Saturday, March 16, 2013

So Why Don't You Want to be a Doctor?

I get this question a lot. I used to be in a pre-health sorority, and many people assumed I was pre-med. Even into my junior year, I would get a surprised "Oh, I thought you were pre-med!", when I'd whip out my DAT book, or talk about dental schools that I wanted to go to.

So I'll start by explaining why I think the dental profession is a different planet in the galaxy of medicine. 

1) There's an element of art/creativity to it, and every service you provide requires manual dexterity. So if you don't have good hand-eye coordination, this may not be the profession for you.
2) You're mainly dealing with teeth and jaws (haha if that's not the most obvious thing you've heard today..). In dental school, anatomy labs usually focus on everything above the torso.
3) You can provide immediate results - If someone has a cavity, you have the tools to fix it, allowing your patients to walk out with less pain than when they entered. 
4) Dentistry operates on a very small scale. I mean we're talking about surfaces of teeth here, so it requires a lot of precision and attention to fine detail.
5) Dentistry is both diagnostic and surgical.

Now, those all dealt with technical aspects of the profession, but as far as the human aspect goes, I would say (and I think Annie and Kathleen would agree) that health professionals all have a similar responsibility to their patients - to be as  honest, compassionate, non-judgmental, and comprehensive in their care as possible.


To me, dentistry is an opportunity to give someone a smile, and as corny as that sounds, I'd like you to hear me out. A smile means more than being able to cheese it up for a photo, it means giving someone the confidence to represent themselves without judgement. Working at a free clinic that sees many homeless and low-income patients, I've seen how someone's oral hygiene can drastically impact their chances for employment, or potential to move up in a job. Here's a great example: one patient had a license to be an EMT, but could not get hired. When he first came to our clinic, many of his teeth were chipped/cracked/discolored, or missing entirely. Over 2 years, with many extractions, fillings, root canals, and eventually, dentures, he walked out of our clinic with a complete smile. Since then, he's been hired as an EMT. 

Moral of the story? This patient could finally be judged for the quality of his work and his character, not by his appearance. 

Dentistry has the ability to impact not only how you perceive yourself, but how others perceive you.


  1. Hey Rachel, I am a current 3rd year pre-dental student at Cal and was looking for more ways to get involved in my community. I was wondering which free clinic you volunteered at so that I can also look into more ways to get more clinical dental experience! Thanks, and I hope dental school is treating you well! :)

    1. Hello! I was a volunteer at the Berkeley Free Clinic, and also shadowed at a dental office in Oakland. There are always opportunities to see clinical dentistry in action - you just have to ask at enough places! Not every office is willing to accept students to come shadow them, but most are willing to have you around for a half day or so to just see what the workflow is like. Good luck and go bears! :)