Dental schools require applicants to have an understanding of what a career in dentistry involves. It is therefore essential that applicants gain people-focused experience of providing care or service before submitting their application.
What do dental schools look for?
Some dental schools may specifically ask for a minimum number of weeks of work experience and specify the type of experience they desire, for example shadowing a dentist. Many do ask for experience to be based in a dental or healthcare setting, however they also consider the opportunities available to the applicant and recognise that other activities, such as paid or voluntary work, also allow applicants to develop the skills they need to become a dentist.
Dental schools are keen to see that you understand what it is like to work in a caring profession, and how concerns about various types of patients’ needs to be appreciated. Volunteering in a hospice or charity can be used to show these attributes. Other useful activities might include reading dental journals or following news about the National Health Service. These activities will emphasise a candidate’s interest in a dental career and their willingness to research aspects of dental and oral health.
Reflect on your experience
The important thing to remember is that work experience is only as valuable as the way you talk about it in your interview. While you will be expected to show some understanding of what it is like to be a dentist, part of this will be showing that you know what it is like to work, particularly with the public. Just like in a normal job interview you may be asked things like, ‘Can you provide an example of how you have worked as part of a team?’. If you have had a job in a restaurant, for instance, then you will be able to use this experience to answer the question.
Where to start
To get work experience, prepare a short CV and hand this in to places in your area which relate to healthcare, saying that you are willing to volunteer. These places could be care homes, hospices, dental practices and dental hospitals. The NHS, together with the Dental Schools Council, has developed a toolkit for organisations on providing dental work experience. You may wish to show this to any dental practices you would like to apply to.
If you have no luck with this then do not worry. Other useful activities might include reading dental journals or following news about the National Health Service. If you know any dentists then arranging time to speak with one will provide you with material to use in the interview, as well as demonstrate motivation and initiative. All dental professionals can be a valuable source of information and experience, not just dentists. After all, dentists work as part of large teams involving many different roles, so demonstrating that you have a sense of the members of the dental team and how they work together will help you in both your personal statement and interview.
Gaining relevant experience during the Covid-19 pandemic
During the Covid-19 pandemic, applicants to dental school will find it difficult to gain work experience in dental practices and hospital departments. Dental schools are aware that the opportunities open to you have been affected and will take this into account.
Dental schools recommend that you:
- Speak to dentists and other members of the dental team about what a career in dentistry involves.
- Investigate studying dentistry through e-Learning resources offered by dental schools such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). For example, the University of Sheffield Dental School has created a MOOC entitled ‘Discover Dentistry’ which allows students to gain insight into the profession.
- Engage in paid or voluntary work which involves caring for and interacting with different people, or which develops the skills you will need as a dental professional.
- Learn about the key issues in dentistry through the media and by reading more widely around the topic.