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How To Write A GREAT Dental School Personal Statement

Updated: May 18

You've got everything in order for your dental school application (DAT scores, Transcripts, Shadowing) except one last remaining item, the personal statement. You've looked at it and looked at it again multiple times, only to realize that there are zero instructions on how to write it. It literally only has two words on it, "Personal Statement" and nothing else... What are you suppose to do?

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Table of Contents:

Introduction - Why is a personal statement so difficult to write?

It is incredibly difficult to write due to the breadth of the topic and the inherent vagueness of what you're suppose to answer. In regards to it's open-endedness, it is equivalent in complexity to the interview question, "So, tell me about yourself." The only difference is that this is being asked in a written format as opposed to a verbal one.

The reason why most people get stuck on how to start writing it

The reason for why the vast majority of people get stuck on how to write it is because they're looking for a question to answer but slowly realize that there isn't actually a question to answer. Akin to the interview question above, it is technically not a question but rather a directive statement.

Yes, that is correct. People get stuck on trying to find a question to answer except for the fact that there is no question. This is very different from all of the other questions that are part of your supplemental dental school applications.

Some common questions in the supplemental applications:

  • Why do you want to go to this school?

  • What are you strengths?

  • What are you weaknesses?

Are you curious as to what you are supposed to do in this case? There is a legitimate purpose to a personal statement (PS) and its not there just to put you on the spot or see what kind of creativity this prospective dental student can create out of thin air... But, before that we should address one widely held misconception.

The greatest fallacy of a dental school personal statement

Despite not having a direct question to answer, the vast majority of us could unanimously agree that the most important question which you should answer in a personal statement is, "Why do you want to be a dentist?" but that in itself is the greatest fallacy. It is an important question but it is not THE most important question which you should answer.

Imagine for a second if you were an admissions committee member (ADCOM) reading through all of these statements.

  • They're all trying to tell you why they want to be a dentist.

  • They're all listing traits and characteristics of what will make them a good dentist

  • They're telling you stories about their experiences with dentistry.

  • They're trying to tell you what it is that led them to wanting to choose dentistry as a career.

Basically, you're trying to convince whoever is reading your statement that you'd make a good candidate for the next incoming class of dental students. But you should pause for a moment and rethink that. Is that really the most important thing running through the admissions committee member's head when they are reading this?

Are they simply choosing another kid to be one of the next dental students? No, that couldn't be further from the truth because the admissions committee member's job is far more important than that. They're not just choosing another dental student, they're choosing a future colleague because the ADCOMs are the gatekeepers of their respective profession. Only one question runs through their mind while they're reading your personal statement.

Is he/she one of us?

That is THE most important question that you must answer in your dental school personal statement. It actually sums up all four of the bullet points above about what people try to write about. Is he/she one of us?

The actual purpose of a personal statement

The entire purpose of your dental school personal statement is built around convincing the ADCOM that you are one of them. You're not writing about why you want to be a dentist because that only helps you sort out your feelings in regards to the decision that you're about to make. Its relevant but doesn't directly answer the question on their mind.

They're not screening for a dental student but for a future colleague and where they draw the line is by determining which side of the line you fall on.

Are you on our side?

That is an incredibly important concept to understand. Imagine a multi disciplinary conference where dentists, physicians, optometrists, and pharmacists all congregated together. After about a few minutes of casual conversing, all of the dentists would most likely all congregate together because they not only bond over daily experiences but they also inherently know who is one of them just through conversation.

Alternatively, if you've ever had a retail job or any job for that matter. All of your coworkers all stand on one side because you're one team and then there is everyone else, namely the customers. Whenever an incident between a staff member and a customer occurs, think of the words that are being used.

  • We were just doing our jobs!

  • They started making a mess by tearing clothes off the shelf.

  • They were drinking a smoothie while browsing clothes and spilled all over it.

  • We had to clean up after them before the store manager returned.

So, which side are you on and how do you get from one side to the other?

Tips for what you should include in the personal statement

  • Make the first sentence count and the whole first paragraph for that matter.

  • You should tell a story.

  • Acknowledge the challenges of dentistry.

Make the first sentence count and the whole first paragraph for that matter.

You need to make an impact and that impact needs to be destructive because people will skim read so you need to grab them immediately and never let go. This is the perfect place to incorporate industry jargon or something that only an insider would know about and be able to relate to.

  • All the patients refer to them as xrays but we use different terms such as PAs, BWs, FMX, and PANO.

  • Demonstrate to me that you are an insider and not an outsider.

Do it tactfully because we know that you are not yet a dentist but at the same time we need to know that you're not just blowing hot air. How would you know this information? Well, what did you think the shadowing was for? Heh. There are a million more examples, be creative.

You should tell a story.

Highlight your strengths through telling a story, for example if you want your reader to know that you're a dedicated hard worker, don't just state that you are a hard worker because all healthcare professionals are trained through experience that patients are typically poor historians. We sort of apply that concept to all information that we receive in life and a prospective dental student giving us information is no different.

Let me tell you a story. Back in residency when we were on call to repair facial lacerations... most of the patients that were brought in would tell us that they tripped and fell, therefore sustained a 5 inch laceration across their face. What we write in our clinical notes is as such:

  • Patient allegedly tripped and fell, sustaining a 5 inch laceration across their face.

