This post is one of the core features of my blog. It is one of the main reasons why I initially wanted to create dorkydentalstudent and the aim was for it to be a super useful resource for any prospective dental students.

I’ve made it thorough, so I will start by introducing this post with the warning that it is LONG.

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Doing some dental work experience is hugely important for anyone who is seriously considering applying to dental school.

As it is going to be a long post, I’ve created a list of contents shown in the order they will be discussed to try and make it as structured as possible.

CONTENTS OF THIS POST

  • Why is work experience important?
    • For yourself
    • For your application
  • How to secure work experience?
  • Learning to accept rejection from dental practices
  • What is work experience like?
  • How to make the most of your work experiences
  • How much work experience do I need to do?
  • Can I lie about how much work experience I’ve done on my PS?
  • The different kinds of dental work experience
    • General Practice
    • Hospital Dentistry
    • Specialist Dentistry – eg. Orthodontics
    • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
    • Dental Lab Technicians
    • Foreign Projects
    • Medical Work Experience
  • How it will help with your applications
  • Discussing your experiences at interview
  • Its Benefit Beyond Your Application

 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Dental work experience is important for YOU.

You are making a huge commitment by choosing the path of dentistry; it is amazing, but it is long, hard and expensive! So you’ve got to be certain dentistry is right for you.

In order to really know whether or not you can imagine yourself being a dentist, you have to experience it, and this is what dental work experience is.

Doing some work experience is also pretty much essential for YOUR APPLICATIONS.

One of the most important aspects of your application to dental school will be your personal statement (PS), and in your PS, you spend a significant portion of your allocated 4000 characters (47 lines of text) towards describing your work experiences: talking about what you did, for how long and most importantly, what you have learnt and taken away from your work experience(s).

HOW TO SECURE DENTAL WORK EXPERIENCE?

There are so many dental surgeries all over the country so it is relatively easy to secure some work experience.

Of course it will vary depending on where you live to some extent; if you live in a tiny village in the foothills of Scotland, there may only be one (maybe two) dental clinics nearby, whereas if you as based in a town/city there are numerous clinics meaning there are multiple possible places where you could do some work experience.

I was lucky because when I started to seriously consider dentistry, I was living in Hammersmith, West London and was surprised by how many dental practices there were. Within a 0.5 mile radius there were easily over 40 different practices! On one street, there were 4 dental surgeries within 50 metres walking distance from one another – I was spoilt for choice!

This is a generalisation, but most dentists will be happy to accept you for a few days/week to shadow them; in fact, many will welcome your company! Because most dentists will know exactly how important and hard it can be to get work experience – don’t forget that once upon a time they were in your exact position so can sympathise.

LEARNING TO ACCEPT REJECTION 

Of course you might get rejected by a few practices (I got rejected by many), and if you do, don’t take it personally. There are many perfectly reasonable reasons why a dentist might reject you as a work experience student:

Bad Timing – you might get rejected by a dentist who would have accepted you at a different time of year. Sometimes timing is the reason; they might simply be super busy at the time when you contact them. If they have fully booked schedule and are under pressure from their practice manager/NHS then they might prefer not to have you there shadowing them. They might have personal reasons for not being able to accommodate a work experience student. Another possibility is that they have already accepted a different work experience during the week you are free, so be aware of potentially popular times of year for work experience and to get the upper hand, ask the dentist a few months in advance. An example of a busy period is a half term week or a school holiday.

Private Practice – some dentists who work privately might prefer not to have a young student sat in the room with them for their patient’s sake. From my experiences, I found that the NHS/mixed dentists were more accepting of work experience students – this is perfectly understandable but worth keeping in mind.

Insurance Costs – I’m not entirely clued up on this but I think there might be some insurance costs that dental practices will need to pay before they can allow students to come and shadow dentists. There is a chance something unfortunate happens, for example a needle stick injury or spread of infection that means insurance is required. This could be a reason for rejecting a student.

You might hear lots of excuses from practices.

Unfortunately there are many clinics that simply do not want the hassle of looking after a work experience student. But annoyingly they come up with excuses as to why they cannot accept you instead of giving you an honest no. You just have to accept it as part of the process and don’t let it put you off!

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The earlier you get around to securing your work experiences, the better!

There are a few different ways in which you can go about trying to secure dental work experience, some are better/more successful than others but you should be able to secure some regardless of how you choose to approach it.

   1. Approach Your Own dentist

A good and easy place to start would be to speak to the dentist who has been looking after you teeth. Since you already know this dentist, you will know that they are a nice human (not scary person!) and you’ll know if you like them. So even before speaking with them you might feel confident that it is likely they will be kind enough to accept to let you shadow them whilst they work for a few days.

I decided not to approach my dentist for work experience because she has been my dentist since I was very young, so I felt it would be a little weird for me, as her patient of many years to all of a sudden be shadowing her as she works – but that was just me! I guess if all other attempts I made to find work experience with other dentists failed, I could have asked her as a “plan B” approach.

