pre-dental advisors and gave her the chance to learn from older students who were going through the application process. Lauren recommends asking questions to the upperclassmen in your pre-dental society — they’re a great resource! Pre-dental and pre-health advisors are another great resource, if your university has them. Lauren met with an advisor two to three times per semester to make sure she was on track and to discuss her GPA, prerequisite courses, and DAT.

Shadowing

Shadowing is the quintessential pre-dental experience! You’ll need to have plenty of shadowing hours before applying to dental school. Lauren started shadowing between her freshman and sophomore years of college. She shadowed two general dentists and one endodontist. If you’re not sure where to get started with shadowing, Google dental offices near you and call them. “Most offices are really welcoming to students,” Lauren said.

Make sure you’re getting the most out of your shadowing experiences. Lauren recommends showing up with a positive attitude, being respectful, and bringing questions for the dentist, lab techs, front desk staff, and assistants. Each dental office is like its own ecosystem, and everybody contributes, so try to learn as much as possible from everyone! She also recommends shadowing for more than just a few months. Shadowing for an extended period of time, even while you’re in school, shows your commitment and your ability to balance schoolwork with shadowing. Plus, shadowing the same dentist long-term typically makes for a stronger letter of recommendation, since the dentist will know you better and more personally.

Be sure to be diligent with your record-keeping, too. If you can, bring something to write or take notes on. Document your shadowing hours so you can total them when you’re applying to dental school, and keep a record of what you saw and learned each time. You’ll want to have specific experiences that you can talk about on your application and in your interviews.

Dental assisting

Assisting is not required for the dental school application process, but it’s a fantastic way to get hands-on dental experience! While shadowing, Lauren knew she wanted to do more. She called 30–35 offices until she found one that offered her an internship opportunity. After a while as an intern, Lauren was offered a dental assisting position. She was trained by the office staff and worked full-time during her summer and winter breaks and on Saturdays during the school year. “I loved it so much,” she said.

As a dental assistant, Lauren learned the ins and outs of actually working in a patient’s mouth, learned more about the different dental procedures, and gained a deeper understanding of how much of a team effort every dental office is. She said her favorite part was talking to patients. As a dental assistant, your job is to build trust with each patient within the span of a few minutes. For Lauren, assisting was reassurance of her desire to pursue a career in dentistry. “I can’t really think of a better career,” she said.

Be sure to listen to the full podcast here. Email hi@crackdat.com with questions or with topic suggestions for future episodes, and stay tuned for more Pre-Dental Talks!

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