Mistakes

Although I completed my equivalency examinations and interviews for dental school several years ago, I am frequently asked about mistakes that can be avoided. These are some of the mistakes I made back when I was applying to dental schools, and later on, as a dental student.

Mistake #1: waiting for a call

Foreign trained dentists need to take bench examinations as part of the qualification process for dental school admissions. I began preparing far too late for these tests. In fact, I waited till I got my my first interview call. You need to anticipate a call and start preparing months in advance. That is what will give you a fighting chance. The ratio of dental school acceptances at the time was 1:500. It is probably even more challenging now. You are competing with smart and motivated people. Do not take the experience lightly.

Mistake #2: having too much pride

This may come as a surprise, but like many dentists I too am naturally introverted. Not getting into dental school for the first 2 years changed my perspective on building relationships with others. I began viewing other candidates as colleagues rather than as competition. When you are at a loss of what to do next, you have to eat your pride and start talking to your peers and asking for help. Remember that there is tremendous power within your network. Statistics say, that you already know the people who can help you find a job, start a practice, and introduce you to a future partner. The difference is in you not making the effort to build an authentic relationship first.

Statistics say, that you already know the people who can help you find a job, start a practice, and introduce you to a future partner. The difference is in you not making the effort to build an authentic relationship first.

Mistake #3: blowing an ask

Don’t blow your ask. An old classmate reached out to me last year, hoping to get introduced to a few people in the area. I was initially very excited to do this for her and organized a list of resources in advance. However, on the 40-minute phone call, she appeared confused about her vision, continued to talk only about herself and her problems, and asked me little to no questions. Although her intention may have been to ask for contacts, she did not ask me any question related to it. I remember wondering how often I had blown my ask, simply by not having thought my ideas through.

Mistake #4: being shy

I had a junior reach out to me a few years ago. I was already a practicing dentist by then and he was a dental school applicant. He asked a few questions about bench testing and interviews. I could tell he had done his research and was being careful about not taking up too much of my time. I felt genuinely moved by our conversation and offered a shadowing opportunity at my clinic. Even a small phone call can sometimes open doors for you. Always make sure to put on your best when speaking with someone and be open to opportunities that come to you!

Even a small phone call can sometimes open doors for you.

Mistake #5: unable to take criticism

Don’t be afraid of feedback. Thank all the people who have critiqued you in the past because they have given you things to work on. As an ex-student of Toastmasters, I never thought I lacked public speaking skills. However, after my second cycle of rejections, I went to see my sister’s friend. He helped hopeful Ivy league undergrads prep for interviews. He pointed out a ton of things to me, from body language to enunciation. It was very difficult to hear that at first. However, I was desperate. I went to work on all of the things he pointed out and improved dramatically. Some of his feedback helps me in my patient encounters even today.

Mistake #6: not networking

If you do have a pick of schools, choose wisely. Factor in clinical reputation, tuition, future relocation abilities, and an alumni network. Remember you will need to take state boards at some point. Better to be at a school where you can sit the exam, and not have to fly patients out. Think about whether you want to settle down in the area where you go to school. If not, build a robust network in your home state. You will need help while looking for a job, buying a practice and building a personal brand.

Mistake #7: ignoring ‘self-help’ books and courses

Helpful advice I got a year ago: for every hour of clinical education you acquire, also put in an hour of self-improvement, by reading a book, taking a business course or listening to a Ted Talk. When I was preparing myself for practice ownership, I felt like I was starting from scratch! I was learning how to communicate, lead my team at work, hire, read body language and gain case acceptance, all at once. As a practicing dentist, I can safely attest that working on your soft skills will give you more success and fulfillment in your profession than any number of clinical courses you take.

Working on your soft skills will give you more success and fulfillment in your profession than any number of clinical courses you take.

Mistake #8: not being intentional

Before signing up for a speakers’ lecture or attending a clinical course, ask yourself, ‘will I need this to achieve the goals I’ve set out for the next year?’ You will be tempted to attend all kinds of courses. However, if you keep reminding yourself of your goals and your WHY, you’ll continue to be intentional and not fall into the ‘marketing’ trap others do. Also, read ‘Find your Why’ by Simon Sinek if you haven’t already.

If you keep reminding yourself of your goals and your WHY, you’ll continue to be intentional and not fall into the ‘marketing’ trap others do.

Mistake #9: thinking ‘why not me?’

Don’t lost faith in yourself; just keep going. Don’t look at other peoples’ successes and think ‘why not me?’ Instead heartily congratulate them, and when the time is right, ask them for advice. ‘Hey, I would love to get feedback from you on my application. What do you think I can do next year to give me a better chance?’ Most people will have very constructive advice for you. One of my best friends today got into dental school a year ahead of me. I was proud of her but also nervous about calling her. I was embarrassed, and feared judgement. After I called her, I realized my pride is just all in my head. She offered authentic feedback, made me feel good about my progress and recommended two courses I take. I followed through on her advice and got in the following year.  

Mistake #10: not taking the time to ‘relax’

Life is long. The odds are you will get into dental school, become a world class dentist and make all your dreams come true. You have a lot of time! It is a marathon not a sprint after all. While you want to hustle and work on your career, it’s important to take care of your physical and mental health too. In fact, this profession requires you to build tenacity and patience. Inculcate your hobbies, meet with friends and family, travel, read, and make the most of your journey to dental school and beyond.

I had a lot of fun the year before I ‘finally’ got accepted. I hung out with friends in San Francisco, danced the night away in Vegas, hiked and skied in Tahoe, and biggest thing of all, met my future husband!

Are you a dental student? Do you have questions for me? Ask below!

2 thoughts on “Mistakes

  1. I loooovvedd this post, Sampada!! I can relate and attest to so many things you said and your last point brought such a big smile on my face! 🙂

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