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Advice from a Practicing Dentist

By Dr. Katie D.

COVID-19 has shut down dental offices, canceled volunteering events, and hindered previous paths of shadowing and service hours. What’s a pre-dent to do? A silver lining to the pandemic is the innovation and re-interpretation of what this experience is and how to obtain it. Here are four ways you can earn these hours and boost your skills from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Virtual Shadowing: There are several players in the virtual shadowing world one year into the pandemic. Here are a few to check out:

Instagram @dentalshadowers & @smileshadowers – these accounts are putting together weekly series of dental professionals sharing their stories. They are coordinating with general dentists, specialists, and dental staff members. There are also helpful posts with tips and insight into dentistry.

Prehealthshadowing.com is a non-profit organization comprised of a diverse structure of young adults. They have Zoom meetings arranged with dental professionals who will discuss their dental experiences from application to current work environment. These sessions are also recorded and available on YouTube. They offer a Certificate of Verification following completion of a session. The live meetings allow for Q&A and interaction with other interested viewers, networking, and social support. Within their program, they invite interested viewers to contact them for other volunteer opportunities some as research and grant writing. This is a fantastic opportunity to log some volunteer hours as well as shadowing time.

Volunteering: With the closure and limited entry available to many dental clinics, your ability to directly volunteer within dentistry is likely hampered. There are still many volunteer opportunities available from walking dogs at your local humane society to picking up litter at the nearby park. One volunteer opportunity that you can do from home is with Cake4Kids (cake4kids.org). These home-bakers bake a birthday cake at home and deliver to a partner agency supporting underserved children. You will not only be making a child happy, but you have a chance to work on a lot of related skills in dentistry. Measuring ingredients out and mixing together is a lot like measuring out alginate and mixing for impressions. You must follow recipe directions and manage your time. Beyond the science and chemistry of baking, there is an artistic component as well. Working on your pipetting skills and frosting flowers is certainly an exercise of manual dexterity and coordination. This compassionate and creative volunteer opportunity is sure to stand out on your application and in interview conversations.

Manual Dexterity: Prepare yourself for any interview manual dexterity challenge while you’re hanging out at home. While not all interviews have a manual dexterity component to their interview, it is a skill you will require to use every single day in dentistry. You can do all sorts of things to work on this skill such as: sewing, sculpting, tying fish knots, painting, etc. How about trying out sewing some fabric cloth masks and donating them to local shelters or nursing homes? That’s a win-win-win for hand skills, volunteering, and community involvement!

Reading Comprehension: One perhaps overlooked yet critical skill within applicants, the DAT and the course load of dental school is the volume of reading and immediate comprehension that is required. Lecture after lecture with textbook readings to keep up with leaves you with a lot of material to digest. While you are home, reading some of the latest best-sellers or motivational books will keep your skills sharp and also give you something to talk about at interviews. 

There are many experiences and opportunities still available to you during the COVID-19 pandemic that may just look a little different than you expected or have more of an indirect relevance to dentistry. A well-rounded approach and an ability to rebound from setbacks is just what you need for success in school and beyond.

There may be a limit set by each dental school related to the number of ‘virtual’ shadowing hours that can be counted toward application. You should look into each school’s application guidelines and website for further information. No matter what there are unique and interesting content available to viewers live and on-demand to keep you engaged and moving toward your goals.