I would always suggest you set up the work experience yourself, but I guess if you’re trying to arrange it with your own dentist it would be fine for you to get you mum/dad to ask on your behalf since they also know the dentist.

2. Approach Dental Practices in Your Area In Person

In the area where you live, there are likely to be a few dental practices that you can approach. You might already know the clinics and where exactly they are geographically but its fine if you don’t know, because a lot of practices aren’t immediately obvious – they might be on a second floor above another shop or exist without clear signs etc. You can always find local dental clinics through a quick online search.

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NHS Search for dental practices by location

Once you’ve identified the clinics you are going to approach, all you have to do next is go in person and visit them.

You don’t need to call in advance and make an appointment, you can just walk in. And don’t worry about dressing smart, but it’s probably best not to go wearing a dirty tracksuit with scruffy hair. You should aim to look like a nice, presentable version of yourself, because the dentist/receptionist might make an immediate decision to reject you for work experience if you look scruffy.

This approach works very well, but it is a bit nerve racking to walk in to a clinic and ask a dentist/receptionist you’ve never met before about work experience! Just try to stay calm, be confident and go in with a smile on your face. Keep in mind though that if they are not expecting your visit, you might have to sit in the waiting area until someone who works at the clinic is free to talk to you.

A nice touch would be to prepare a short ONE PAGE CV/cover letter about yourself. In it you can include:

  • Personal Details: your name, contact number, email and home address
  • Cover Letter-style Intro Paragraph: an opportunity for you to write about why you want to do some dental work experience – because you are considering dentistry as a career path and would very much like the chance you shadow a dentist whilst they work to help to get a better idea of what dentistry is like and confirm whether it is in fact something you are interested in pursuing.
  • Non-Academic Interests: include a bit about things that you are interested in (eg. do you play a musical instrument/do you play a sport)

You don’t need to prepare a one page letter as suggested, but I think it would be a nice touch so if you have time or like the idea then why not create one?

You can then print out a few copies and take it with you to hand in to the dental receptionists at clinics that you go to visit.

Anything you do that involves written word needs to be short, but not too short. You’ve gotta find that sweet spot!

These people you are trying to contact are busy and don’t have time to read a few pages from a young boy/girl they’ve never met before. Get to the point quick and keep it succinct, but if you don’t write enough it will be difficult for them to ascertain whether you are actually serious or not. There’s a balance to be struck here.

So when it is time to speak (either with the dentist, the receptionist or the practice manager) – just explain who you are (your name, age and say you live locally), then explain that you are interested in dentistry so would like to have the chance to shadow a dentist and see them work for a few days to get an idea of what it is really like to help you make your mind up about dentistry. That’s it – more than enough information and then they will either accept/reject you immediately or say they will contact you soon with a decision.

3. Approach Dental Practices in Your Area via Email/Telephone

This is essentially exactly the same as approaching the practices in person, but less direct because you will be contacting them by a phone call or by sending an email.

Almost all dental practices will have a website, and on their site you be able to find both a contact number and an email address.

To be honest, I used this approach exclusively when I secured my own work experiences. I decided to email dental clinics because it was the fastest, easiest way to contact multiple practices. And admittedly I was a little nervous about walking into clinics and doing it in person!

What I did was prepare a template email detailing who I was and explaining that I was hoping to shadow a dentist for a week and then sent it to many different clinics. If you do this, be sure to personalise your template email each time and be careful not to send your template addressed to a different practice.

It wasn’t as successful as I’d imagined it would be, I think I emailed ~10 different clinics and  was only accepted for work experience at one of them! The rest of the clinics simply ignored my email. So with that in mind, you might be better off visiting in person. The problem with emailing is that you don’t actually communicate with someone at the practice, so as I learnt, its easy for them to simply ignore your email and send no response.

I reckon that if had not been accepted by that one clinic, I would have followed up on my emails with each practice through a phone call to see if they had received my email and ask if they were willing allow me to come in for work experience or not.

If you choose to call, you will most likely speak with the receptionist or perhaps the practice manager as opposed to speaking with the dentist. The dentist will be busy treating patients so doesn’t have time to pick up the phone each time it rings. And it will be exactly the same conversation you’d have in person but not as effective I think. I would therefore only use a telephone call to follow up on an email or to follow up with the clinic after going to visit in person, but its totally up to you and what you prefer!

4. Ask a Dentist you know

This will only be possible for very few people, but if you happen to know someone who is a dentist, it is definitely ok to ask them for work experience.

Your parents might be friends with a dentist so ask them if they can ask the dental family friend on your behalf. It’s like the most harmless form of nepotism. You can also find out if any of your close friends or anyone at your school knows a dentist you can contact.

If you happen to have someone in your family who is a dentist, I’m sure they love to have to with them for work experience. Take advantage and do some with them, but when it comes to writing about it on your PS you don’t have to explicitly state that it was a family member you did it with. This little detail is irrelevant to be honest.

5. Online Services 

If you have struggled to find any work experience through the approaches I’ve mentioned above, you could consider using an online service to help you. I’ve done some online research just now whilst preparing to write this post and have seen many such services on offer. One that stands out is the service offered through {my}dentist. They offer a nationwide service of helping to secure summer work placements.

