How to get in to Dental School
A lot of what admissions teams are looking for involves commitment of some sort. Dentistry requires a lot of time, effort and dedication, therefore you need to demonstrate that you have this attribute already. Whether this commitment to be a sport, a skill or volunteering, its beneficial if you can show you’ve been doing your chosen activity for a while.
A good personal statement doesn’t write itself, therefore you don’t want to be rushing it close to the deadline. Get as many of your friends and family to read it as possible to ensure there are absolutely no grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Dentistry is also about attention to detail. If you aren’t willing to perfect your personal statement it could come across as lazy or like you aren’t serious about securing a spot at dental school.
If you start writing your statement in good time, it will also give you time to fill in any blanks if you notice you are lacking in some way.
Ideally, get some work experience in more than one setting, for example a hospital AND general practice. Yes this is tricky, but take what you can get. Ask around, ask friends if they have dentists in the family, ask your own dentist, write letters to all the local dentists explaining your current position. If you can, get appropriate vaccinations in advance (Hep B, TB and a blood test for HIV). This will make it a lot easier to arrange placements. Think outside the box – community dental services, dental hospitals, local health centres that have a dental service, emergency dentists, these are all options. Even if you can’t get weeks and weeks at time, take whatever opportunities you can and get as much as you can out of them.
There isn’t much of an excuse for not ticking this box on your personal statement. Of course some applicants have exceptional circumstances, however overall I would say it’s a must for many dental schools. Try asking around local nursing homes if they need volunteers to help out. I went one afternoon a week for a year and chatted with residents, played games with them (Bingo was always a success)… and cleared up plates after the residents’ lunch. You will need an up to date DBS check (the new name for CRB check) which you will have to pay for yourself, however it is worth it to get the experience for your application. Another option is charity shops or places such as the Salvation Army. Don’t be disheartened if it takes you a little bit of time to find somewhere to do this – that’s the benefit of starting the process early, as I said at the start of this post.
Point, evidence (or skills acquired), explain
I always remember as a child my English teacher saying to make an argument in an essay we should ‘pee on the page’. By this she meant what I have titled this section, make a point, provide your evidence (what skills and attributes has this helped you develop), explain your point (why would this make you a good dentist?). Of course 7 year old Bethany found this hilarious, therefore it stuck with me since then (probably a sign of a good teacher, right?).
How does this fit in to your personal statement?
I’ll give you an example, however first you should write down a list of all your achievements and talents to date. It’s likely they won’t all fit on your statement (darn word limits!!). Next, beside each achievement/skill, write down WHY this would make you a better dentist. Here’s my example…in fact, I’ll give you two, because I’m feeling generous!! ;)
“As a school prefect I am responsible for organising house events, relaying my peers’ concerns to staff and setting an example for younger students in my house. Throughout the past year this has enabled me to develop my organisational skills and I have enjoyed taking on more responsibility. As a dentist, I would be responsible for my patients’ oral and in some ways general heath, maintaining the confidentiality of my patients and often leading a team. Not only has my current role enabled me to develop my confidence and organisiation, I have also strengthened how I communicate with people of different ages and backgrounds, using appropriate language to discuss matters with younger students and members of staff.”
“I have been playing the saxophone for 5 years. I find this a great way to be creative and relax as well as challenging myself outside the academic work I have on. I believe this not only demonstrates commitment but also my ability to work manually whilst having to think about something else – reading the music or making eye contact with my audience. This is a skill which I believe is directly transferrable to dentistry, where I will need to be extremely precise and dextrous whilst still maintaining conversation with my patient, communication with my nurse and awareness of the situation outside the patients’ mouth.”
I personally made a table with 3 columns. Achievement. Skills this gave me. Relevance to dentistry. I then linked the 3 columns together to make a small paragraph and voila.
I would also advise being selective about what you include. It is probably more beneficial to expand on the expedition you did to build a school for children in Nepal than to waffle on about getting your camp fire badge at rainbows/scouts.
When you make it to interview, there are a few things to keep in mind to help it run smoothly. I’ve broken these down in to bullet points as so far this article has been very wordy!!
Plan your journey, leave plenty of time. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going in advance and if you’re not sure, call up and ask. It will look very bad if you turn up late. If there are exceptional circumstances, contact the university immediately to update them.
Be nice to other candidates. I shouldn’t really have to explain this one, but you’re all in the same boat. Trying to ‘spook’ the other applicants is a no no, just focus on your own performance and be polite to everyone.
Keep at the front of your mind ‘what would make me a good dentist?’. Whatever you get asked, (without sounding like a robot of course!!), try to link your answer to why this would make you a good dentist, or at least demonstrate the relevant skills even if you don’t explicitly mention why it would help you in this profession
Practice – practice – practice!!! Ask friends and family to ask you questions about your personal statement and about you, why dentistry?
If you are doing an ‘MMI’ style interview, it is better to get things right, than rush and get them wrong. Imagine you are already a dentist, how would a dentist approach these situations? They shouldn’t get irate, frustrated or lose their cool, so neither should you.
Dress smart. The end.
It’s okay if you don’t know an answer – be honest. They are not interviewing you for a job as a dentist, yet. They are interviewing to see if they could teach you to become a dentist. Therefore, if you don’t know the answer to something, say so and say how you would go about finding out the answer! They would prefer you to tell a patient you don’t know something then lie to them and get it wrong.
Key things to understand/revise
What is the GDC? What is its importance to dentists?
Why dentistry not medicine?
What is the CQC? (Care quality commission)
What is the BDA?
What is CPD? (Continued professional development) What does this mean?
How does NHS dentistry work?
In my opinion, a load of rubbish used to narrow down the number of applicants invited to interview. Exceptional candidates can score terribly. Revise for it. Do your best. Good luck – that is all I can say about that. I didn’t do the BMAT. I got 730 in my UKCAT – Not sure that would get me an interview anywhere now?!?!
I liked this book (if the link it won’t load it’s the ‘Get in to Medical School 1250 UKCAT practice questions’ by Olivier Pickard et al)
I post regular advice and info for patients, dental students and dentists on my Instagram ‘bethanyrushworth’. Feel free to contact me on there if you have any questions and I will do my best to get back to you.