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The Road to Specializing

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When asked on the first day of school who had an intent to specialize, I bet at least half of your class raised their hands.  If you are one of the many individuals beginning their dental school journey with your hand in the air, these tips may help you along the way as you contemplate a career in a dental specialty.

1. Explore.  Start off by getting to know the specialties.  From prosthodontics to pediatrics and endodontics, there is a wide range of options.  If you are fortunate enough to go to a school that has specialty programs, go check them out.  On your virtually nonexistent spare time, pop up to the clinic and shadow or assist.  This will not only give you a better idea of what goes on in that specialty but it will give you a chance to pick the brains of the residents.  Also, see if your school has a mentor program to connect with dentists of varying specialties in the community to get a better view of what life is like in the particular field.  Shadowing or doing an externship is very important and required for some programs like oral surgery.  Shadowing will also expose you to the practice and business aspects of the specialty which are not commonly taught in depth throughout dental school. This is your time to figure things out.  Discover what you like, what kind of grades you need and whether or not you think after four years of dental school, you will be okay with more school.


2. Study. Study.  Study.  Study.  That’s the number one thing you can do early on in your dental school career.  Find out how you study best, whether it’s rewriting notes, camping out at the library, quizzing with a friend or even cramming.  Dental school is a whole new game, one which may take awhile to figure out, but in the end, you need to do what works for you.  Whatever it is, get good grades to be competitive for specialty programs, especially if you’re looking into programs like orthodontics.


3. Network.  Knowing people is everything.  Make connections in all settings, from your  classmates to your upperclassmen, faculty, administration, and residents.  You will interact with these individuals every step of the process so you might as well develop a good relationship early.  Most importantly, do not treat your peers going into the same program as competitors.  It will consume you.  Work together, build each other up and use each other’s strengths to improve yourselves as individual candidates.  Making friends with people with similar goals will be extremely beneficial for you as they can be your study buddies, research partners, and emotional support when you are stressed.  These relationships will also help in the long run because residencies want cool people that are team players, not individuals that are first in class but gunners and keep to themselves.  Also, make sure to get to know residents— they were in your shoes only a few years ago and have some great advice!  Don’t brown nose but don’t forget they are people too.  Most of them are probably new to the city and would love to make new connections just like you.


4. Research. Check out specific programs’ websites and statistics, ask faculty or friends in the field, or scroll through Student Doctor Network.  Do whatever you need to find out what the requirements are for the specialty.  This includes deadlines, required grades and even specific tests.  Both oral surgery and orthodontics require special exams so make sure you prepare for this and put it on your to-do list well in advance.  At this point, you should also re-evaluate if you’re ready for more school.  Some students are a little more ambitious their first year of dental school than their third when it comes time to apply.


5. Apply. Decide on how many schools to which you want to apply and make a list based on your preferences.  Start asking professors and dentists for your letters of recommendation early so you give them ample time to write a well-constructed essay to reflect your qualities.  Also, set aside enough time to write your personal statement and make several drafts before you submit.  Check to see if your classmates, relatives, professors or one of the faculty in the specialty program will read your essay and give you feedback. 
 

Whatever you decide as your final destination, specialty or general dentistry, work hard, stay ahead of the game and enjoy your dental school journey.