For aspiring dentists, fulfilling their dream begins with gaining entrance into dental school. However, this can be challenging to achieve, with the enrollment statistics not always in applicants’ favor. According to a 2018 ADEA report, “U.S. Dental School Applicants and Enrollees,” of the nearly 12,000 dental school applicants, just over 6,000 were accepted and enrolled in their first year.
These figures can be daunting for those angling for an acceptance letter. But a unique post-baccalaureate program offered through Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry gives dental school hopefuls the opportunity to advance their education and become more competitive for admission to dental school.
The program, founded in 2015, includes a combination of dental assisting training and advanced translational science courses. Students take dental assisting lectures and labs, plus online courses offered through the DALE Foundation, the official affiliate of the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). After completing the coursework, students take DANB’s Radiation Health and Safety (RHS); Infection Control (ICE); and Anatomy, Morphology and Physiology exams and, after passing the exams, are allowed to assist third- and four-year dental students in the clinic.
As a result of enrolling in the program, several students are now flourishing, and the first class of post-baccalaureate students is about to graduate from dental school this spring.
Ashima Sharma was in the first class of post-baccalaureate students in 2015 and is graduating from Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry in 2020. “The program had great courses that prepared us for dental school,” she reflects. “We already knew the terminology and how things worked in the clinic. Having that comfort helped me excel my first year.”
Jack Nuveen, class of 2021, agrees. “The post-bacc program … is incredibly unique. Very few post-bacc programs are actually held at dental schools, so the fact that we could walk the halls and meet the instructors and the dental students was a huge benefit.”
Gaining clinic experience
One of the unique elements of the Kornberg School of Dentistry’s post-baccalaureate program is the hands-on clinic experience students gain by assisting the third- and fourth-year dental students. This real-world learning has been eye-opening for students and ultimately gave them a head start in years three and four when they became the student-dentist.
“Assisting in the clinic as a post-bacc student helped me become much more comfortable interacting with patients,” Nuveen says.
Sharma agrees: “The clinic experience helped me immensely. I was definitely nervous at first because all I had done previously was shadow. The first days and weeks, I was worried about not getting in the way or making a mistake. But the third- and fourth-year students were so reassuring. It really put me at ease.”
The skills and knowledge the students learned in the post-baccalaureate program in the clinic eventually came full circle. When the students entered their third year of dental school, they felt better prepared to work with the new post-baccalaureate assistants because they had been on that side of the chair themselves.
Michael Shaw, class of 2020, had extensive experience as an expanded functions dental assistant in Pennsylvania prior to entering the post-baccalaureate program. For him, working on the clinic floor was familiar because of his dental assisting background, and he was able to provide some guidance to the dental students. “A lot of dental students are not used to working with assistants,” he says. “I was able to guide the student-dentist a bit and help them see how they could use me. It’s valuable to work with an experienced dental assistant as a dental student because dental students get used to working by themselves.”
Dianne Lee, class of 2020, had this same experience. “I learned to work alone,” she recounts. “And when the assistant came around, I had to remind myself that they were there to help me. Now I know how to use the assistant more and make the procedure go as smoothly as possible.”
Nuveen says one of the major insights he gained from his chairside assisting experience was how to communicate effectively with the assistants. “Now that I’m the student-dentist, I give my assistants forewarning about what’s going to happen next in the procedure so they can be prepared,” he says. “I also am better able to communicate with them non-verbally because I had experience assisting.”
The main piece of advice from the Kornberg School of Dentistry students who had completed this post-baccalaureate program was to never give up on your dreams.
“Initially, I didn’t get accepted to dental school and I lost my confidence and felt defeated,” Lee recounts. “When I got into the post-bacc program, I felt like it was my second chance. Without that, I might not be in dental school right now.”
Sharma had a similar experience. “I was discouraged when I didn’t get into dental school right away. I think of where I started and where I am now, and the post-bacc program helped me succeed.”
With dental school graduation on the horizon, Sharma, Lee, Nuveen and Shaw are looking forward to the future. Sharma has been accepted to an orthodontic residency, Lee was accepted to a pediatric dentistry residency, and Shaw accepted an offer as a new dentist at the practice where he was previously an assistant. Meanwhile, Nuveen, in his third year, has his sights set on an orthodontic residency.
All four students stress that if you have a goal, you should not quit, even if you face a setback. As Sharma says: “At the end of the day, when you put every ounce of effort into it, you will achieve your dreams.”
~Hanna Aronovich, Dental Assisting National Board