3 things I wish I knew before I enrolled in my dental school

dental admissions dental school
By Vinay

It’s been a short 6 months since I graduated from dental school, but I still vividly remember my first day of dental school. My 4 years were exciting, a little scary, and ultimately the most rewarding experience of my life so far. I learned a tremendous amount and it has shaped me into the clinician I am today: someone who values learning and equitable patient care above all else. Yet, my experience was far from perfect - there is so much that I wish I had known about my dental school and its environment before I mailed my deposit checks.

Here are the three important things that I wish I knew before enrolling in my particular dental school:

1) My priorities 

I came into dental school without a set plan in mind. I didn’t even know all of the fields of dentistry, much less if I wanted to be a general dentist or a specialist. Dental school is the time for exploring your options as well as figuring out what you prefer to do or prefer to treat. However, if you have an inclination toward pursuing post-graduate training, starting your own practice right away, or anything in between, it's essential to be aware of what each dental school offers. Ask what research opportunities are present, what extracurriculars are available, what practice management training is covered, and if there’s an ability to practice in other locations outside of student clinics. All of this is crucial in preparing you for a specific specialty and working in private practice, particularly in building your resume and body of work. 

2) The community 

Dental school isn’t just a place where you take classes, treat patients, or make new friends; it's where you'll spend four years of your life. It’s vital you research the greater community before you send in your deposit.  Of course, you'll know beforehand if it's located in a big city or a small suburb, but take the time to get to know the neighborhood during your interview day. And the community is the source of your patient pool. I didn’t know I was moving to a majority Spanish-speaking neighborhood, but, thankfully, my Spanish fluency allowed me to more fully engage with my patients’ priorities and educate them on more healthy decisions. 

3) Your school's reputation

This honestly goes in hand with the first point, but this deserves its own section. Every school has something they’re known for, whether it’s for sending students to prestigious specialty programs, producing competent general dentists right out of dental school, or excelling in research breakthroughs. Although each of these sounds amazing, they each have their caveats. A school that prioritizes research may not be the most clinically inclined, a school that sends a majority of their students to post-graduate programs may not provide students with a wide variety of procedures or be very competitive, and a school that gives students a comprehensive general dental education may not have programs that give students more specific training in a particular field of dentistry. My school was known for producing specialists, and I lucked out in wanting to be a specialist, but some of my classmates had to pursue post-graduate general dentistry training as they didn’t feel competent enough after graduation.  

Understanding your future community, as well as your own and your prospective dental school’s priorities, will help you make a more informed decision when choosing a dental school. You’ll become a doctor in any school, so you should know how you’re going to spend those 4 productive years. 

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