At this time of year, we have become accustomed to answering two questions asked by third-year dental students. The first is: “Should I apply to residency programs?” The second is: “How do I know which residency program is right for me?”
Should you apply to residency programs?
Regardless of which school you’re attending, what grade point average you’ve maintained or how many scalings and root planings you’ve completed, we answer “yes” to the first question.
After all of our years of teaching, we know that a residency program provides an invaluable opportunity for recent graduates to continue to learn while still being mentored. We know that while you graduate as a competent dentist, you need more experience before we can confidently consider you proficient. And we know that graduates come back during and after residency programs to talk about how the residency program has increased their efficiency and diminished their deficiencies.
Which residency program is right for you?
The two most important considerations in guiding your decision are location and the program itself.
For location, you need to think about where you want to live and practice. Are you attached to a location because of your family? Are you free to move wherever you’d like? Also, you need to factor in the cost of living in an area. Will you be able to have any quality of life on a resident’s salary once your loan payments kick in? Are there neighborhood amenities that you will enjoy and can afford? Is the public transportation reliable and convenient? Is the neighborhood safe?
In addition to location, you also need to consider the program itself. However, before you can know which aspects of the program appeal to you and which do not, you must make some decisions about what type of experience interests you. Are you looking for a large program or a small one? Are you interested in specializing ultimately? If so, would you prefer a program that emphasizes that specialty? What salary and benefits are offered? Can you manage on the take-home pay? Will you be provided with auxiliary personnel? What is the caliber of the attending faculty? Is the program adequately covered? Are there satellite clinic locations that you will be expected to cover or outreach programs that you will need to attend? Is continuing education or practice management training part of the compensation package? What is the on-call schedule? How many patients will you get to see per day? Is the facility and technology up to date?
In order to determine whether or not a program is right for you, you will need to know not only the answers to these questions, but you will also need to do some reflection in order to determine your preferences. To find the answers to the questions outlined above, it is best to try to spend time in the program. See if you can do an externship or at least visit for a day. Ask the current residents if they are happy with the program and why. To determine your preferences, you will have to spend some good, old-fashioned time with yourself and try to figure out exactly what you are trying to gain from the experience.
Regardless of where you wind up, one year from now you will have gained additional experience. And from our perspective, that’s the one thing that we know you still need.
~ Drs. Ivy Peltz and Eric Studley, DOCCUPATIONS