So you want to be a dentist?
Every year, around September time, I often receive emails or messages asking about the dental application process, and I usually direct people towards one of my earliest blogposts- “The journey so far”.
After going back to this post, I have realised it’s not actually that helpful! So….delving through all the hard research that I did during the time I applied for dentistry, I have decided to write a post based on my experience of the whole application process (if I can remember that far back!), offering some advice and help to those embarking on this process. I will also be doing a separate post on the interview process too at a later date.
I am currently on the graduate entry BDS course at King’s College London, so most of this advice will be from a graduate point of view, but may still be useful for those who are not graduates.
If you have already submitted your application through UCAS and have secured an interview you may want to skip this post and go straight to my blog on “Surviving Interviews”.
Why did I choose dentistry?
Unfortunately I’m not one of those who has always known I have wanted to study dentistry since “the day I could walk” and nor did I want to do dentistry because of some horrific ordeal in my life that resulted in a new born passion. Boring, I know. I chose to study dentistry after thorough research (both regarding the profession and the demands of the BDS course), work experience and a comprehensive understanding of what the profession entails. This took careful consideration, weighing up the pros and cons, establishing my motivations and expectations and thoroughly considering whether or not I could hack a further 4 years of education. It was only then, when I was certain of all these things, that I knew dentistry was right for me.
I have always been a very “hands-on” type of person with a very strong interest in science in general, but not really any specific passion in one single profession except that I knew I wanted to help people and make their lives better. Armed with this, I made my way through the world, first by choosing science based A-levels, and then by doing a degree in Biomedical science because I initially wanted to go into cancer research, as there were people in my life at the time affected by cancer, and this spurred my heart to head in this direction. After completing my final year project for my BSc, I knew that research was not for me and so I started to explore my options by doing work experience in numerous doctor and dental practices, combined with research into each profession and now here I am. And so, even though this is not an exciting reason, and by far an inspirational one, it’s the truth, and I wake up every day knowing that I am very lucky to be doing something that, not only I have chosen to do, but also something I love, and that is better than any magnificent story. Here is my experience of how I am here today:
Universities & entry requirements
There is no need for me to go into this; the topic is fantastically summarized by TSR.
For a summary of the dental schools and contact details go to: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Dental_School_Contact_Details
For a list of entry requirements for undergraduate dentistry go to: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Dentistry_Entry_Requirements
For graduate entry go to: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Graduate_Entry_Requirements_for_Dentistry
Try and apply for this early on, and do it because you are genuinely interested in finding out what dentists do, not just because you need to get your “two weeks done” so a university will consider you for interview!
The earlier on you apply for this, the more time you will have and the more experience you will get. The later you leave it, the less likely you are to get offered a space, as other students will have got in there first.
Apply to dental hospitals belonging to dental schools as they are generally more understanding that students need work experience, and are more likely to offer you it, especially as they are bigger institutions and therefore can take on more students than say, a small practice. Also dental hospitals within schools have many different departments, which will give you an idea of the many different things you will be doing as a dental student, and therefore an idea of what to expect.
Maximise your chances by applying to as many places as possible, travelling if you need to:
- Dental schools/ hospitals
- Private practices
- NHS practices
Write letters, make telephone calls, drop in to the practice. I did all of these and manage to secure myself a good few weeks of work experience. Once you are in, NETWORK! Ask for recommendations of where else you could go, get to know the dentist, hygienist, dental therapist, dental nurses and even the reception staff as these people can REALLY help you get further work experience. You will be surprised as to how much name dropping will get your letters/emails noticed at other practices where some of these staff may have worked in the past! Also the staff may tell you who to contact so you are able to contact them directly, making your emails/phone calls/letters more personal.
When contacting practices/dental hospitals for work experience, make sure you address it correctly, tell them who you are, why you are writing to them, and why doing the work experience will be beneficial to you even if they are only able to offer you a couple hours at the very most. They need to know that you are serious about what you want to do, and serious about the work experience, so they are not wasting their time. It might seem obvious, but don’t write pages and pages! At the same time, don’t just write a single line saying you want work experience!
Finally, don’t see this work experience as a chore, the more hours you put in, the more you will get out of it, and hopefully by the end of it all you will have a pretty clear idea about whether it’s the right thing for you! Plus you will have plenty to talk about when it comes to the dreaded interview stage. The work experience part, especially if you have managed to get plenty, will speak volumes about your passion and dedication, when it comes to writing your personal statement.
For a summary of what individual universities expect for work experience go to: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Dentistry_Work_Experience
The entrance exams
UKCAT (United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test)
This is a mental aptitude and ability test, not designed to test knowledge, consisting of a multiple choice, onscreen exam.
Universities that require you to sit this exam:
- Cardiff University
- University of Dundee
- University of Glasgow,
- King’s College London
- University of Manchester
- University of Newcastle
- Barts and The London
- University of Sheffield
I am not going to bother going into the ins and out of this test as extensive details are available on: http://www.ukcat.ac.uk/.
It is not possible to revise for this because it does not test knowledge, however you can PREPARE for it. I did not pay for coaching and tutors. I found “600 UKCAT Questions” along with the practice test provided by UKCAT, to be particularly useful, and it was the only book I purchased. There are plenty of other books out there, but I only purchased this one so I could be familiar with the format, question styles, and multiple-choice format.
My advice is not to stress over the test, stay calm, practice as much as you can and take the test early to get it out the way so you can focus on the rest of your application! Booking the test early also means you have the opportunity to reschedule, should you need to.
