A PIPELINE TO DENTISTRY
Words by Merry Sue Baum
regory Devries knew in high school that he wanted to go into health care, but he didn't know which career to choose. He loved science and biology, so he thought medicine might be the profession for him. Then again, he always enjoyed working with his hands, so maybe dentistry was a better fit. So, the Kinnelon, NJ, resident enrolled in the Decision for Dentistry program at New Jersey Dental School ( NJDS) .
The unique pipeline program for high schoolers, particularly minority students, is unlike any in the country. It gives qualified students the opportunity to spend three days on campus while the dental school is in session. The teens take dental impressions on mannequins in the clinic, observe procedures being performed on patients, and learn how to prepare for dental school. They find out everything from what college courses they need to what to wear to their dental school interview.
After completing Decision, Devries thought dentistry was probably right for him, but to be absolutely sure, he enrolled in Gateway to Dentistry. A n intense, two-week program for undergraduates, Gateway, like dental school itself, is extremely competitive. There are only 30 available spots and 150 to 300 applicants. Every student is assigned a student mentor and can opt to live on campus. The participants perform hands-on clinical techniques on artificial teeth and mannequins, and learn about research opportunities and various dental careers, as well as the details involved in the admissions and financial aid processes.
The program gave Devries the answer he was looking for. "Gateway really did it for me," he says. "I wasn't even finished with the program, and I knew dentistry was it. There was no doubt in my mind." Now known as Dr. Devries, the brand new alumnus is the first NJDS graduate to have completed all the pipeline programs available at the time. Devries will be pursuing a general practice residency and then go into private practice. "The pipeline programs are great," he says. "I highly recommend them. They were definitely instrumental in helping me make a major life decision."
Unlike Devries, Allison Striano knew at age 6 she wanted to be a dentist. A second-year student at NJDS, she recalls that on career day in first grade, a classmate brought her father, a dentist, to their Nutley, NJ, school. "I was fascinated by what he said," she comments. "He left pamphlets on dentistry, and I asked if I could take two. I guarded them with my life. Becoming a dentist was all I ever wanted to do." Even as she got older and had semi-annual dental check-ups, Striano never wavered. When her high school guidance counselor told her about the pipeline program, she immediately applied. "I absolutely loved Decision for Dentistry, and I wanted more," she says. "When I got to college, I enrolled in Gateway to Dentistry." She became NJDS's second student to go through both programs and then be admitted to the dental school.
Striano says the programs did more than cement her career choice; they gave her an inside look at NJDS. "I interviewed at three other dental schools on the East Coast, but I didn't feel the same warmth I felt here," she says. "Everyone here, the faculty, students and staff, were extremely helpful and welcoming. I knew this was the school for me."