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This is the {my}dentist service’s work experience weekly plan. Seems pretty similar to the structured days I had doing my own self-arranged work experiences.

6. Social Media

I have never known anyone to use this approach, so I’m really not sure why I’m bothering to write about it. But I think it might be a possible option in rare situations so figured I’d briefly discuss.

You might be surprised by how many dentists and dental practices have a presence on most social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube).

I’d describe using social media for work experience as a rogue tactic, but in this current age where everyone is using some social media it should have a place!

I love Instagram, I use it all the time. There are some many dentists and dental students you can find on it through searching for hashtags like #dentistry #dentalstudent

There seems to be a really connected community of dentists on Instagram and I follow many London based dentists/students. So perhaps one thing you could consider is to use this medium to identify certain individuals who look interesting. Then you could either send them a direct message, comment one of their pictures or, you could search for their professional contact details via their practice website and email/call them to ask about work experience.

I’d be really interested to know if anyone has taken this approach and more interesting would be to hear how well it worked, if at all! Comment on this post with your own experiences 🙂

 

Hopefully by simply following the tips I have listed above you should be able to secure some for yourself. Although in principle it is easy to set up, I’ll admit it can be quite a daunting moment when you ask dentists for work experience, don’t worry, I’m sure most people find it a little scary!

WHAT IS DENTAL WORK EXPERIENCE LIKE?

This really depends on many things and will be different for everyone.

What kind of dentist you are shadowing? What patient cases are booked in for the time when you are there?

The first work experience I had was shadowing a GDP (general dental practitioner) who worked in a mixed practice (i.e. she did a mixture of NHS and private work).

It can be fun, it can be average, it can be boring.

Only through actually experiencing dentistry by shadowing a practitioner will you be able to get a genuine idea of what it is like and then you can decide for yourself if you think it is a career path you’d be interested in.

The dentist and dental nurse might actively engage with you whenever they can or they might just crack on with the work whilst you simply sit in the room and observe. Either way, you have to remember that you are there to experience dentistry and gauge whether or not you can see yourself doing it.

You might decide after seeing the dentist with two or three patients that you hate it and that’s fine! You can either tell the dentist at the end of that day that you aren’t interested, thank them for their kindness to let you watch them work and forget about dentistry. Or, you will find it interesting and be encouraged by the work experience. I hope for you that it is the latter!

At the time of when you do your dental work experience, you will most likely have very limited knowledge of dentistry and so this will mean that there is a good chance you won’t understand or follow everything that the dentist does or even explains to you/the patients. This is totally normal so don’t be put off by your lack of understanding as you have to remember that you haven’t had any dental training at this point!

I was 22 years old when I did most of my work experience, and although I was able to understand most of what happened, there were many little things I either didn’t pick up on or just didn’t get. For example: whenever the dentist was reviewing a radiograph (an x-ray) she would make an effort to talk me through them so I could understand what was going on, so the dentist will hopefully help you out and keep you involved this way. Because had she not explained what was going on with the x-rays, I wouldn’t have had much of a clue!

From my own experiences, when the last day of shadowing the dentist work was over, I said “thank you”“goodbye” and “see you tomorrow” – then left. But it depends on the practice you are at, there may be a protocol for how to conclude your work experience. For example, you might have a feedback/evaluation form to complete. Don’t worry about this, it should all get explained to you when you’re there.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR DENTAL WORK EXPERIENCES?

There are some little things that you can do in order to maximise the usefulness of your dental work experience.

1. Do some homework

Before you start, get on your computer and visit the practice’s website. Spend some time looking through it; this is a good way to get some information about the clinic in general but also so you have, most dental clinic websites have a page with short biographies on the staff. You’ll be able to see the dentist(s) who work there: it usually says what university they studied at and if they have any particular dental expertise (eg. aesthetic dentistry) but you can also simply see a picture of the dentist so you know what they look like (helps if you secured your work experience via email/telephone).

Read up on basic dental procedures so you have an idea of what the dentist is doing. Get on Google and spend an hour reading up on dental procedures that are quite common:

  • Endodontic: root canal treatment (RCT)
  • Oral Surgery: extractions, implants
  • Restorative: fillings, crowns
  • Preventative: fissure sealants, PRR, oral hygiene instructions
  • Orthodontics: braces, retainers, Invisalign, Six Month Smiles, Inman Aligner
  • Prosthodontics: bridges, (partial/full) dentures
  • Periodontics: scaling, bleeding scores

2. Take Notes 

I would also suggest you take a small note pad and a pen with you. This is really useful so you can make notes on anything and everything during your time at the practice which you can refer back to later. It’s a really good way to remember things you observed or wanted to remember that can help you when it comes to writing your personal statement or when preparing for interviews. Anytime you see an interesting patient that the dentist had to treat, why note write a little bit about the experience that you can refer back to afterwards.

