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Gaining Experience

Posted Dec 01 2009 12:00am
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.
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