This is a question we are frequently asked at Pre-Dental Advice. You will hear a wide variety of opinions, but it really depends on your circumstance and how you want to present yourself on your application.
So, How Many Hours?
If you're looking for a simple answer to how many hours you should shadow for dental school, we would recommend 100 hours at a minimum. We would prefer around 150. If you'd really like to stand out on your application, you could do even more.
The Bigger Question
Still reading? Great!
When it comes to dental shadowing, we believe there is both a qualitative and quantitative aspect to it. Most schools have a minimum of at least 100 hours of shadowing a dentist, but what they really want to know is "does this applicant really know this is the right career for them?" What they really want to avoid is accepting a student into their program who realizes he/she hates dentistry. Your objective in shadowing is to decide if dentistry is right for you, and if it is, have the experiences to back up your decision.
The Quantitative Aspect
We already gave some rough numbers above, but let's break those shadowing numbers down. Let's say your goal is to accumulate 150 shadowing hours before applying to dental school. Let's also say you don't start shadowing until the beginning of your sophomore year of college. Evenly with less than a 2-year timetable before applying (assuming you apply between your junior and senior years), you would only need to shadow twice per month for about 3.5 hours per session to reach your goal. Let's say your goal is 250 and you start shadowing your freshman year of college, This works out to about 8 hours per month, or two, four-hour sessions each month. These numbers are definitely achievable.
Why would you do more?
You might wonder why would you want to do more than the minimum required hours for the schools you plan to apply to. Let us list a few here:
You are still trying to decide. You might be getting close to the time to apply and you are starting to really ponder if dentistry is the right career for you. It might be beneficial to shadow a couple of new offices or different specialties to get a new perspective.
Other aspects of your application may be weaker. If you feel this, a higher amount of shadowing hours may give you the edge you need on your application. Seeing a higher amount of shadowing hours won't always make up for inadequate portions of your application, but it definitely can't hurt it either!
You need more quality experiences. We'll discuss this in just a minute, but maybe you haven't had one of those "wow" experiences yet that you'd like to be able to share in an interview. The only way to get quality dental shadowing experiences is by being in the office.
The Qualitative Aspect
When it comes to dental shadowing, there is the minimum amount of hours you need as discussed above, but what is even more important is the quality of your shadowing hours. What do we mean by this? When you are preparing to apply, you will need experiences that you can call back on that you know solidified your desire to become a dentist. You might mention an experience you had as part of your personal statement. There is a 100% chance that you will be asked during your interview "So, why do you want to be a dentist?". This question is best asked through your personal experiences with dentistry and the experiences you had while shadowing.
When trying to decide if you need more shadowing experiences, ask yourself the following questions.
Do I have multiple "wow" experiences that I can share when asked why I want to be a dentist?
Do I have a good answer to "what was your favorite experience while shadowing?"
Do I understand the basics of dental procedures?
Are there more procedures I would like to see and learn more about?
Am I certain I would like to be a dentist?
If you have reached your "quantitative" goal (hours) of shadowing, and feel confident about your "qualitative" aspect (experiences) with dentistry, you feel confident in the shadowing aspect of your application.
Do you have other questions about shadowing? How many hours do you plan to shadow? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!