One of my favorite times of the years to have all our college students come home and come and visit us for their bi-yearly check-ups. Since we are connected to many of the pediatric dental practices in Santa Clarita, it’s fun to follow the kids' development from their in junior high, high school and now their college years. They change so much and it’s really fun to laugh with them about their younger years as we talk about what their plans are for their futures. I’m always so jealous of them because truly the college years are the best years of their lives.
Inevitably, I am asked by some of our patients about what it takes to become a dentist. I am always so thrilled to hear when any student is interested in dentistry but particularly when our patients ask because I like to think that we had a small part in their decision making the process. So, I thought to start off the new year, I would give a little insight to our aspiring dentists, hygienists and healthcare majors as a whole as to what makes an ideal candidate in the eyes of dental school, medical school, hygiene school, nursing school, etc.
I must digress a little and let you know that the admissions process is a passion of mine. During my undergraduate years, I served as a student advisor in the Office of Admissions at Washington University and when I was on faculty at UCLA School of Dentistry, I served on the admissions committee. Deciding who should be admitted is an incredibly difficult and strenuous process from the admission committee standpoint. Trying to judge who will be a “good” dentist or a “bad” dentist from several pieces of paper is very very difficult and obviously not a good representation of the true character of the person. But it’s the best we've got and the system stands to stay the same for the foreseeable future.
Of primary importance to any admissions committee will be your GPA and your test scores (in that order). Let’s face it, the committee has to make sure that you are smart enough to handle the rigors of graduate school, and more importantly, your career. Like all postgraduate programs, dental school has core classes that all applicants are required to take prior to being considered for admission to dental school. Your GPA in these classes are the most important factor in the decision-making process. Test scores are important as well and I recommend that you take prep classes to help prepare you for the tests.
But should you past the GPA and test score requirement, what makes a good application to professional schools? Surprisingly a non-science major can help. Biology majors are a dime a dozen and do not differentiate you from the crowd of applicants. An English major or a language major or even a music major - now that is something really different. Admissions committees want to see a well-rounded person, not one that is only good in science. But if you really love the sciences, then make yourself stand out by doing internships working with professors or companies that offer internships. It’s not easy to get them so use whatever connections you have in order to secure a position.
Finally, do community service. Show that you love working with people by working with people. It doesn't have to be healthcare related - in fact it’s even more powerful if it’s not healthcare related. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, help inner-city kids with school work, assist the elderly population. These are all areas that show you have a compassionate heart and your profession will be more than a job to you.
Dentistry and medicine are fields which are constantly evolving. No one knows what the dental landscape will look like 10 years from now. The reality is that working hours continue to increase and salaries decrease. But if you love what you do, you won’t mind the changes. Because in the end, dentistry is really about serving others.