Shadowing & Volunteering
A good rule of thumb to remember is that you shadow in a dental clinic and volunteer in a community.
As a prospective dental student, you are expected to spend time shadowing a general dentist. Before seeking a shadowing position, please consider HIPAA/patient confidentiality issues. Specifically, this means hands-off observation only. It is important that you do not engage in any activity that could be construed as the practice of dentistry. Even if you plan to specialize, you need to have a bulk of your shadowing hours with a general dentist. The idea behind shadowing is to learn the nuances of patient-care. Outside of interacting with and treating patients, dentists have many responsibilities that may include running a business, teaching, or doing research.
Some dental schools require a specific number of shadowing or observation hours. You will want to check the individual websites of the schools to which you plan to apply for these numbers. However, a good benchmark would be around 170-200 hours. Students should also aim for getting a variety of shadowing experiences with at least 2-3 general dentists. (Please note: the Dental College of Georgia prefers student to have around 300 hours of shadowing with 2-3 general dentists). Ideally, you should build a good relationship with at least one DMD or DDS, as it will be important to request a letter of recommendation once you begin the application process. It is good practice to keep an Excel spreadsheet of your hours and journal as you observe patient interaction and procedures. This will be beneficial when you fill out the “experiences” section on your ADEA AADSAS application.
The Pre-Professional Advising Office does NOT provide a list of possible shadowing opportunities or professional contacts.
You must take the initiative to research opportunities and develop professional relationships that will lead you to shadowing experiences. Members of the Pre-Dental Society may be able to suggest local dentists who are amicable to shadowing.
You may opt to acquire some of your experience in a dental mission abroad. Please note that if you participate in an abroad program, you must never administer care to a patient. You must keep in mind that you should never allow yourself to be put into a position where your actions could be deemed unethical or irresponsible. These actions could ruin your chances for dental school admission. Please read the ADEA Guidelines for PreDental Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad before deciding to participate in a dental mission abroad. The Pre-Professional Advising Office strongly recommends that if you are planning on foreign medical and dental shadowing/volunteering that you have travel health insurance and Medical/Security evacuation insurance. Contact the University Health Center before you travel. The clinic offers travel health information and appropriate vaccinations to students.
Quality Trumps Quantity
Volunteering is a large portion of the dental school application which should not be neglected. Dental schools are looking for students who not only demonstrate that they can manage rigorous courses while staying busy, but also those who are compassionate, enjoy working with people and show direct evidence of their dedication to serving their community. Volunteering can be done in a clinical setting such as a hospital or hospice, but it can also be done with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, or any other organization (on-campus or off-campus) that you are passionate about. Dental schools are looking for students that show depth of commitment and substantial involvement and leadership in the community.
If attempting to volunteer at a local hospital or clinic (e.g., Piedmont Athens Regional or St. Mary's Hospital), it is important to be mindful of deadlines and requirements. Most hospitals and clinics have a specific time-window each year that they accept and train potential volunteers. Further, most require volunteers to pass background checks and have up-to-date immunizations and tuberculosis testing. It is your responsibility to research deadlines and requirements when seeking out volunteer opportunities.
Dental Volunteer Opportunities
Dental specific volunteer opportunities in Georgia:
- Georgia Dental Association list of low cost clinics in Georgia
- Georgia Dental Association Foundation for Oral Health
Student Volunteer Opportunities
Many student organizations champion humanitarian and community volunteer activities: