Students often decide they want to become dentists at different points in their lives—some know as early as middle school, while others don’t decide until their third year of college. Whenever you made your choice, you have to be sure to prepare yourself to pursue this profession and shadowing a dentist is a crucial part of that process.

Shadowing: going to a dentist’s or dental specialist’s office to observe procedures, learn terminology and techniques, observe different practice environments and ask the dental professional questions about his or her journey to practicing dentistry.

Dental schools like to see applicants with shadowing experience, as it shows that the student has a solid grasp of what is involved in the practice of dentistry. One critical aspect of practicing dentistry involves understanding patient confidentiality. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPAA, provides strict provisions for safeguarding medical information. Shadowing opportunities enable students to observe first-hand the vital role confidentiality plays in building and maintaining trust with a patient.

Shadowing a dentist will give you the opportunity to confirm and demonstrate your desire to pursue dentistry and also help you picture yourself as a practicing dental professional.

Here are some questions you could ask the dentist or dental specialist you shadow:

  • What do you like most about your work?
  • What do you find challenging about your profession?
  • Would you still pursue dentistry if you could go back in time?
  • What are some of the highlights of your work?
  • What gets you excited about coming to work every day?
  • If you were not practicing dentistry, what would you be doing?
  • How do you balance work and family life?
  • Do you participate in any community service?
  • If you could change something about the practice of dentistry, what would it be?
  • What did you think about your dental school experience? Do you have any advice?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of dental school?

Where do I begin?

  • Start by asking your personal dentist if he or she would be willing to be shadowed.
  • If your personal dentist is unable to be shadowed, ask if he or she can recommend another practitioner.
  • Ask your friends, your classmates, your friends’ parents, or your professors to see if their dentist might be willing to be shadowed.
  • Talk to your health professions advisor.
  • Reach out to your local dental school to see if they have local alumni who would be interested in being shadowed.
  • Get informed about HIPAA – it lets the dentist know you understand this important part of patient confidentiality.