Just remember that you have to always respect patient confidentiality, so if you do go ahead and take a notepad with you, first ask the dentist if they don’t mind you making notes, but also you should reassure them that you will never write down any private patent details (eg. names or other personal details) – this is very important!

A different approach you could take is to make a work experience diary, so instead of taking notes during the work experience, you could wait until then end of the day when you are back at home and reflect on what you saw that day, write it all down so you can refer back to it all later.

3. Ask Questions

The best way to find out more, actively involve yourself and understand what’s going on is to ask questions. The dentist might even say to you on your first day that you can ask him/her anything whenever you want! There’s that saying: “no question is a silly question”, which is true in this case, but try not to ask the blatantly obvious questions. And also don’t ask questions at bad times, for example: when the dentist is speaking with the patient, when they are concentrating on the treatment or any other time when you think it will be annoying/distracting.

It might be worth asking the dentist at the start of your placement what their preference is with regards to you asking questions if they don’t mention it themselves. Each practitioner will be different, some might prefer you leave all questions till after a patient had been treated and left the room, some might allow you to ask questions during consultations – it depends on the individual.

You might not think about a question there and then, but a question might come to you in the evening after a day of work experience, so remember it and ask the next day!

Also, by doing your homework (point 1), you might think of a few questions you want to ask. For example, if you see from the clinic’s website that the dentist you are shadowing trained at Bristol Dental School, and you are thinking about applying there, you could ask them questions relating to their time at that specific school (eg. “what was it like at Bristol for you?”)

Here’s a few interesting questions you might like to ask the dentist:

  • What made you want to do dentistry?
  • What are the best things about your job? What are the worst?
  • If you could go back in time and speak to yourself as a 17 year old, would you give him/her any advice about things to do differently?
  • What do you think dentistry is going to be like in 5-10 years time? Do you think any major changes will happen?
  • Have you ever had to deal with any particularly difficult patients?
  • What do you think about the new NHS contracts?
  • Have you ever had difficulties where a patient is unable to afford their required treatment
  • Have you ever had to deal with a medical emergency patient?
    • For example, if a patient has diabetes and when in the dental clinic getting treatment has had a hypoglycaemic attack
  • If they are a practice principle: you could ask them about this:
    • Was it difficult to set up you practice
    • Why did you want to be a practice owner?
  • Is there any types of dental treatment you prefer not to treat? And why?
  • Ask if they’ve had any legal complications to deal with?
    • But be sensitive when asking this, it can be a sore spot for dentists who have had bad experiences

4. Lunch and Learn 

Try and have lunch with the dentist one day during your work experience. This may not be possible but if there is an opportunity for it, why not suggest it! If you’re doing a whole week of work experience, you could suggest it after a few days – so basically once you’ve gotten to know each other a little.

Having lunch with the dentist is a great way to get to know them a little better in a more casual/informal setting where you can chat about dentistry and other bits. If you’re lucky, they might even buy your food for you! 🙂

5. Be a Sponge

Go in with an open mind and learn as much as possible. That’s some of the best advice I can give you here! Just let it happen, don’t go into your work experience with pre-conceived ideas about what it will be like. Everyone’s experience will be different so there’s only so much you can do in advance to prepare for it, as it the case with most things in life.

Take it all in, not just the practical side of the dentist’s work. Some of the most important skills a dentist has is their soft skills: how they communicate (with their patients AND their nurse), their body language, their professionalism etc.

Take note of how they dentist explains complicated dental things to the patient. At dental school you will be learn that it is very important to be able to communicate and make sure you engage with your patients. I took this for granted and didn’t really take time during my own work experiences to appreciate the subtleties of the dentist’s work, but with the benefit if hindsight I am offering this advice to you!

5. Get to Know the Whole Team

You are interested in becoming a dentist, so you get work experience and are shadowing a dentist. That’s fine but don’t forget about the rest of the dental team! Batman works alone but a dentist never works alone! The dentist wouldn’t be able to do their job if they didn’t have the close support of their dental nurse. There are also dental hygienists/therapists, and of course the wider team, which includes the receptionist and practice manager.

Get to know them all, speak with everyone, they are all lovely people and I’m sure would be happy to speak with you and give you some valuable tips. A bonus would be if they could help you secure other work experiences through people they know!

HOW MUCH WORK EXPERIENCE IS ENOUGH?

The more dental work experience you can do, the better – within reason of course. I think there is a lower limit of ~2 weeks that most dental schools will expect applicants to have done. They will assess how much work experience you’ve done based on what you say in your personal statement and then might also ask you at interview. But do not stress over how much work experience you’ve done. And don’t get bogged down by this commonly mentioned “two week minimum”. In an attempt to get some clarity though, two weeks doesn’t mean 14 day. Obviously you can discount the weekends and think about it as two working weeks: Monday to Friday.

In total I think I did ~3 weeks worth and mine were varied. I did a week with a GDP, a week with at a speciality orthodontic practice, a week with an OMFS department, a few days with hospital restorative and orthodontic departments and a single day at a dental lab.

Aim for at least ‘two weeks’ and any additional work experience you get is a bonus, not only for yourself but it will make your application better!

Quality of work experience is better than quantity. Don’t think you can’t apply because you haven’t quite managed to get two weeks worth of work experience. If you have organised some work experience but it will only happen after the application deadline, you can still mention it in your PS and at interview. You need to come away from the work experience with a greater depth of understanding about dentistry; so three days of amazing work experience is better than two weeks worth where you’ve seen and learnt little to nothing about dentistry!

I found this really helpful website which has a table on the requirements/expectations in terms of dental work experience specifically for each dental school in the UK.

CAN I LIE ABOUT HOW MUCH WORK EXPERIENCE I’VE DONE?

The straight up answer is NO.

Never lie. Not just about work experience but about any aspect of your dental school applications or even beyond this.

The core principles for a health care professional includes professionalism. Honesty and integrity come under the umbrella term of professionalism.

Besides, why lie? There’s a very good chance at some stage your lies will be found out, and its going to affect you negatively. Either when you get asked to elaborate on your work experiences at interviews or some other way.

If you don’t do the work experience, how will you know if you actually even like dentistry? Then you might find yourself at dental school and only then realise you hate it.

Plus, if you start your path to  dentistry with a lie, who knows when you’ll lie again. It’s a bad habit to start, so please don’t do it.

I can appreciate there is a temptation to do so, I’d be lying here if I said the thought didn’t pop into my own mind at one stage only for a fleeting moment! There might be a temptation for a little lie, or a white lie. For example, if you only did 2 days of work experience but want to write that you did a whole week’s worth – even that is wrong.

I won’t write much more about this, I think its abundantly clear that lying on your application is not acceptable.

THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF DENTAL WORK EXPERIENCE

There are many different kinds of work experience you can do.

I did five different kinds, each for different time periods over an 8 month period before I sent off my dental school applications via UCAS.

1. General Practice

The most common kind of dental work experience is to go and shadow a general dental practitioner (GDP) at a NHS/mixed/private practice.

This is what most people have done and it is probably the easiest to secure. I’d also say it is one of the best to do because most dental students will work for in general practice for a significant period of time in their careers.

It’s easy to secure because there are so many general dental practices around!

This was the first kind of work experience I did and was a great introduction into dentistry so I would definitely recommend it as a first base for you too.

General dentistry is good for work experience because GDPs see a wide variety of different patients so you’ll hopefully get to see lots of different things. This is what is known as a primary care.

2. Hospital Dentistry 

This is known as a secondary care setting. Generally speaking, hospital dentistry is a little more complex when compared with the dentistry carried out by GDPs.

A lot of the patients who need to visit a hospital dental clinic have been referred by their GDP for one reason or another.

A common reason for referral is if the patient needs to be sedated under general anaesthetic (i.e. ‘put to sleep’) for their treatment. Reasons for this include: very anxious patients getting their wisdom teeth extracted or complex oral surgeries.

A hospital dental clinic will benefit from being linked with all other hospital departments, and often the reason for a referral to secondary care is because there is a need for the patient to be looked after by another department alongside the hospital’s dental team.

Because of the differences between primary and secondary care dentistry, it is really useful from an applicants point of view to get the opportunity (if possible) to experience both. But it might be a little more difficult to arrange!

There are a few different ways to go about securing hospital dentistry work experience:

  • Contact the hospital and explain who you are then ask if you can be put in touch with someone in the dentistry department.
  • Ask a general dentist that you might know, and ask if they can put you in touch with a colleague/friend of theirs who works in a hospital

There are also a few extra hurdles to jump before you are allowed to do hospital based work experience. You might need to prove your immunisation records, fill in a few forms, take in a passport sized portrait for your ID badge, and pay a hospital admin fee but don’t let these put you off doing it – it was so worth it from my personal experiences.

I managed to see some hospital-based restorative dentistry and hospital-based orthodontics, which both came about for me rather fortuitously. I didn’t specifically arrange for these work experiences but when I was doing work experience with the oral and maxillofacial surgery team at a hospital not too far from where I live, I managed to start speaking with dentists in the neighbouring departments and they said I could come and shadow a few of the practitioners for a few days.

There was one case I got to see that I will never forget! It was a completely edentulous patient; this very pleasant elderly woman who had also suffered from throat cancer (she used to be a very heavy smoker). During a previous appointment she had multiple implants screwed into her jaw, which had had enough time to establish into her bone and so she had come in for her final appointment where the consultant dentist was fitting her fixed dentures. I vividly remember that moment once the dentures were fitted, when she got to look in the mirror at her new smile! It was very emotional and she just looked so happy! But unfortunately as a result of the cancer, she had a hole in her throat after the tumour was removed surgically so couldn’t speak, so therefore couldn’t express her happiness vocally – instead she expressed her elation all through her eyes! The difference her new teeth made for her and especially how her and her two children who had accompanied her to the appointment thanked the dentist resonated with me – I was reminded then how positively dentistry can impact people’s lives.

