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?”
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 instantly and unequivocally answer “YES!!!” to the first question. How can we answer yes so definitively when we don’t even know you? After all 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 all graduate as competent dentists, you need more experience before you are truly 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 improved their skills.
So you should definitely apply to a residency program. No more discussion. We think we’ve made that clear. Now let’s talk about what needs to factor into your decision about which residency program will be 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 a quality of life on a resident’s salary once your loan payments kick in? Are there neighborhood amenities that you’ll enjoy and can afford? Is the public transportation reliable and convenient? Is the neighborhood safe?
In addition to location, you 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? You should find out about the salary and benefits offered and decide if you can manage on the take-home pay.
Of course, it is also important to evaluate the learning environment. What is the caliber of the attending faculty? Is the program adequately covered? Will you be provided with auxiliary personnel? Other important questions to ask include if there are satellite clinic locations you will be expected to cover or outreach programs you will need to attend. Ask if continuing education or practice management training is part of the compensation package. Find out about the on-call schedule, how many patients you will see per day and if the facility and technology are up to date.
In order to determine whether or not a program is right for you, you’ll need to know not only the answers to these questions, but also an understanding of 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, afterward you will have gained additional experience. And from our perspective, that’s one thing we know you’ll need!
~ Drs. Peltz and Studley, DOCCUPATIONS