The days are long, but the weeks are short. My friends and I have come to the consensus that we can use the previous statement to describe our perception of time in college. Every day, we spend hours upon hours balancing classes, studying, extracurricular activities, leadership roles and, for some of us, jobs. Factor in the time we need to eat, sleep and maintain personal hygiene (don’t forget to floss!), we’ve established a lengthy quotidian routine and, before we know it, summer is upon us.
So how do we fill our time away from the responsibilities of the school year? By diving into our other passions! Clearly, dentistry is one of such passions, as we happily identify as predental students, but we don’t have to limit ourselves. If your passions include soccer, reading to children at a library, painting murals or singing in hospitals, go out and find a way to be involved. We spend a good amount of time worrying about the academic side of getting into dental school during the year, so now it’s time to focus on being a well-rounded future applicant during the summer. Remember that most dental schools review applicants holistically, taking into consideration more than just the GPA on your transcript. From what I have learned from friends who have been accepted to dental school, admissions officers and current dental professionals, I would argue that unique summer experiences outside of dentistry make applicants just as competitive, if not more so.
A Summer of Firsts
When the spring semester of my freshman year rolled around, I wasted no time contacting dental offices back home to see if I could shadow during the summer. My first response came from an orthodontic office at which I had shadowed the orthodontist for a day during seventh grade. Side note: I have wanted to be a dentist since I was five years old, but that day of shadowing in seventh grade evolved my aspiration to become an orthodontist.
The office manager said it would be fine for me to shadow and provided the office hours. Through our email communications, I was under the impression that I would be coming in every day for at least a few weeks, so I planned my summer around the shadowing. As time passed, I continued to look for other potential shadowing or internship experiences, but I struggled to find offices that would allow me to shadow more than just a couple of days.
Out of the blue, my good friend asked me if I would want to work as a residential advisor for a summer program. She had been offered the position, but unfortunately could not accept it because her student visa did not allow it, so she kindly referred me as a good candidate for the position. Suddenly, I had a month-long job opportunity in Pennsylvania, where I had never been before, and my original summer plans were turned upside down, but for the better.
Returning to my original plan, I had the impression that I would be able to shadow at the orthodontic office for a month. However, when I contacted the office again in May to confirm my summer opportunity, the office manager informed me I would be shadowing for only one week. Although I was disappointed to find out I would not be going in weekly, I was still excited for the summer ahead. Once finals ended and I moved home, I spent the next few weeks reviewing chemistry coursework and helping my family with chores.
Finally, my week of shadowing arrived. I learned so much from the orthodontist and staff and was also lucky enough to gain a chance to shadow at the dentist’s office next door. Through these experiences I reaffirmed my desire to pursue dentistry and my love for orthodontics. I also realized I would be most happy as either a general dentist or orthodontist.
The weekend after shadowing, I flew to Pennsylvania where I stayed for a month as a residential advisor for a summer program at the University of Pennsylvania for incoming high school freshmen. Later, I was able to travel to New York City for the first time! I fell in love with both NYC and Philadelphia and learned a lot from the young students and my fellow residential advisors (coincidentally, one of my co-RAs is a predental student as well!). Once the program ended, I traveled to Boston, where I had never been to before, and then New Hampshire where I saw mountains for the first time and actually hiked one. My out-of-state adventures then came to an end, followed by a quick two weeks back home during which time I acquired an additional opportunity to shadow my former pediatric dentist’s office for a day. My summer closed with one last interactive activity during a week as a counselor for Camp Kesem.
Truly, my summer was an unexpected season of firsts. Even though I didn’t spend a month shadowing a dentist or getting ahead on studying for the DAT as I originally planned, I gained a renewed fervor for my academic and personal goals in ways I could never have imagined. When making summer plans, go ahead and find opportunities (dentistry related or not) that interest you. Be a tour guide, teach an art class at a nursing home, help coach a soccer team or volunteer at a nonprofit dental clinic. Follow your passions and you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll grow as an individual. Good luck!
P.S. My current summer plans include working part-time at the same orthodontic office as a sterilization technician while studying for the DAT.
University of Miami
Aileen Cruz-Lezama is a predental sophomore at the University of Miami. She is majoring in Microbiology and Immunology, with a minor in French. On top of her rigorous studies, Aileen is heavily involved on campus as secretary of the UCatholic Campus Ministry, a counselor for Camp Kesem Miami and an active member of the American Society of Pre-Dental Students, Alpha Epsilon Delta, HOSA-Future Health Professionals and Miami Aviators Club. Additionally, she works as a desk assistant at the main library and last semester also worked as a sterilization technician at a nearby orthodontic office. Aileen is passionate about environmental sustainability and hopes to do research in the field to find ways to incorporate eco-friendly practices in dentistry.