Tips From Current D.D.S. and Dental Hygiene Students

Building Your Application: Shadowing and Beyond

Posted by Brianna Kosecki on September 28, 2021

Applying to dental schools typically requires extensive job shadowing hours to submit with your application. Generally, people shadow at a handful of private practices before applying to dental school, and while there is nothing wrong with that, shadowing can be a creative and unique aspect of your application! Here are some general ideas on shadowing opportunities outside of private practice that can help you set yourself apart from your peers.

First, it is a good idea to spend the bulk of your time looking into general dentistry, but you should keep in mind that there are so many opportunities and avenues to truly gain an appreciation for the dental profession. If you think that you have an interest in a dental specialty, spend time looking into it and observing, but remember, you are going to dental school first to become a general dentist and later apply to a specialty program. Therefore, it is encouraged by many dental programs [BC1] to know what the normal workflow of a general dentist entails.


Federal Clinics

Federal clinics are a great shadowing opportunity if you can find a local one that allows predental shadowing. Many private practices do not accept Medicaid insurance, while federal clinics do. Spending time at a federal clinic will allow you to gain a better understanding of Medicaid-based insurance patient practices. Additionally, there are scholarships available when working at federal clinics like the National Health Service Corps, where you can apply to get four years of dental school paid for by donating after graduation four years of your work service at a qualifying federal clinic. This is a great opportunity to not only gain shadowing hours, but also consider tuition coverage options. If you get lucky, you may find yourself shadowing at a clinic where a dentist had this scholarship and you can ask them about their experience. 

Mission of Mercy

Mission of Mercy is another great shadowing opportunity. This is a volunteer program where free dental care is provided to those in need. When you volunteer for events like these, you can opt to volunteer for one or more days, doing various roles. Local dentists will come in to volunteer their time and provide services as needed. You can find great connections and advice at events like these and possibly find shadowing opportunities outside of the events. When I volunteered at one of these events before applying to dental school, I met a clinical faculty member at a dental program. We got to talk about the school and program, which helped me decide where I wanted to apply. This is also a great chance to learn more about ways you can give back after school; offices with full staffs will come to volunteer time together at events like this.

Specialty Practices/Other Avenues

While the bulk of your hours should be general dentistry, if you have any specialty interests, I encourage you to also reach out and try to find those shadowing opportunities! General dentistry is unique in that practices will vary in the care and services provided. General practice therefore does not always include certain aspects of a specialty practice, and you can truly gain a better understanding of certain procedures and specialties by seeing them first-hand. Specialties in dentistry include any of the following: orthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, periodontics, endodontics, anesthesiology, public health, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral medicine, orofacial pain, pediatrics and prosthodontics. Some exciting things you may want to look into when shadowing are complicated extractions, periodontal surgeries, implant placement and complex prosthodontic cases. 

Making the Most of Shadowing

No matter where you choose to shadow, there are a couple of things I would recommend to make the most of your experience. One piece of advice I received from my undergraduate health advisor was to journal my experiences. When you need to shadow 100+ hours, it can become challenging to recall everything you learned or observed. Keeping a journal of the things you experienced will help you later to quickly reflect and discuss these first-hand experiences during your dental school interviews. In addition, I used Microsoft Excel/Google spreadsheets to document my shadowing. Writing down both the day and hours made it easier to fill out my dental school application. 

When you shadow, if the dentist has time, ask them questions because you are there to learn. Also, build strong professional relationships while there, as you will eventually need a letter of recommendation from a dentist and shadowing is often how many people will obtain this. Be respectful, engaged and if possible, try to spread your shadowing hours over an extended period with a provider that you may ask for a recommendation since you want them to get to know you. 


These are just some ideas, but there are so many unique shadowing opportunities. Hopefully this has helped to showcase that shadowing is extremely beneficial when applying to dental school. As you work to build your application, keep an open mind regarding the opportunities presented and seize learning experiences. Dentistry is an exciting profession, and you benefit by looking into various aspects of the profession to truly understand what being a dentist is all about. At the end of the day, we will all have slightly different paths when trying to become a dentist. Every opportunity you take will only allow you to better develop yourself into the clinician you are striving to become.


Good Luck!


About Brianna Kosecki:

Brianna Kosecki_headshot

Brianna Kosecki 
Third-year Dental Student, Class of 2023
University of Michigan School of Dentistry

Brianna Kosecki is a third-year dental student at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry (U-M SOD). She received her B.S. in Biology at Saginaw Valley State University in 2019. She is active in many dental school organizations and currently is Co-president of Alpha Omega and is the Committee Member for the Governmental and Insurance Affairs for the Michigan Dental Association through the American Student Dental Association at U-M SOD. In her free time, she enjoys many hobbies, such as hiking, travelling, reading, art and cooking.