Could Dentistry Be for You?

Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

While it may seem like everyone in your Organic Chemistry class is pre-med, pre-dental is another common path for lovers of science with a passion for health care. Here are a few traits we see in pre-dental students.

You have the “gift of gab.” Do you enjoy making personal connections with people? Does the prospect of developing long-term, continuous relationships with patients appeal to you? Many dentists spend more than 30 minutes with a patient in a typical appointment, and see the same patients regularly over many years, making the profession a good choice for extroverts with top-notch communication skills.

Fine motor skills are your thing. Dentists spend hours every day using their hands. So, it is no surprise that dental schools enroll students with manual dexterity skills that are transferrable to the practice of dentistry – such as visual artists, engineers, pastry chefs, and even car mechanics. As I learned on a recent visit to a state-of-the-art hands-on simulation lab at a dental school, very fine motor control and excellent hand-eye coordination are essential.

You are intensely curious and enjoy creative problem-solving. Does tackling scientific questions excite you? A successful dentist must be adept at clinical problem-solving, which frequently requires thinking outside-of-the-box. This is one reason abstract thinkers, engineers, and philosophy majors may be drawn to this career.

Whether you have known since you had your braces removed that you wanted to become an orthodontist or you just recently started to consider dentistry as a career, take time to explore the field now. Get outside of the science classroom and into a dentist’s office. Shadow a variety of dentists to gain exposure to the breadth of dental medicine – from general dentistry to one of the nine specialties.  For more information and resources, see our webpage for pre-dental students.



For Those About To Apply…

by Peter Stokes

If you’re a junior or senior even considering applying to medical or dental school this summer, in order to be admitted in 2013, then make sure you come to one of our mandatory workshops for applicants that are coming up soon. For medical school, you have a choice of any of 5 different workshops. There is one workshop for dental applicants; if you really can’t make it, let us know in advance. The workshops are listed on the pre-graduate/professional school advising calendar, here:

At the workshops we will explain the application process in detail. We will also explain the process that you go through with this office this spring. Basically, after you’ve come to a workshop, you’ll meet with a pre-health advisor for an in-depth conversation about the things you’ve done in the classroom and extra-curricularly, and you’ll also meet for a relatively formal interview with a faculty or staff member who has generously volunteered time to help with this process. That latter interview will serve as valuable practice for you; it is good preparation to have to talk about yourself and reflect on why you are pursuing this field and the choices you have made in preparing for it.

Before you meet with your pre-health advisor, we also require you to prepare some documents. We ask you to respond to a questionnaire, designed to help you reflect on your application and what your strengths are. We ask for an expanded resume, very much along the lines of what ultimately you will enter into your actual application. And we ask you to calculate your science GPA. All of these things are designed to help you submit a good, thoughtful application later. They also help us write an official, Penn HPAB (Health Professions Advisory Board) letter in support of your application, as is expected by medical and dental schools for those still in undergrad, which goes out along with the letters written by your teachers and mentors and so forth.

So in exchange for attending a workshop and two interviews, preparing some documents, and meeting some necessary deadlines, you get a detailed, official letter written to advocate for you, as well as extensive guidance and support in putting together your applications thoughtfully and well. We look forward to working with you!

A New Pre-dental Resource: Go!

Are you considering dental school in your future?  Do you know the difference between endodontics, periodontics and prosthodontics?  Have you considered a research opportunity at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health (NIDCR)?  The American Dental Education Association launched a new website this fall — GoDental — that provides a nice overview of the profession as well as links to helpful resources, a timeline for applying to dental school, and informational videos (yes, DentTube).

The website is a nice starting point and emphasizes the importance of finding organizations and mentors to help you launch your career.  Pre-dents may not be the largest pre-professional group on Penn’s campus, but they need not feel alone.  Alumni, professional organizations, and current dental students are often willing to provide insight and help to those eager to learn more about their profession.  Try PACNet to find Penn alums in the field or consider joining the American Student Dental Association as a predental member and/or the Penn Pre-dental Society.  Penn predental students who are interested in connecting with alumni of Penn Dental Medicine can express their interest in obtaining a mentor here.  As always, your pre-health advisors are happy to speak with you about your interest in a dental career and hope you will come see us!

Clinical Exposure: The Unwritten Requirement for Health Professions Applicants

Health professions schools expect applicants to have had some exposure to clinical situations before applying. I often advise applicants not to expect interviews or offers of admission without it. Why!? Because it isn’t hard enough to meet the official requirements? And what is clinical exposure? What are schools looking for and how much is enough?

Reading about dentistry on the outside of the dental school isn't clinical exposure for this Penn pre-dental gargoyle.

For starters, this pre-health advisor sympathizes with the puzzlement over the term “clinical exposure.” I don’t care for it much and it always makes me think of those paper dressing gowns at the doctor’s office. If you come to Career Services for an advising appointment (and we hope you do), you are likely to hear someone use an elegant description like, “getting around sick people and doctors.” Working in a lab is not clinical exposure.  Even if the lab is at the hospital.  Even if someone in your lab is sick.  Clinical research might be clinical exposure.  If you are reviewing patient charts (which is a fine research opportunity, by the way), then no. Administering tests to subjects or recruiting subjects in the ER, then yes.  Examples of ways to obtain clinical exposure include volunteering or working as a: hospital volunteer in a patient area, EMT, hospice volunteer, clinical researcher interacting with patients/subjects, or volunteer in a rehabilitation or mental health care facility. Shadowing a physician, yes; however, while shadowing is great, few applicants gain many hours shadowing and taking a more active role as an employee or volunteer is recommended in addition to shadowing. Volunteering in high school?  Super, but you will want more recent experiences to put on your application. Eating a cheeseburger at the hospital cafeteria…no. Measuring your roommate’s gum recession…no. Dating a third-year med student…nice, but no.

So, why do schools expect this? What is the best thing to do and how much clinical exposure should you have? Health professions schools invest a great deal in their students’ training and they want people who are committed and have a very good idea of what lies ahead. They want applicants who are thinking beyond “getting in” and have considered their motivations, abilities, and general “fit” for the field. By spending time around patients, you demonstrate your curiosity about the field and, hopefully, gain a sense of the real rewards and challenges of working in health care. Most likely, either you will confirm your interest in the field and gain insight into the aspects you like the most or you may find that health care is not for you. Certainly, there are people who, through their clinical volunteering, considered alternatives to a medical or dental degree and are now happily working both in and out of health care.

As for how much, I am not sure you can have too much clinical exposure and it’s a good idea to think about it early — not as you are filling out your application. It takes some time to arrange clinical opportunities. Every applicant is different and some people will have years of clinical exposure and some will have months and they may end up as classmates at the same graduate school. Truly, I think the best clinical exposure is one that reflects your interests and where you made the most of your opportunity to help others and learn about the field. Whether you are asking patients to step on a scale, restocking bandages, or administering a questionnaire to a study participant, you will want to take in everything going on around you and reflect upon what you do and see. Your level of mental and emotional engagement will contribute to your thinking about your career. Also, the more you take in, the more you can share in your application essay or interview in a truly personal and reflective way.  So, expose yourself!  (In a legal, professional, and medically relevant manner.)