Remember to pace yourself, and move on if you are struggling to answer a question. Answer all questions as there is no negative marking.
GAMSAT (Graduate Medical Schools Admissions Test)
As far as I know, GAMSAT is required by Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry for health care professionals without a degree level qualification.
For more information visit: http://www.pcmd.ac.uk/dentistry.php?tab=resource and http://gamsat.acer.edu.au/gamsat-uk/.
Dental schools don’t tend to want those who just have their heads in the books all the time. They want people who contribute to society, their school, their friends and family. An A* student who participates in extracurricular activities is more desirable than an A* student who does nothing else but study! Students need an outlet to healthily relieve stress. They should have other interests, because dentists should be able to relate to others, they should be able to communicate with others, and they need to be able to work as part of a team.
Participating in team sports demonstrates your ability to communicate and to work as part of a team. It requires commitment; it shows a competitive side and provides an outlet to relive stress.
Doing volunteer work (volunteering in a hospice/ charity shop etc) demonstrates compassion, willingness to give back to society, a caring side and a natural desire to help others.
Other examples of extracurricular activities include (but not limited to) school projects/duties, school clubs/societies, paid work, family related responsibilities, care work etc.
Extracurricular activities also demonstrate good time management.
The personal statement
For me this was the part I dreaded the most, selling oneself on paper. Where to start? How to finish? What to include? What NOT to include? Is it original?…Seriously, for me this was worse than preparing for the interviews!
First and foremost do NOT plagiarise someone else’s work! UCAS will know! The personal statement is supposed to be as the name suggests, PERSONAL to you. The whole point of it is to show case YOUR skills, abilities, qualities, motivations and passion.
It is not a creative handwriting course you are applying to, so don’t write an art piece (this is my personal opinion, as I am yet to meet someone who has written a poem/rap/story/song as a personal statement for dentistry)!
I believe that writing about your work experience, hobbies, extracurricular etc, by far, better demonstrates your qualities compared to just stating “I am hard-working, caring…” etc.
Mentioning your academic abilities is also a waste of words as your grades will clearly demonstrate this; the only exception is when you need to explain mitigating circumstances as to why you have not performed as expected. In which case you might want to mention how you turned this negative into a positive, and what you have learnt from this.
Things you may want to consider including:
- Why you want to study dentistry/ how you came to decide on dentistry. It is very easy to write cliché statements here, so try to avoid it as much as possible!
- What aspect of dentistry appeals to you.
- What exposure you have had in the profession/ work experience and what you most enjoyed. Why?
- What your previous degree was in, and why this will potentially help you on a BDS course. I did not feel it was necessary to link my first degree to dentistry – mainly because there was no direct link. I did not study biomedical science because I could not get into dentistry, and if you are in this situation, it is advisable NOT to state this. Highlight the positives of what doing a first degree will mean when you do your second degree. How has it prepared you? What transferable skills did you develop?
- If you have taken time out/ a gap year, what did you spend it doing? How will it help you in your BDS?
- What extracurricular activities do your participate in? If you volunteer, why? If you work, why? How have these roles strengthened your personality? How will they help in your BDS?
- What are your hobbies? How do you deal with stress?
- What makes you suitable for the course and why YOU should be picked.
Things you may want to omit…however true they are:
- The only reason you are doing your current course is because you were not accepted on to a dental course
- Academic capabilities – these will be obvious in your grades/predicted grades
- You wish to study dentistry for the money
- Lies – if found out, you risk your application being rejected!
- Other courses you are applying for just in case you do not get accepted
The reference is obviously very important, and the person you choose as your referee should know you well, and should know about your passion for dentistry. It therefore, does not necessarily have to be your “tutor”. You could ask a lecturer who teaches you regularly instead. I chose my referee based on this fact, and after asking him to be my referee, I arranged an appointment to meet with him where I explained why I wanted to do dentistry, why I was passionate about it, my driving force, and the measures I had taken to arrive at the decision. I needed him to see how much I wanted to be picked, and how serious I was about it. I left him with a copy of my personal statement when I left. That was all I could do, the rest was up to him.
The reference is important because it is a respectable person vouching for the “claims” in your personal statement. It is particularly important if your grades are not as high as some of the natural geniuses there are out there too, as this could potentially set you aside from them. I honestly believe that if you get this right, you stand a good chance of being offered an interview.
That is literally as much as I can remember.
I did not take the traditional route to study dentistry, which goes to show that you do not have to get there first time round. I am doing something I enjoy, perhaps a lot later than many undergraduates, but nonetheless I am still doing it, which is what is most important. I firmly believe that as long as you know where you want to end up, you will find a way to get there. Admittedly, it is a very daunting process, with plenty of preparation and consideration needed. It is important that you are clear on what you are applying for, and even more important that it is what you WANT to do, as 4/5 years is a massive commitment for something that you are unsure about. I am totally in it for the long haul. It is competitive, stressful, hard-work, requires 100% dedication, and tiring, but honestly it is SO SO SOOO worth it! When you cut your first cavity, restore your first tooth, see a patient’s oral hygiene improve or extract your first tooth (to name but a few firsts!!) it is literally THE most satisfying, privileged and rewarding feeling ever, I cannot even begin to describe it! But I will say “I told you so” when you get there!
Good luck in your application and hopefully see you on the other side some day!
Disclaimer: The post is by no means a fool proof way of getting into dentistry, the advice written is based on the experience I had and the research that I have done myself. Individual students should always contact the universities that they wish to apply to for further and up-to-date information regarding the requirements needed.
To find out more about Sheila