In recent years,
more and more people have been applying to dental school later in life,
sometimes after pursuing another career, starting a family or just waiting a
few years. Generally, these individuals have come to this decision after much
thought and research and are now committed to their goal of becoming a dentist.
Wendi Clanton, third-year dental student at Dental College of
Georgia at Augusta University, recently connected with the ADEA GoDental team
to share her experiences and advice as someone who recently made a career
change to dentistry. Read on to hear how she made her way back to her first
love of the dental professions later in her career.
GoDental (GD): When did you decide to pursue a career in dentistry?
Clanton (WC): From the
moment I walked out of my first dental exam/cleaning at three years old, I knew
I was going to be a dentist. I never questioned that decision until 11th grade
when I took physics—I wasn’t going to pursue any career that required me to
take that class again!
decided to be an educator and earned a degree in early childhood education. I
enjoyed my time as a teacher and even miss it sometimes, but I found it more
and more difficult to deal with the red tape, bureaucracy and decreasing
ability to teach my students as I knew they needed to be taught. I then
realized a career change was necessary.
A friend who
worked for a pediatric dental office knew of my previous desire to be a dentist
and she encouraged me to think about a career change to the dental professions.
So, I went back to school to take the necessary classes to apply to dental
school, shadowed several dentists who provided invaluable insight, studied like
a madwoman for the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and then applied to a handful of
GD: Describe the impact of your career
WC: My family is my biggest source of
strength (and sometimes stress) while in dental school. My husband is an
elementary school physical education teacher, and we have three kids, ages 18,
13 and 9. My husband works full time in his profession, and continues to
contribute in managing the household. He chauffeurs our kids to their sports
and church activities, makes dinner, puts the kids to bed when I have a late
night of studying and keeps the house picked up. Our 18-year-old daughter, who
recently moved across the country to start her own educational journey, was
extremely helpful when she was home. She picked up grocery orders, made dinner,
watched her younger brothers and is still my cheerleader when I’m having a
rough day. My other two kids are as helpful as can be expected, but they still
require a fair bit of supervision and prodding. I absolutely could not do this
without my family!
GD: Did you have any difficulty balancing
school and life?
WC: As a non-traditional applicant turned
dental student, I have to measure success differently than the typical dental
student. I don’t have the grades that I would if I was able to focus only on me
and my academic career. I don’t have hours and hours to spend studying—and I
definitely don’t have the memory I did at 23! I have learned to be happy with
myself (and my grades) by putting my very best effort into studying and letting
that be enough. I can’t ignore my family to get better grades—I tried that
during my freshman year and my mental health, and my family, suffered because
of it. During my second year, I heard a fellow dental student advise a group of
predents to “Find whatever aspect of dental school that means the most to you
and focus on that.” It was a revelation and helped me see things a little
GD: What advice would you give future
dental students who might be in a similar situation?
WC: I have three pieces of advice for
nontraditional applicants. First, spend as much time as possible shadowing
several dentists to make sure it’s exactly what you want to do. Ask them about
ALL the parts of being a dentist—good, bad and the ugly. Make sure it’s exactly
what you want to do and what’s right for your family before you ask them to make
life-altering changes as well.
Second, find a
school that fits your needs. Talk to other nontraditional students at each
school you apply to and find out what they like and dislike about their
schools. Make sure the school you go to is supportive of students with
families. For example, what happens if you have a sick child and need to miss
school—will you get an excused absence? What about maternity/paternity leave if
you want to expand your family during dental school?
sure you have your support system in place before you start school. Have a
discussion with your significant other about the changes in household and
parenting duties that will take place once you’re spending 12+ hours a day in
class, studying and doing lab work. Research child care in your area. Talk to
your kids about what you will expect from them. Find a church that can give you
the spiritual support you will need. Dental school, especially the first two
years, is grueling. Being prepared can make the transition a little bit less
resources for Nontraditional Applicants and Career Changers.