In which it’s interview season

We had our first round of interviewees for new residency positions this weekend. Seeing their bright, shiny, nervous faces made me so happy and thankful to be on this side of the process!

To be a dentist you have to go to dental school, pass several boards and get licensed in a state. This qualifies you to be a general dentist and practice “within your scope” or in other words, do whatever you feel you have the skill and desire to do. To be a specialist in dentistry you must complete a residency program which can last between 2 and 6 years AFTER dental school (which is 4 years of school AFTER college – we define “professional student”). Currently there are nine recognized specialties in dentistry:

  • Dental Public Health: These individuals focus on controlling dental disease on a community wide scale
  • Endodontics: Root Canals
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Head and neck cancer and other weird things
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: The radiologists of the dental world
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Focus on wisdom teeth removal and putting your face back together
  • Orthodontics: Concentrate on braces and wearing golf shirts
  • Pediatrics: Pediatricians of the dental world
  • Periodontics: The deep cleaners and gum gardeners
  • Prosthodontics: Implants, crowns, bridges and dentures

We closely mirror our medical colleagues who are required to do a residency after medical school in how we are accepted into our specialty programs (if we choose to pursue them). In the summer (sometimes in your senior year of dental school, sometimes after you’ve been out into the work force for a while and want to specialize later) you send out your application to a bunch of programs. In the fall you interview at programs that have invited you.

Some specialities (prosth, perio, endo) offer you an acceptance or rejection within days of the interview. Others, at a predetermined day in the winter, rank everyone they’ve interviewed and you in turn rank them in order of where you would like to go. All these rankings go into a magical computer program and a week or two later the computer spits out that you either 1) “Matched” which means you made it into a program and it tells you the ONE program you’ve been accepted to or 2) “Did not Match” which means you didn’t get in and need to apply again for the next cycle. Very much like sorority recruitment.

Name tag from my Yale interview last year.. they did not win points for geography.

The interviews in the fall are stressful – you’re constantly on the road, in airports, staying in overpriced hotels, juggling whatever senior year responsibilities you need to graduate and study for boards. It’s also fun because you get to see new places and meet new people (ostensibly the colleagues you’ll have for the rest of your life and who you’ll be running into at conferences for years to come).

Last year sitting in an airport, studying for boards.

Pediatric dentistry has become more competitive in recent years. Last year, the year I applied, 604 people applied to “match” for 343 spots. The cost of applying, flying around the country and attending interviews is enormous, but so is not getting in and spending another year applying if you don’t match. The stakes are high. So I get why these well qualified professionals were a little nervous this past weekend – hell, I was when I was in their shoes last year. That’s why I’m so thankful I’m on this side of it.

To help the applicants get a feel of our program beyond the number of operating room cases we do, number of patients we see, types of degrees we offer, rotation schedule, etc, my fellow residents put together a powerpoint on each current resident. Your fellow residents can make or break a program regardless of the other amenities it offers. I’m so fortunate to now only have found brilliant future colleagues here in Seattle, but folks that’ll be lifelong friends. They are the people who celebrate my bright days and pull me up during the tougher ones. My new study partners and lab mates. I love each and every one of them. If I could tell anyone interviewing what to look for in a program I would tell them to look at the residents and how they get along. It is an excellent predictor of future happiness in a program.

My slide from the powerpoint.

We gave two truths and a lie to have the applicants get to know us as people better in a more relaxed format – I think I learned almost as much about the current residents as the interviewees did! You can see my lie is that I speak Spanish.. I’ll leave all the espanol to mi hermanita (had to look that up).

Good luck to all the applicants out there! Smile, relax, be yourself. You’ll do fine 🙂

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2 thoughts on “In which it’s interview season

    • Hey! Always nice to meet another dental person out there on the interwebs 🙂
      I shadowed/worked in a pediatric dental practice before applying to dental school and when I got in I was very resolved to keep my mind open (and initially the only thing I was set on was General Dentistry). During my volunteering and extramural rotations I finally realized that I couldn’t fight the feeling that I needed to be in pediatrics – I just got so much more energy from it and decided the winter of my junior year that that’s what I needed to do. Please let me know if I can help you with any questions regarding dental school or the residency application process!

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