At this point I’m still in awe that I’m even at Dental School, let alone halfway through my degree. It feels like only yesterday when I was frantically going through the admissions process myself; preparing to sit the UKCAT, hunting for work experience literally anywhere I could think of and finally sending off my really embarrassing personal statement (let’s just say I was thankful that only the admissions team would be reading this) !
Deciding on my course
I knew fairly early on that I wanted to pursue a career in the healthcare/medical profession. As ambiguous as it might sound… I’ve always had an innate desire to ‘help’ people, I feel that if I can make even the smallest positive impact on someone’s life through using my knowledge/skills then I would always strive to do so. I really enjoy working and interacting with other people and wanted to work in an environment that changes daily but is centred around people. It was always a debate of medicine .vs. dentistry for me.
As a child the dentist was just someone that I used to visit every few months for a check –up and try to impress with my excellent brushing, in the hopes of prying a sticker out of them.
Then one day I was playing with my younger sister and she fell down the stairs and chipped her front tooth (central incisor). This was really traumatic for both her and my mum (who had experienced severe dental trauma herself as a child). Distressed, they both went to Birmingham Dental Hospital unsure of what the outcome would be, this was her “Big (adult) tooth” that she had only just gotten and they wanted to save it at all costs.
Eventually, it required several appointments of apexification (a treatment to close the end of a partially developed root), root canal treatment and a white filling to restore the aesthetics of the tooth because it had ’died’, it really took a great deal of time for her to process everything but ultimately made a huge difference to her confidence level at school.
She came home saying the Dentist was really nice to her and also calmed my mum down, this was when I realised that Dentistry was about more than just check-ups and stickers, so I decided to look into it further. To my surprise (as a child) Dentists seemed to be able to help people?
Gaining work experience
Like many other applicants I found this difficult. I initially applied for work experience to be placed anywhere in the local NHS trust in year 10/11 and got immediately rejected but then luckily gained an opportunity at a community dental practice for a day. This was eye opening as I didn’t realise that this sector of Dentistry even existed, where anxious and special care patients could be seen in a more focused and supported environment. The two Dentists I shadowed were incredibly passionate and I got to see how they tailored their approaches to treatment when dealing with anxious patients. I then managed to gain some experience with a General Dental Practice which helped me to closely observe a mixture of private and NHS dentistry and the interactions between the Dentist and Dental Nurse who worked exceptionally well together.
Some tips regarding work experience…
Work experience can often be the turning point for a lot of people, this is fine and is just one reason why it is important to try to maximise your exposure to Dentistry before applying. And it’s ok if Dentistry isn’t for you.
Some people present the image that it’s impossible to find work experience unless you have the right “contacts” which makes it seem redundant to even try, but…. Don’t give up!!
Be persistent and take any opportunity you can get!! I started off with only one half a day (about 3 hours to be exact) at a local practice after 6 months of frantically searching. I realised that I wanted to spend more time shadowing the team and apprehensively asked if I could come back again – to which they enthusiastically agreed. If you don’t ask you don’t get…the worst someone can say is no, even then it just points you closer to more opportunities.
Start searching early on, don’t leave it until days before your UCAS application is due some practices may have limits on how many students carry out work experience with them at a certain time and it might take them a while to get back to you with an ‘available slot’.
Send out as many letters, ring up and contact as many local dental practices as possible.
One of the main reasons why some practices say no is because of health and safety concerns – try not to be disheartened and enquire if they have any contacts with other practices/dentists in the local community that may be able to offer you some experience.
Try searching for other work experiences linked to Dentistry (e.g. at Dental Labs – working with technicians can provide you with invaluable insight) to make yourself stand out.
Don’t forget to try gaining work experiences in other professions (e.g. I did some time at a local radio station, solicitors practice and school) take the time to carefully evaluate other interests/options.
Applying to University/Dental School
I applied to Birmingham, King’s College London, Sheffield and Newcastle. I went to the open days for the first 3 and really liked the atmosphere at these Dental Schools and Campus’ in general, the students were also really helpful and friendly. I didn’t really focus too much on researching how the courses were delivered.
There are 16 Dental Schools in the UK, two of these are graduate entry. In terms of admissions tests most require you to sit the UCAT and Leeds additionally requires the BMAT. The Dental Schools Council has some further brief guidance on applying to dental schools: https://www.dentalschoolscouncil.ac.uk/
When applying it is important to consider several factors. Carefully look into the course structure, for example, is it based around lectures and problem based learning, when does the clinical side of the course starts/when do you start seeing your own patients.
Distance. This can be a good and bad thing…Dentistry is a long course (5 years!!) so it’s important to carefully consider where you want to be, look into what the University has to offer in general, can you actually see yourself spending time there? What is the campus like? The Societies? What about the City and wider area?
It’s important that you have a balance for the 5 years and develop other interests and connections, it won’t be Dentistry 24/7 sadly, and I don’t think you would want it that way either…
Go to open days and get a feel of the Dental School and University first hand, ask current students as much as you can (they are always the best and most honest ambassadors).
Out of the 4 schools I applied to I only received interviews for Birmingham and King’s College London, both of these were multiple mini interviews (MMIs). I’m not the most confident person even now and trust me when applying my nerves were amplified to the max. Dentistry is a really competitive course to apply to and it can be easy to get swept up in stats about how many applicants different schools have and the percentage of people they accept. But honestly ignore this, it really doesn’t matter!
When I was applying, an admissions tutor once said that he doesn’t just want to have dentists who are smart/skilled but dentists who are compassionate. Someone who would stop to help a stranger if they fell over in public (although I’d like to think that most of us would help someone in this situation).
Interviews essentially boil down to a personality test.
At this stage they’ve assessed your academics and seen you profess your passion for dentistry in your personal statement, they now want to meet YOU!!
I enjoyed the MMI stations at Birmingham and King’s because they reminded me of a P.E circuit in primary school. Each station brought a new face and topic and kept me on my feet, it meant I had multiple chances at making a good first impression and didn’t have to let one station impact another. At the end of the day despite my nerves, I really love to talk so I actually had fun with this approach.
Try your best to make the most of your present moment and put your nerves to the side temporarily (easier said than done I know), be nervous after the interview (if you really want) but when you get to room/building just be YOU.
And you will be fine!!
I hope this first blog about my personal journey was helpful.
I know the whole process from considering applying, to actually getting offers can seem extremely overwhelming at times. Especially amongst the pressures of A Levels but it’s important you know that you’re not alone in feeling like this…countless of other students across the country feel the same way.
Speaking to friends, family and teachers you trust for guidance can be uplifting.
Try not to sell yourself short and dismiss your aspirations – if you really want to become a Dentist and actively put the efforts in there’s no reason why you don’t have a shot.
Focus on yourself and it will all work out.
Note: I also have a blog specifically about Interviews coming your way soon!!
Words by Karishma Dewitt (Year 3 Dentistry Student)