Shadow opportunities: Taking your career for a test drive

Job shadowing can be one of the best ways to pave a clear path to success after graduation. Firsthand experience with a variety of practice environments and the day-to-day responsibilities of real-world dentistry is invaluable for career planning. When we want to make a significant purchase, such as a new car, we test drive it first to ensure it’s a good fit. Why wouldn’t we treat something as important as our career the same way?

Shadowing helps students create a strong vision for what they want and what they don’t want in their future career and not waste valuable time and energy in a job that isn’t a good fit. It also serves as a valuable opportunity to gain mentorship and network with other dentists for potential word-of-mouth referrals.

Shadow opportunities typically range from a few hours to a few days at the most, so it’s important to be intentional with the time spent in the practice to get the most out of the experience. Dr. Diana Do-Yabut, PDS®-supported owner dentist, and Sam Hansen, PDS senior regional recruiter, shared their insights on shadowing and the best ways to maximize the experience.

From your perspective, what are the benefits of shadowing for the student, the owner dentist (OD) and the practice?

Dr. Diana Do-Yabut: It’s beneficial for the student to see the office, team and clinicians in action. They can see how we treat patients, the kind of dentistry that we do and best practices in action. For the practice team, it allows us to assess the student as a candidate: Are they hands on? Are they asking good questions? Do they have a good personality? Or are they disconnected or looking at their phone?

Sam Hansen: Shadow days offer many benefits for the student, the OD and the practice. Students can better understand what a day in the life of their future position may look like. It allows them to ask questions, interact with the dental team, see what a typical schedule looks like, observe procedures being completed and, best of all, connect with an OD. This is a great opportunity for students to shine and share their personal career goals. Even if the office isn’t the best fit, the OD can connect the student with other offices and owners.

For ODs, they are proud to share the practice culture they’ve built. It renews their passion for their career and the patients they serve, and it allows the entire team to get engaged.

What can a student do to get the most out of their shadowing experience?

Do-Yabut: Be engaged. Come prepared with good questions, both clinical and nonclinical. Glove up and get ready to suction, treatment plan, talk with patients and role play. Show that you really want it.

Hansen: Be willing to be a part of the team for a day. Come prepared by gathering a bit of history on the office and OD in advance via the practice website and/or LinkedIn. Participate in the process to learn as much as possible and ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask the OD to stay connected for future questions or opportunities.

What actions should the owner dentist and office team take to help the student have a great experience?

Do-Yabut: Be intentional about getting to know the student and know what qualities you are looking for. Engage key members of the practice team and encourage them to get to know the student as well.

Hansen: Be prepared for each student. Regardless of their potential fit as a future candidate, they will still share their experience with others. Be prepared to give them as much exposure and mentorship as possible. Provide a complete view of the practice, including front and back office support, so that they can experience all the aspects of the dental practice.

Have you experienced shadow days that did not go well? If so, what could the student and/or owner dentist have done to improve the experience?

Do-Yabut: Yes, and it was due to a lack of engagement. We did not assess the student well prior to them coming in for the shadow day. They were not engaged and seemed more concerned about checking their cellphone and text messages. The student was too meek, did not have good interpersonal skills and was looking for a different location and/or clinical culture.

Hansen: Shadow days typically don’t go well if the student is not prepared or if they did not consider the potential of next steps as a future candidate. Students should think of shadowing as an interview type of opportunity. Even if the office is not an ideal location, the connection with an OD is valuable for gaining referrals to other locations and/or offering helpful recommendations. In turn, ODs should take the time to fully engage with every student as future dentists.

What are the top questions students should ask the OD and office team members during the shadow day?


  • What do you expect of your associate dentists, both clinically and nonclinically?
  • What is your clinical culture?
  • What goals should I set to achieve success in this environment? How do I get there?
  • What should an associate expect from you and the team?


  • What challenges can I expect in my first year out of school?
  • What should my goals be for the first six months as an associate?
  • What type of mentorship do you provide your associates?

Have you seen students that shadowed get hired? If so, how did the shadowing experience play into the decision for the OD to make an offer?

Do-Yabut: There is an immense direct correlation. We have more time to get to know and assess the student as a candidate before hiring. During a traditional interview, you only see and hear what they want you to hear. During shadow time, although the candidate can still be nervous, they have their guard down and you really get to know them better.

Hansen: ODs will often end up hiring students who have had a successful shadow day. It gives a well-rounded view of the student’s character and strengths in a variety of areas. The student makes a better decision as well. The office fit is important, and students want to feel supported in the next steps of their career. We often hear the feedback from students that they loved the office and the OD. The experience with the team makes a difference in whether the student will want to move forward with potential job opportunities.

Shadowing opportunities are a great way to learn from other dentists and explore a variety of practice options. By taking the time to prepare and staying engaged during the shadow experience, students can quickly get on the road to a successful and fulfilling career after dental school. It’s never too early to shadow, so start test-driving your career.

Diana Do-Yabut, DMD, is a graduate of Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine and has been practicing dentistry since 2005. She is a multiple-practice owner dentist supported by Pacific Dental Services in Southern California.

Sam Hansen has spent the past 20 years in the talent acquisition space and has served as a strategic recruitment partner for a variety of businesses. She currently serves as a dentist recruiter for PDS-supported owner dentists in the South Inland Empire region of Southern California.

This blog post was sponsored by Pacific Dental Services.

Pacific Dental

Founded in 1994, Pacific Dental Services® (PDS®) is one of the country’s leading dental support organizations, providing supported autonomy that enables dentists to concentrate on clinical excellence and the highest levels of cost-effective comprehensive patient care.

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