If you’re like me, you’ve decided to continue your education past dental school. Maybe an introductory course became an interest, which sparked a passion, and now you’ve decided to specialize. Perhaps you want more exposure to the wealth of complex procedures performed by general dentists. Either way, you’ve found yourself at a crossroads. So, you start sifting through programs to pick those that possess traits you believe are valuable to you: kind and experienced faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, a supportive resident culture, etc. Now that their program has made your short list, it’s time to figure out why you should make theirs.
Before you get started, decide who you are and who you want to be. Once you know that, you can start chasing specific opportunities that will reflect those interests. For example, by the start of my third year in dental school, I knew I wanted to chase three passions in my career. I want to practice, teach and advance my specialty through research. Those three passions define me and how I wanted to present myself when applying to residencies.
With my passions outlined, I was able to dive right in to strengthening the three pillars that make me who I am. To be the best practitioner I could be, I began shadowing in private practices, seeking out externships and spending every free moment I had assisting the endodontic residents at my school. To pursue my passion for teaching, I sought out opportunities to help with the predoctoral endodontics course. Finally, I knew I wanted to spend my career contributing to the advancement of my specialty, specifically through research. So, I did everything I could to participate in research, both under the guidance of the residents and on my own.
So, how can you transfer your unique passions onto your application?
Write it down. Before starting down the road to residency, take a moment to outline what you’d like to accomplish by the time you apply. For example, if you know your ultimate goal is to pioneer the application of digital dentistry in underserved populations, you might outline a few goals for yourself. They could include becoming intimately familiar with the software employed in making digital dentures, contributing to the literature surrounding the sub-field of digital dentistry and fabricating prostheses for people who lack access to dental care. Keep these goals visible. Put them on your desk, pin them to the fridge door or write them in the front cover of your favorite notebook. From now until applications open, fill your to do list with sub-tasks aimed at helping you achieve these goals.
Dig deep. Maybe you don’t have a tidy set of ultimate goals yet. My advice is to start by figuring out what brought you here. Why did you choose dentistry? For example, I grew up watching my mom work as a general dentist. Her skill, compassion and love for her profession encouraged me to follow her example. However, everyone has their own story. Maybe you’re an artist and you love how art and science come together within dentistry. Some dentists are motivated by a desire to give patients their smiles back. Maybe you’ve felt pain before and want to use dentistry to help alleviate the pain that others feel. There are so many paths and passions that can lead someone to this wonderful field. Rediscover what brought you here and decide where you want to take it.
Get organized. Everyone organizes themselves differently. Some do calendars, others to-do lists. Whatever your method may be, I recommend setting aside specific time slots and deadlines for activities directly related to preparing for applications.
Reach out. You don’t have to do it alone. If I could list every person who has helped me this past year, I would quickly use up the rest of my word limit. Research programs you’re interested in and try to get in contact with current residents and faculty. Talk to upperclassmen and professors at your dental school and see if they have any tips for you. By connecting with others, you can find out if your perspective and goals align well with those of a specific program or specialty. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who can help guide you on your path. If someone doesn’t respond, try not to take it personally. Just remember that everyone is busy and trying to do their best!
I hope that these tips will be helpful to you as you pursue your dreams. If you begin by looking inward and figuring out what brought you here, I think you’ll be off to a great start. Past that, don’t forget to write down your goals, organize yourself and reach out to others for guidance. Wishing you all the best!
~Gabriella Blazquez, Connecticut ’22