Trying Dentistry on for Size
o doubt it’s one of life’s hardest — and most important — decisions, and many stumble badly along the way. A wrong turn can cost tens of thousands of dollars and much wasted time.
Some recent college grads set off on soul-searching journeys; others call upon the insights of career counselors and study mammoth how-to guides; a few even ask parents for help.
They are trying to answer a question that jangles even the most steadfast: “What will you do with the rest of your life?” At age 21 — with an ever-growing plethora of options and a serious lack of information — the answer often appears elusive. It was a stroke of brilliance and consummate timing that set Kim Fenesy, DMD, and Blaise Curcio, DMD, on a mission to found a career program par excellence at UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School (NJDS) in June 2000. Fenesy is associate dean for student affairs and an associate
professor at the school, Curcio a
former faculty member.
College students surfing the Web, while ruminating about their futures, come across an invitation —
posted on the NJDS Web site — to attend dental school for two weeks. For those “kind-of thinking” of becoming a
dentist, it can be the most influential
invitation of their lives. In fact, in just 10 days, most students matriculating in the Gateway to Dentistry Program at NJDS know if a career in the field is in their cards.
“The program is hands-on,” says Fenesy, “and truly unique because of the major
involvement of so many of our dental school faculty members.”
With two sessions each year, in January and May, and 30 accepted each
go-round, the competition to attend is quite stiff. Approximately 150 applications are submitted per session, each including a transcript and letters of recommendation. “The criteria for acceptance are much the same as for admission to the school,” explains Jeanette DeCastro, Gateway’s director. The admissions committee also looks for evidence of interest in dentistry and demonstration of initiative in finding out more about the profession. “A wait list is created and students who have applied and been turned down multiple times are counseled as to how to strengthen their applications,” says DeCastro. Most of those accepted into Gateway are in their sophomore or junior year of college. But the program also attracts recent college
graduates and those looking to make a career change.
Fenesy says that most of the students, when asked about the program’s impact, say it solidified their decision to become a dentist. They generally express relief at having made that decision early on in their college years.
But for some, it clearly achieves just the opposite. “We’ve had a few students who say ‘This is really not for me.’ That’s a very good thing – it’s a lot better than starting dental school and then finding out it’s not a good fit,” she states.
||Left to right: Kim Fenesy, DMD, NJDS associate dean for student affairs and associate professor Maritza Camacho, liason for the Gateway to Dentistry Program; and Jeanette DeCastro, director, Gateway Program.
Although each group is different, the program always draws students from across the country. One of its goals is to attract highly qualified students who left the state to attend college, but are considering a return for
graduate school, says Fenesy.
“We accept the most qualified applicants. The groups tend to be pretty diverse,
including many Asians and African Americans, and slightly more than 50 percent women,”
Faculty members tell participants what attracted them to the profession, what it’s like to practice, and also discuss the nuts and bolts of specialization. Students begin to see what their lives will be like if they choose this profession, Fenesy explains. The 10 days also include hands-on projects in the lab, observation time in the clinics, lectures and even informal meetings with an NJDS
student “buddy,” usually a third or fourth year dental school student who came through the Gateway Program.
“We were stunned by the quality of the last group,” Fenesy comments. “Many were from Ivy League schools, they had very high grade point averages, and a large number were from out of state.”
Do Gateway students have a “leg up” when applying to NJDS? The associate dean says the program is most definitely a
recruitment tool that works in favor of both potential students and the school. “The
students feel good about the program and the school, and they get to know the faculty, so they feel a level of comfort,” she says, “and NJDS brings some top students to its campus.”
What’s the cost of two weeks of dental school? An application fee of $20 and an equipment deposit of $25 (returned to the student at the end of the program) are all that’s required. NJDS Dean Cecile Feldman underwrites the other costs, and also furnishes several lunches, so that potential students have time to chat with current students and faculty. So, the answer to that question that has caused so many sleepless nights may be closer than you think at http://dentalschool.umdnj.edu/
BS/DMD: The Seven-Year Program
A year of college is an expensive proposition these days. For those with an early vision of where their career path will lead, the BS-DMD degrees can be earned in seven, rather than the usual eight, years. Students complete three years, including specified required courses, at their undergraduate schools and four years at NJDS. The BS degree is granted by the undergraduate school when the student completes the first year of dental school. Participating undergraduate schools are: Caldwell College, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ramapo College, Richard Stockton State College, Rowan University, Rutgers University, Saint Peter’s College and Stevens Institute of Technology. The NJDS Office
of Admissions can provide particulars.
For younger students interested in the sciences and wanting a jump on choosing a career, NJDS launched a high school program called Decision for Dentistry in 2004. It’s a “shorter, more age-appropriate version of Gateway,” says DeCastro, who planned the program, and “it is intended to introduce students in the Newark community and its environs to what dentistry is all about.”
“After just one year, we’ve had some Decision for Dentistry students express interest in Gateway and apply for our seven-year program,” says DeCastro. “I guess that’s what it’s all about.”