When someone asks me the question “What is the path to becoming a dentist?” I am always at a loss of words of how exactly to respond. The path to dentistry is so multifaceted and contains several different routes, but I am always eager to share the path that I took.

Growing up with a mom as a general dentist, I was exposed to the field from an early age. After shadowing a few offices in high school, I decided to apply for accelerated programs when applying to college. The goal of accelerated programs is to shorten the amount of time spent in undergraduate. I applied to and was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania 7-year bio-dental program which included 3 years of college and an admission into the 4-year DMD program at Penn Dental Medicine. In my application, I emphasized my ability to use my hands, my dedication to health care, and my drive to serve others. The 7-year bio dental program required that I maintain a cumulative 3.5 GPA and obtain a 19 on the DAT (Dental Admission Test). Because I didn’t feel the pressure to overextend myself in extracurricular activities, I chose to participate in clubs that I was especially interested in. For example, I was active in the Vietnamese Students Association and was a tutor for students in West Philly high schools. When the time came to prepare for the DAT, I spoke to peers who had taken the exam and DAT Bootcamp, an exam prep software was highly recommended. The program outlined a 10-week study schedule which I followed to prepare for the exam. The DAT consists of 4 sections: Survey of the Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability Test, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning Test.

One of the most daunting aspects of pursuing a career in dentistry is the high cost of dental school, average around $37,000/year for public schools and $67,000/year for private schools. Students choose to finance their education in various ways such as through student loans, family aid, or scholarships. Once accepted into Penn Dental, I began doing research on ways to finance my dental school education and came across the Military HPSP scholarship (Health Professions Scholarship Program). Through this scholarship, one branch of the military will finance one’s dental school education, with your commitment of serving that specific branch upon graduation. After speaking with various current and past scholarship recipients, I chose to accept the HPSP scholarship through the Navy, and I was drawn to this program for the job and financial security post-graduation, the mentorship I would receive while serving, and the desire to serve my country.

As I write this blog, I am finishing up the fall semester of my D2 year. This semester was arguably the toughest semester I have experienced thus far. The restrictions due to COVID combined with the rigor of didactic classes and lab courses have challenged me in a way unparalleled to anything I’ve ever experienced before. While my journey was a little different compared to the average student, I hope this blog demonstrated one path that someone could take in order to pursue a career in dentistry.