Guide to pre-dental shadowing

September 4, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

Clinical shadowing hours abroad for pre dental students Most people have a general idea about the duties of a dentist because of their previous experiences with dental work and checkups—but there is a lot more to the dental field, and a career in dentistry, than what you see when visiting your dentist. The best way to get a feel for the day-to-day responsibilities of a dentist is to shadow one.

When you go to the dentist, you observe what they do during your exam or procedure; however, there are many procedures and specialties within dentistry that you may not have been exposed to as a patient. Researching a career in dentistry can be helpful, but seeing firsthand what the job involves is the best way to decide if being a dentist is the career for you.

Benefits of pre-dental shadowing

Pre-dental shadowing is beneficial for several reasons. Shadowing a dentist helps a prospective dental student become acquainted with many aspects of the field. For instance, a student will have the opportunity to see the type of procedures and treatments a dentist performs. Students will also observe how a dental practice operates and the technology involved in the practice of dentistry.

Watching a dentist interact with patients and staff can also be a learning experience and may prove helpful as you enter dental school. Understanding how to educate patients and deal with difficult situations will be of benefit to you as you advance in your education and career.

Shadowing is also the perfect opportunity to get your questions answered about the field of dentistry. Although you want to find the right time to ask questions, shadowing may allow you to have questions answered about career opportunities, salary and anything else you want to know!

In addition to all the benefits of pre-dental shadowing, it may be a requirement for dental school admission in some cases. Requirements for dental schools vary. Some schools may require a certain number of shadowing hours when applying for admission. Other schools may not require shadowing, but may still recommend it. Even if the schools in which you are interested don’t require shadowing, it still looks good on an application and is one more factor in your favor.

Shadowing a dentist may make a dental student more excited about the field and confirm they are choosing the right career. In other cases, after seeing a dentist at work, some aspects of the profession may cause you to change your mind and go in another direction. Determining dentistry is not a good fit before you invest a lot of time and money into dental school is optimal.

Where to find dental shadowing opportunities

There are several different ways to find opportunities to shadow a dentist. If one way does not work out, try another approach. You can start with your personal dentist. Your personal dentist may be happy to help and provide you with the hours you need.

If your dentist does not allow students to shadow or you don’t have a dentist, you may want to call dentists in your area. Politely explain that you are interested in applying to dental school and would like to gain shadowing experience. In addition to private practices, you may be able to gain experience shadowing at dental clinics. 

If you are in a pre-dental club at your college, other students may also be a great source of information on where to complete shadowing hours. You may also want to consider speaking to a professor or program advisor.

Of course, there are private companies who provide pre-dental shadowing experience. These programs often pair shadowing with travel. If you are interested in pre-dental shadowing abroad, you should search for a company that provides observational shadowing and adheres to standardized guidelines for students participating in clinical experiences abroad.

Whichever route you choose to locate a dental practice, make sure you are clear on how many hours you are interested in and what you will be allowed to do or observe while you are shadowing. Be aware that some dentists may make you fill out forms regarding patient confidentiality or do a background check.

Volunteering versus shadowing 

Some students may choose to do volunteer work at a dental practice instead of shadowing. Keep in mind that a volunteer job can overlap with shadowing, or it can be completely different. If you are volunteering, determine what you will be doing. For example, as a volunteer in a dental practice or clinic, you may be performing duties like setting up instruments or administrative tasks and not observing or interacting with the dentist. In other cases, you may be allowed to observe procedures and combine volunteer work with shadowing to gain the most out of the experience.

Getting started

There are a variety of factors you should keep in mind before starting your pre-dental shadowing experience. One of the most important things to consider is dental school requirements. Check with the dental schools where you plan to apply and determine how many, if any, shadowing hours are required. This way you will be sure to complete enough hours.

You want to be aware of the minimum hours you need to make sure you meet the schools requirements, but you don’t need to limit yourself to those hours. It may be helpful to go beyond the minimum hours needed in order to get a good feel for the profession.

If shadowing hours are required or highly recommended, it is a good idea to start early. Don’t wait until it is close to application time to cram in all the hours you need. If you wait until the last minute and have trouble finding a practice to observe, it can be very stressful.

Think about what type of specialty you are most interested in and try to shadow a dentist in that area. Also, don’t limit yourself to only one shadowing experience. If possible, shadow different specialties and different types of practices.

Lastly, take advantage of the experience and make the most of it. Ask what you can do to help and observe as many different procedures as possible. The dentists and staff understand you are there to learn about a career in dentistry, and they expect questions. Now is the time to learn what you can and decide if a career as a dentist is right for you.