^this for me is one of the main reasons for doing work experience! Not only to understand what dentistry is actually like but beyond that, to appreciate how important it is!

3. Specialist Dentistry

Unlike many other countries where there are only a couple of dental specialties (orthodontics and oral surgery), we are relatively unique in that there are many dental specialties in the UK!

When it comes to work experience, it is quite common to do some orthodontic work experience at a specialised orthodontic practice. And this is something I did!

When I was a teenager I had braces on for a few years and so what I did was contact the same practice I used to be a patient at and asked if they’d be happy for me to come in for a week and do some work experience. They agreed and I spent a week there shadowing one of the orthodontists (not the same one who did my braces).

It was really interesting and very different to the other experiences I got, so was definitely worthwhile. I also spent time shadowing some of the orthodontic therapists – it was interesting to see how this relatively new role in the dental team has helped orthodontics.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be an orthodontist who you shadow, it could be someone who has a particular focus in aesthetic dentistry or someone who focusses their practice to primary place implants etc. I wish I had done work experience with a paediatric dentist for example. If there’s a particular dental specialty you’d personally like to find out more about, then why not try to secure work experience that allows you to!

4. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS)

OMFS is an incredible discipline whereby a person is required to be dual qualified as both a dentist and a medial doctor here in the UK.This means that an OMF surgeon in the UK has studied both dentistry and medicine, in either order but more frequently they begin by training as a dentist.

Interestingly, in other countries, dual qualification is not a specific requirement. In the US for example, an OMF surgeon is a dental specialty. I won’t talk much more about OMFS as a specialty here because I do plan to write a specific post for each dental specialty in turn and will discuss it in detail there.

One of my best friends is a medical doctor, and he said to me that he could speak to the OMFS department at the hospital he was working in at the time and would try to help me get some work experience set up. I left him to it, and a few weeks later I was contacted by the OMFS department and they said it was fine for me to come for a week in the summer and shadow one of the consultant OMF surgeon and his extended team of doctors and nurses.

It was very insightful, and very different to all the other work experiences I had done before it. The patient’s had a wide variety of conditions and the consultant seemed able to deal with all of them! Notably, there were many cancer patients.

From my OMFS experience, the kinds of things treated included:

  • Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs), squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) and other oral/facial cancers
  • TMJ disorders
  • Orthognathic (jaw) surgeries
  • Dentoalveolar Surgeries (minor surgeries to remove impacted wisdom teeth etc)
  • Sleep Apnea

And I saw some unusual cases – one that I remember was a patient who had been diagnosed with Burning Mouth Syndrome. The patient complained that it felt like their mouth was constantly ‘on fire’ and the doctors had basically done every test/examination they could think of yet couldn’t identify anything actually wrong with them that could be treated.

I was so impressed by the surgeries that were done to help patients with BCC/SCC tumours in their face. The surgery involved removing the affected part of the face, including parts of the jaw, the tongue and associated structures. These were then reconstructed: the tongue was replaced by a skin flap and blood vessels from the forearm, and the removed jaw bone (mandible) was replaced with the fibula (one of the two bones in the lower leg – it’s the calf bone) that gets screwed into place. Seriously amazing surgery and the end result looks surprisingly ‘normal’.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to actually observe the major surgeries get carried out, but saw many consultations, minor surgeries and was also able to attend an MDT (multi-disciplinary team) meeting where the OMFS surgeons meet with consultants from many other medical specialties to jointly discuss certain complicated patients. The other specialties present in the MDT included a histopathologist, a dermatologist, a ENT surgeon and a few others that I can’t remember but it was so great to be a part of and see how multiple different experts in their respective fields need to put their heads together and come up with diagnoses, treatment plans etc.

I also got to spend some time with the OMFS SHOs (senior house officers) who are actually only dentists (i.e. they haven’t done any medical training). I had no idea before this that dentists can work in OMFS departments – they do lots of minor surgeries which from my experience involved lots of wisdom teeth extractions and taking biopsies of suspected cancerous lesions for further examinations.

I think OMFS work experience is quite hard to secure, but if you are interested in seeing what it is like for yourself then I would highly recommend you trying to get some. Because when you start at dental school I don’t think there is much scope to experience OMFS through your basic training.

I was so encouraged by my OMFS experience, I will probably seriously consider it as a route for my own career!

5. Dental Lab Technicians

Lab technicians are so important in dentistry. Dentists need to have a close professional relationship with at least one dental lab. It is a commonly overlooked aspect of dentistry from a student’s perspective but without it, many dental treatments wouldn’t be possible.

At dental school, we get to spend time in the labs and work on making the dental fittings for our own patients! But once we are qualified practitioners, we rely on a dental technician to make everything, but I did notice that the dentist can make minor tweaks and adjustments to prosthetics at the chair side for their patients. For example, if a crown is not fitting ideally, they can shave a tiny amount off to make it fit better etc.

I didn’t initially plan to spend time at a dental lab, but when I was doing my orthodontics work experience, the orthodontist said that he knew a dental lab who they work closely with and if I wanted, he could arrange for me to spend one day shadowing the technicians in the lab.

The opportunity was too good to turn down, so I said yes of course and spent one day in a very busy dental lab. It was so insightful and allowed me to see what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. There were about 10 lab technicians working away, most of them had a specific job that they did alone and so worked in their own space (with headphones on).

The intricacies of the work they did was so impressive, they had to create very specific prostheses up to the exacting requirements sent to them from dentists at many different practices. I sort of did a lap of the place, spending ~45 minutes shadowing each technician in turn, watching them work and they would explain to me what they were doing.

To give you an idea: one man was making veneers, crowns and bridges, another man was casting models from the impressions sent by dentists, some worked with metals and others with ceramics.

They told me some golden advice when I was there, which is basically to make sure that whomever I use as a lab technician with in my future career, it is so so important to have excellent communications with and be very clear with any instructions I have for them with regards to the required prosthetics I need made for a given patient. Because I saw a few times when the dentist had sent back something that the technicians had made because it wasn’t quite right – this is not only time consuming, it is expensive and ultimately it negatively affects the patient!

 

 

That’s it in terms of the main kinds of dental work experience you can do from my point of view. But of course there are other bits of work experience you could do that I’m sure some people do! It all depends on who you know because some are quite specific.

6. Dental Schools

A few weeks ago, when I was in the dental hospital doing an operative dentistry session in the university labs, the clinical teacher had a work experience student shadowing him as he taught dental students. I asked her how she managed to secure such an awesome work experience opportunity and it turns out someone in her family knows the clinical teacher well so asked on her behalf if it was possible. So she was spending a week in the Barts and The London dental school watching different groups of dental students get taught dentistry. I think that’s some of the best work experience you could get when complimented with other kinds because it would give you a proper feel for what dentistry is like at dental school (which lasts at least 5 years). So if you can somehow get some work experience at a dental school – do it! It will also give you an opportunity to speak with current dental students and ask them anything you like.

7. Foreign Projects

I don’t know many people who have done this, but from looking online whilst preparing to write this post, I noticed that there are some websites that offer the opportunity to help you arrange work experience in other countries.

It sounds legitimate and really interesting but very expensive! I’m not sure it is worth it, but for completeness I thought I’d mention it so you can go off and do your own further research.

I guess these are most suitable for those with very generous parents and perhaps only really for people on a gap year who have enough time. One site I came across is Premed Projects – check it out!

Another good site is gapmedics.

Doing a foreign project for work experience sounds like a great idea, but you’ll be seriously annoyed and upset if after spending the time and money to do it you don’t get any interviews/offers. So you’ll have to make the decision for yourself about this option. Personally, I don’t think its worth it, and the best work experience you can do is here in the UK.

You may or may not be aware of the dental elective period all dental students get, usually lasting ~10 weeks between their 4th and final year of study. This is a time when students can go and do a dental project in a foreign country so if you’re really interested in experiencing dentistry in another part of the world, instead of doing it as a pre-dental student when you can’t really do much actual dentistry yourself, wait till you go on elective!

8. MEDICAL Work Experience 

Dentistry and medicine are very closely related. Ultimately, medics and dentists are all referred to as doctors!

It is not a bad idea to also try to secure medical work experiences. There are many advantages to doing medical work experiences:

  • You expand your horizons and consider a very similar field.
  • It’s easy to get medical work experience as the opportunities are endless!
  • It gives you another dimension to your PS as you can discuss how you also considered medicine but after experience both you feel more drawn to dentistry.

When I was 17 I did some work experience at a GPs practice. Luckily for me, one of our close family friends is a GP who works very close to where I live, and he accepted me for a week in the summer of 2009 to shadow him and the res to his team. It was a very interesting experience, and I am really glad I did it. When it came to writing my PS I decided not to discuss it at all, since it was so long ago and I had so much more dentally related stuff to include. But I have always got the experience to speak about.

HOW WORK EXPERIENCE WILL BENEFIT WITH YOUR DENTAL APPLICATIONS?

Apart from the direct benefit dental work experience will have for your own decisions about dentistry as a pathway, it is hugely important in terms of your applications for dental schools here in the UK.

Although it isn’t specifically requested, you will need to convince the dental schools you choose to apply for that you are a serious applicant who fully understands what dentistry is all about and work experience is the best way to relay this.

The personal statement is your opportunity to showcase yourself and express your genuine desire to want to be a dentist. Everyone applying to dental school will have good grades, but what many fail to properly express is the efforts they have taken to come to a decision about dentistry. Discussing your work experiences on the PS is so important, and should ideally be the main feature of it (i.e. ~60% of the PS in terms of content).

On the PS, you would be doing yourself an injustice if you simply detailed what work experiences you did and what you saw, the most important and defining message you need to put across to the dental schools is what you have learnt from it. You need to discuss how you have the same skills, character traits and personality features that a good dentist must have.

This is why I mentioned earlier it would be a good idea to take a notepad with you during your work experience, because it is important to remember key aspects of your experiences that you can them mention in your PS.

