Students often come to
their health professions advisors for help finding experience in dentistry through
shadowing, internships, summer programs or research. As an advisor, it is
important that you maintain a list of resources for students to contact for
experience. It is helpful to reach out to the dentists in your area to see if
they are interested in having students shadow them. This way, you can connect
an interested student directly to a willing dentist. You should also work to
maintain relationships with the admissions officers at the schools in your
area, as a number of dental schools host summer programs for students
interested in dentistry.
Shadowing dentists is one
of the best ways to find out if dentistry is the right career for students. It
will help them understand the daily life of a dental practitioner, the pros and
cons of the profession and provide them with great discussion material for
their dental school application and interviews. Most importantly, it will help
them gain insight into the major differences between a general dentist and a
Before beginning any
shadowing experience, help your students determine their objectives for
shadowing. Is it to determine the fit of the profession, to learn more about
the roles of the dental team, to increase their knowledge about dentistry
and/or just to gain more hours to add to a dental school application?
Understanding their purpose and objectives for shadowing can help the student
have a more effective and rewarding experience.
should you begin?
Encourage students to think
about the relationship they have with their own private practitioners and start
by speaking with them. Usually this is the best resource as there is an
established relationship and the practitioner will most likely have an invested
interest in helping the student succeed. Additionally, there is nothing better
than to have someone who likes you and wants to show you the ropes.
If a student does not have
a dentist, then cold calls still work and/or networking with their classmates,
their friends’ parents, professors, etc., to ask about their dentists.
Encourage students to not be afraid to ask others about dentists they know.
Many dentists are glad to speak with a student interested in pursuing
Finding the right practice
While there is no set
practice setting that is recommended for students, they are encouraged to gain
exposure and experience within a variety of practice settings, such as general
dentistry and specialties. This experience will give the student a rounded perspective
of dentistry, how the practices are run differently and similarly and the
difference in patient experiences.
It is important for
students to be flexible about when they can observe. Remember, this is a
business and their hours may not fit within the students’ preference for
shadowing. Therefore, students need to adjust to the hours of the practice.
What kind of questions
should students ask?
Remind students that when
in a dental practice setting the focus is on the patient and not the student.
Therefore, students should be mindful of when to ask questions and what kinds
of questions to ask. Students’ questions should come naturally from what they
are observing, should not be forced or preplanned and in general will depend on
their knowledge of the dental profession. Focusing on the profession and the
life of a practitioner is always a good way to go.
professional environment and professional etiquette.
When shadowing, students
should be mindful of the appropriate attire for the practice or setting where
they will be shadowing. In many dental practices, open-toed shoes are
restricted, revealing and tight clothing should be avoided, and extreme casual
attire may bring undesired attention. Contacting the practitioner prior to the
shadowing experience can alleviate anxiety about appropriate dress; however,
professional dress is always a safe avenue.
requires students to be conscious of HIPAA regulations, meaning that students
will need to keep any information they learn about a patient confidential. In
some areas students may be required to sign a HIPAA compliance document stating
they will not disclose any patient information. Additionally, flippant and
casual remarks are inappropriate and should be avoided.
Although the number of
shadowing hours that a student needs for a dental school application will vary
by dental school, most dental schools want students to have enough experiences
to be able to reflect on the profession in a meaningful and significant way. In
their research of dental schools, students should have gained some information
on what the schools they want to apply to expect in terms of shadowing
experiences. Dental schools are interested in students having a meaningful
experience and not just building up hours.
Remind your student to
write a thank you note to the dentist reflecting on what they learned and how
they enjoyed the shadowing experience. The dentist has given his or her time
and resources to assist the student and this should be acknowledged by the student.
One critical component to
helping students realize if dentistry is the right fit for them is spending
time shadowing a practitioner. Encourage students to reach out to their family
dentist or if available, a local dental school, for potential opportunities,
and if that is not an option, remind them to check in with their classmates,
friends, and professors, who all have potential connections to a dentist.