Most dental schools require some hours shadowing a dentist.
Even if it’s not required, shadowing is usually recommended as part of the
dental school application process. Shadowing a dentist can give you, the
budding dentist, a great preview of what you hope to do. Lindsey talked about
how to go about finding a dentist to shadow in Part I of her series.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up from my shadowing
experience, in addition to the ones Lindsey talks about in Part II of her
1. Set a Clear Schedule
Communicate with your dentist about when you will be at his
office for shadowing. This way he will know when to expect you (and think
you’re punctual when you show up at one o’clock on the dot!).
2. Dress Professionally and Comfortably
Ask your dentist what you should wear if you are unsure of
the dress code. I dressed business casual in dressy tops with pants. Besides
feeling wonderfully official, you will actually look the part of a future
dentist. I think patients will be more likely to agree to you observing their
procedures if you are dressed appropriately.
A side note for women: don’t wear heels! You will probably
be standing for hours, and they will not be comfortable.
3. Make Friends with Hygienists, Assistants and Office Staff
You will most likely be looking over the assistants’
shoulders, so get to know them by name. Office staff can also hint when
patients will be returning for follow-ups if you are interested in seeing a
certain procedure to completion. When your dentist is focusing intensely on a
procedure, it will be the dental assistants who can explain why he is using a
certain instrument or agent.
4. Ask Your Dentist Some Personal Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist questions! After all,
they agreed to let you shadow, so questions are expected. I usually spoke to my
dentist at the end of his lunch hour, so we talked about new dental
technologies (dental journals and CE classes), his hobbies (golf and good food)
and his favorite classes in dental school (management seminars).
Lindsey talked about asking yourself what you hoped to gain
from the experience before going in to shadow. I asked the dentist I was
shadowing a few questions that were relevant to my situation: does he enjoy his
career? Does he regret choosing dentistry over business? Dr. R was generous
enough to share his honest thoughts with me. All of this was insightful
information for someone like me beginning to embark on this career.
5. Take Notes.
All of this brings me to my last point (I totally agree with
Lindsey here!): take notes! A quick note about the office staff: on the first
day, jot down names and quick descriptions of the hygienists and assistants in
This notebook also becomes a great written diary of your
experience for later. You’ll read these later and laugh at how you spelled
“incisor”—okay, that might just be me. As you fill in the gaps in your dental
knowledge, you’ll remember how amazing and incredible everything seemed when
you were a predental student in your dentist’s office.