DISCUSSING YOUR WORK EXPERIENCES AT INTERVIEW

Undoubtedly, you will need to talk about your work experiences at at least on of the dental school interviews you might be invited to.

Interviewers will either ask you to tell them more about your work experiences after reading about it on your PS directly, or they might ask you a general question related to your work experiences without even having read your PS.

At a traditional panel interview, they will usually have a copy of your PS in front of them so can ask you any questions related to what you’ve written in it.

In MMI style dental school interviews, there might be one or two (or even more) stations where the focus is something to do with your work experience.

Examples:

“So Jimmy, I see from your personal statement that you spent some time shadowing an orthodontist. What would you say from that experience was the most difficult things an orthodontist has to deal with?”

“Tell me about your work experiences” – I got this question in one of my MMI stations at the Kings graduate entry interview day! You have 5 minutes to talk about it in any way you want, it was surprisingly stressful…

DENTAL WORK EXPERIENCE’S BENEFIT BEYOND YOUR APPLICATIONS

I’m currently in second year at dental school, and as our teaching has become more and more clinical gradually, I have noticed that when we get taught something new, I sometimes link it back to my work experience in some way.

For example, we’ve been having seminars on communication and it made me remember how I once experience the orthodontist have to have quite a stern and difficult conversation with a young patient and his mother. He basically had seen the same young boy three times who needed braces, but the orthodontist had refused to start treatment for him because his oral hygiene was not up to a good enough standard. The mother was insistent that if the orthodontist simply went ahead and put on the brackets to her son’s teeth that his brushing would improve then but he was not convinced and did not want to compromise the young boy’s teeth as he knew that if he continued to neglect his teeth, the orthodontic brackets would in fact have the opposite effect, and actually could seriously damage his teeth. It was clearly quite a difficult bit of communication to have but was necessary and I remembered this when we were discussing in the seminar instances where difficult conversations have to be had.

There have been many other instances so far at dental school when I have thought back to things I experienced, and so the point I am trying to make is that doing dental work experience is such a useful thing for you beyond simply being able to use it for your PS.

Another thing: we got given an empty bottle at the end of our first year of dental school and were instructed to take it to any dentist and ask them to fill it up with waste extracted teeth for us. We would then be needing these teeth in second year to practice on. When I collected my bottle, I immediately knew that my best bet would be to contact the general dentist I did my first work experience with and ask her if she’d be able to collect the teeth for me. It was easy: I already knew her well, I knew that she did a lot of extractions and felt comfortable contacting her, so I basically just sent her an email explaining it. She agreed and I popped in, met her for a couple minutes to catch up and give her the empty bottle, that was it. The point here is that you might need to contact the dentist you did work experience with later on, so it is worth keeping their contact details as you never know when you might want their help again!

Another thing about work experience I want to mention is that it’s benefit should not be limited to pre-dental students. I’ve learnt so much in the first year at dental school that I never really appreciated about dentistry when I was shadowing dentists and what I’d really like to do now is get some more work experience. My plan for 2017 is to get some more work experience, particularly interesting for me will be to see more implant cases and aesthetic dentistry. So I’m hoping to be able to spend some time shadowing a few dentists and learn more about the aspects of dentistry that really interest me.

Continued Professional Development = CPD. It’s something you’ll have to do for the rest of your dental career after qualifying as a GDC requirement. The same principle applies to me as a student – I want to learn as much as possible. I mentioned “being a sponge” earlier in this post. You can never stop learning more, this applies to anything but is especially pertinent in dentistry!

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS – WORK EXPERIENCE ABROAD

After writing this post, I realised that some of you reading this may be international students who are interested in coming to the UK to train at one of our dental schools. My clinical partner is from Singapore and I asked him to tell me a bit about his own work experiences. He said it was pretty much exactly the same for him in Singapore, he was able to get lots of hospital dentistry work experiences there. So please take the advice from this post and it should help you in whatever country you are based in.

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Me and my clinical partner. He’s from Singapore and did all his work experiences at private hospitals there.

It is perfectly acceptable to do your work experience in another country, even though you are going to be studying in the UK. Obviously it will be clear that an application is an international student so dental schools understand that these applicants will have to do the work experience in their own countries. But as an international student you should remember that dentistry can be very different across the globe, so your experiences might differ hugely. For example, I know that dentistry in Japan is rather unique – I plan to write feature articles about these differences soon.

I hope this post was helpful to some of you. There is also lots of useful information on this TSR page – check it out!

Another really great resource for work experience is this blog post that was published by Ryan Howells on his own website which would should check out. He is currently a final year dental student at my university (Barts and The London SMD) – so is due to qualify in June 2017. Ryan is a really amazing guy, he’s one of those people who is so happy and willing to help out anyone else and is a very bright guy!

Sorry for the lack of pictures, I didn’t really take many pictures when I was doing my work experiences that I can share…

A final after thought I have is that this post is missing a dentist’s perspective! So what I want to do is contact a dentist who has had work experience students and then add is an extra section here with any additional useful comments.

Thanks for reading 🙂

dds