As you may know from my last article, I started college as a Biomedical Engineering major. However, after realizing that was not what I wanted to do, I made an appointment with an academic advisor and changed my major to Biomedical Sciences. This has honestly been one of the best choices I have made. As a BIMS student, I’ve had the opportunity to look into the sciences from every perspective by taking classes like entomology, neuroscience, and nutrition. After some exploration, I decided that I want to be a dentist. In fact, I will be applying to dental school next summer, and while I am very nervous, I also could not be happier.
Of course, applying to dental school -or any other professional school, really- is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are many requirements, such as having a good GPA, being involved in extracurriculars, and participating in community service. One prerequisite that not many people mention, however, is shadowing.
What exactly is shadowing? Well, it basically means going to a dental practice and, just like the word implies, becoming a dentist’s shadow. It was designed to allow prospective students to not only gain field experience but also familiarize with the clinical setting and strengthen their interpersonal skills. While meeting this requirement is simple under normal circumstances, doing so amid a pandemic, as you may imagine, is the complete opposite. First, many clinics have strictly reduced the number of people allowed in one room as a way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading. Second, some patients might not feel safe having people other than the doctor and assistant nearby, which is totally understandable.
To give you an idea of how hard it is to shadow in 2020, I called 25 dental clinics -and I am getting this number straight from my notepad- over three months. Many asked me to email my resume and said they would give me a call -which, by the way, never did- some denied my request right away, and a few never answered. After multiple attempts – and with little to no hope left in me- my dear friend, Doan, told me about a dental practice near her home. I called them, and, to my surprise, the manager asked me to print out my resume and stop by the clinic to fill out the necessary paperwork. With an amount of excitement incapable of fitting my body, I went to the clinic the next day and, just a week later, started shadowing.
Based on my previous experience, I expected the first day to be excruciating. A million questions flooded my mind: will the doctor be ok with having me around? Will the dental assistants think I am not doing enough? Will they expect me to know everything on the first day? After all, I was the new one. I did not know anyone there; it was like the first day of high school all over again. But as afraid as I felt, I was aware of how important this was to accomplish my dream of becoming a dentist. And, after all the hardship I went through to get here, I was not willing to let this opportunity go. So, I put on my scrubs, grabbed my mask, and pretty much prayed. It took no more than 5 minutes for me to realize there was nothing to be afraid of. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. The dental assistants, all women, started showing me how things worked in the clinic; one of them even grabbed me a pen and a sheet of paper to write notes on. And the manager introduced me to the dentist, who told me he was more than happy to teach me about dental procedures and answer all my questions.
I have been a shadowing student for a month now, and all I can say is that it has been quite an adventure. I’ve got to see both regular and deep cleanings, cavity fillings, dentures and crowns applications, and EXTRACTIONS! But what is even better is that I’ve also had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience by helping take x-rays, prepare patient rooms, and sanitize instruments. I even assist the dentist by translating the diagnose and treatment indications to patients that do not speak English.
Shadowing has brought to my life more than mere dental experience. It has allowed me to form long-lasting friendships and build social skills. But most importantly, it has proved to me what my heart already knew: I was born to be a dentist.