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How to be a Stand Out Applicant During COVID-19

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Here are three tips on how you can stand out as an applicant during a global pandemic despite the obvious limitations.

1. How can I fulfill my shadowing requirements if I can't safely enter a dental setting?

Shadowing is a large proponent of the pre-dental journey. It's often how we validate that dentistry would be a life long profession that would yield personal fulfillment. Since it's not feasible to enter any dental setting at the moment electively, I offer you an alternative: conduct an informational interview with dental students/ residents/ and dentists in your time off. The reality is that the entire dental profession except emergency treatment is barred at home for the foreseeable future until it's deemed safe to return to work. It has never been easier to reach out to a dental professional via e-mail or phone call and pick their brains.

How do you achieve this in a meaningful manner?

- Reach out to 5-10 dentists in your area (via yelp), dental students and residents (on social media or through each school's admissions contact) and ask to schedule a 30-minute zoom meeting.

- Prepare ahead of time and ask open-ended questions. I guarantee you will be surprised how much you can learn about dentistry through a conversation in your own home.

In doing so, you gather the expertise of multiple people who have forged the same path before you and can further craft your discovery with dentistry. This helps a great deal later on in interviews too.

For a detailed approach on how to successfully conduct an informational interview, please read this post on A Long Term Approach to Master Your Interview.


2. What do I do about my extracurricular activities and volunteering during shelter-in-place?

I know many of you have been involved in your college experience in student-run clinics, tutoring, volunteering at community events, etc. The best thing to do for your health and your loved ones is to practice social distancing and to only leave your safe corridors for essential needs. If you are healthy and want to contribute to your community during this time, consider the following:

- Volunteer at a local face mask/ face shield making event. One barrier that will prevent health care workers from returning to the workforce is the lack of proper infection control (PPE). It will take a village to procure enough face shields and masks for dental professionals to safely deliver care. This is an excellent activity you can donate your hands and time to at the moment. You can even put it on your manual dexterity application as "sewing masks or using a 3D printer to create face shields".

Pictured above on the top, Victoria Nguyen (UCSF D4) volunteering with UCSF Maker's lab to 3D print face shields. On the bottom, Victoria Chen (UCLA D4 and rising OMFS Resident) working among 60 volunteers to fabricate 2.5k face shields to donate to Harbor Hospital, VA hospital, and all across Los Angeles hospital.

- Volunteer at a local food bank. Food insecurity is a national crisis the United States is currently facing. Considering children that were previously fed two meals a day through their school, state and federal aid is limited in being able to provide stable food for families. Aside from wanting to be an excellent dental school applicant, this would be a wonderful humanistic thing to do in your spare time.

Pictured above are UCSF students (Rising D4 Lincoln Nguyen) and UCSF health care workers organizing a local food pantry for expecting and current parents.

Doing these activities not only demonstrates empathy as an applicant, but it also shows an understanding of how COVID-19 has affected health care and communities across the world.


3. How can I utilize this time at home to be my best self as an applicant?

Applying to dental school will be one of the most reflective times of your life. I was never used to talking about myself, let alone "selling myself", and in hindsight, I was not prepared to deal with the stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that comes along with this process.

One piece of advice I want to share with you all that I wish I put into practice back then: find some wellness activities that help you in managing stress and anxiety. If you can utilize your free time to practice forming habits, I promise you'll use it time and time again in dental school and as a practicing provider. The path we are all forging is exciting, fulfilling, and filled with life long learning. It, however, is also incredibly stressful and takes a mental and physical toll on our bodies.

For me, I have found a love for long-distance running before starting dental school and it's been my crutch through some stressful times. Since COVID-19, I have connected with reading. And guys, this was crazy for me. Confession: I've never been one to read for pleasure, and the last full book I read before a global pandemic was probably in AP English "To Kill A Mockingbird" or "Ender's Game". I always felt resistant to reading and defaulted using my free time to watching Netflix or working out. The silver lining of all this ample time is that I have found a new escape from the external stresses of the world and now am on my fifth book of quarantine!

For Wilson, he's found an appreciation in weight lifting and continues to hone his musical talents through UCSF's acapella group. Whatever your outlet maybe ie. yoga, baking, bike riding, music, etc., I invite you all to find an outlet that you can rely on when stress inevitably creeps up on you.


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