The keyword is allegedly because we don't know if it is true or not but simply what the patient stated. The same applies to your PS, you're allegedly a dedicated hard worker.

In order for you to sound more convincing, you need to tell it to me in a colorful story. Don't even mention that you're a dedicated hard worker but instead you should say something along the lines about how you're the last one to leave after work and you've even stayed quite a few times well after your shift has ended just to finish up your work. That invokes the image of a hard worker without even having to mention it.

Acknowledge the challenges in dentistry.

You know that as glamorous as dentistry may seem to you, it is a HARD profession. It isn't all rainbows and unicorns all the time because it is ROUGH being a dentist. There is the good, the bad, and the ugly but that is the same as any other profession. You should acknowledge the bad and maybe even some of the ugly at least briefly within your personal statement.

What that tells me is that you're not just some wide-eyed kid trying to make a break through into the profession. It tells me that you know what you're getting yourself into. Keep it the bad points very brief because you do want to maintain an overall positive tone.

Things to avoid in your personal statement

  • Please avoid a sob story.

  • Do not rehash your curriculum vitae.

Please avoid a sob story.

Do keep it positive because you want to be accepted based on your merits and not out of sympathy. This is a dental school personal statement and not a GoFund me page soliciting sympathy for a cause. If the entire tone of the PS is morose, it doesn't actually convince the ADCOM that you're a future colleague... you may be a future patient instead.

If you do have something dreary to talk about, keep it brief with just two or three sentences but keep the overall tone positive please.

Do not rehash your curriculum vitae.

There is no reason to regurgitate what is on your curriculum vitae because page real estate is scarce on your PS since the recommended length is about one page single spaced. Save it for getting across important information about yourself because the CV section of your application is already dedicated to what you've done.

An example of my dental school personal statement

Perhaps it was the one night stand that the facial of #9 had with a hockey stick back in fifth grade, which left me with half of an anterior tooth. Therefore, forcing me to go through a root canal, a post and core, a crown, countless recements, and a crown redo just to fix the stigma, which discouraged me from smiling in photos. Did these events nurture the desire to give back?
Or maybe it was because I was sick and tired of being a shy and timid kid, too afraid to raise his hand in class, too afraid to ask for directions, and too afraid to even talk to customer service reps over the phone. Thus, I made a firm resolve to invite change by venturing outside of my comfort zone because I knew that I could and should do better. Was dentistry a mean to achieve a coinciding personal end because of it’s social aspect?
What initially piqued my curiosity in dentistry may have been due to a plethora of factors but what solidified my decision was not until I started working as a full time assistant for Dr. L, a general practitioner. She has not only become my employer but also my mentor, and through my time with her, I’ve had the opportunity to witness and learn about the numerous sides of dentistry. Sometimes it may be by a case to case basis and other times it may be a conceptual lecture about a certain procedure or even introducing to me a new skill.
Ever since my first step into that office, every moment has been nothing less than a learning experience. The first week of work was accompanied by a very steep learning curve due to the vast amount of procedures, instruments, and the dozens of different burs on the spinning bur carousel that literally made my head spin too. As if that wasn’t enough, each procedure might differ slightly depending on the tooth, the number of surfaces, or even the individual’s anatomy. Dentistry is certainly a very challenging field and beneath the surface there is so much more than what meets the eyes.
In fact, I would even consider dentistry as an interdisciplinary field because it incorporates various other fields such as physics, psychology, neurobiology, business management, and also art. The core in a post and core is designed in such a way that it distributes the force and also acts as a stopper. Injections can also be administered painlessly or minimally via distraction techniques, which interfere with the pain pathway in C fibers. Aesthetic cases also rely on artistic techniques, which create illusions that blend into the rest of the mouth. These are just a couple of concepts that I’ve come to grasp over the past few months but they are nothing short of intellectually captivating.
Aside from the intellectual stimulation, there is a certain appeal to the contrast between technological innovation and the innate rusticness of dentistry. Gradually over the years technology has crept into every niche of dentistry, even into something as small as a shoulder bur. The shape and size of the bur, such as the diameter and it’s angle of taper, gives it the ideal measurement for a crown prep but in order to prep the crown, work with your hands are required, which gives it a primeval feeling at the same time. Although often overlooked, there is a generous margin for individuality ranging from bur choices to instrument choices, and also techniques for approaching the same procedure.
These are all aspects of dentistry, which have contributed to my decision but the icing on the cake was because I thoroughly enjoyed my time working despite the fact that I’m tired and exhausted by the end of each day. Sometimes I just can’t help but laugh and laugh because of something our staff did or even because of something that the patient did. Its because of priceless moments like these that just make it all worth it and heck, I would even bend over backwards twice for some of my patients. For awhile now I’ve been contemplating about dentistry being a viable career option but I think I’m ready to take the big leap.

Takeaway and alternative uses

Hopefully that helps you in your journey on writing your dental school personal statement. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how to write it specifically because if I did, it would no longer be your "personal" statement. Then again, that is the beauty in a PS because it is so open-ended that it gives you the opportunity to peer into the depths of their soul.

Show me who you are and what drives you. Show me that you've taken into consideration all of the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of dentistry.

Warmest regards,

Dr David Chen, DDS

Disclaimer: I am a practicing dentist in long island city and I'm currently not affiliated with any dental school admissions committee. This is solely my opinion and we may all agree to disagree.

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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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