Students are encouraged to seek volunteer or employment opportunities in dentistry. Examples include shadowing a dentist, completing an internship program, or volunteering in a community health clinic. Pre-health enrichment programs can also help a student decide if a career in dentistry is a good fit!

Students should participate in recruitment fairs and open houses to learn about dentistry and dental schools. Shadowing dentist(s) and keeping a log documenting the hours is recommended. For example the VCU School of Dentistry requires that applicants complete 150 documented hours of shadowing.

Prepare for Healthcare Experiences

Research the Profession and Organization

Before participating in any healthcare experience, it is important to do your research about the profession and the organization in which you're participating in the experience. To begin researching an organization, visit the organization's website. Read the About Us and Services section, at the least. Then, conduct a basic Google search to find any news about the organization.

Complete HIPAA Training

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a complex law that designates that way in which health information can be used, impacts students that shadow, observe, intern, or work within healthcare. Title II of this law, Administrative Simplification, impacts you (as a student) the most because it addresses privacy standards. Therefore, prior to shadowing, observing, or working within a healthcare setting, Pre-Professional Health (PPH) Advising strongly recommends that you complete HIPAA training.

The Institute of Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS) at JMU developed an online HIPAA training, which is a great training for you to complete prior to making contact with any healthcare professional. Then, when you initiate contact with the healthcare professional, let them know that you have completed this online training. The specific healthcare provider with whom you intend to shadow, observe, or work may still have a specific HIPAA training that you need to complete; but, completing the online training provided by IIHHS can go a long way to show your initiative, healthcare knowledge, and professionalism.

Structured Healthcare Experiences

Structured experiences are pre-organized healthcare experiences that typically require an application, because it is a competitive process. The application may require an essay, unofficial transcript, resume, and references, and will generally have a deadline to submit materials.

Often, these programs occur durring the summer and called a summer program or summer enrichment program. These experiences are generally designed to expose you to research, expand your knowledge of a specific profession, or support underrepresented students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the field.

There are a variety of ways to find structured healthcare experiences. You may conduct a general internet search, search the website of a local hospital, or search the website of a school with professional health programs of interest.

Unstructured Healthcare Experience

Unstructured healthcare experiences are not pre-organized; they are experiences that are developed through a conversation with a healthcare professional. These conversations may lead to an opportunity being created for you, or the professional may have done something similar before and willing to do it again. If they have done something similar before, the experience may be more structured than initially realized but not advertised on the web.

Connect with a Healthcare Professional

First, utilize your personal connections! People that you already know can connect you with others that are in your career field of interest. This is called networking.

 With networking, you'll often hear the phrase, "It's all about who you know." But that's not all it's about - it's about who you know, and what they know about what you want.  Therefore, communicate with your network (e.g. family, friends, co-workers, classmates) that you are interested in a specific healthcare profession and want to connect with a licensed professional in that profession. Then, ask if they know of anyone in that profession or another healthcare profession that may help you connect with a person in your profession of interest. If your network doesn't know your interested in a specific profession, they won't know to help you connect with someone!

 Second, you can identify healthcare professionals in your field of interest with whom you have no connection. By searching for local places where these professionals work, such as private practices, outpatient centers, or hospitals, you can email or call the main email/number of the organization. People are usually very willing to talk with you about their career field, path, and experiences, so don't be intimidated to put yourself out there.

Make Contact!

After identifying a liscenced healthcare professional or healthcare facility, call or email to connect. You want to include the following information in your initial contact:

  • Your first and last name
  • How you obtained the name of the liscenced healthcare professional's or healthcare facility
  • A brief, professional summary about yourself (2-3 sentences max)
  • The reason you are contacting the individual (e.g. informational interview, observation hours)
  • What you hope to gain from the experience
  • Your phone number and email address. If you are calling, be sure to leave a voice message saying your name and number slowly.
Document, Reflect, and Maintain Your Network

Log Hours and Journal Experience

There is not a national, centralized way to keep track of your hours. Therefore, it is up to each individual person to maintain a log. When applying to professional health programs, whether through the Centralized Application System (CAS) or directly with non-CAS-participating programs, you will take the hours that you have logged and transfer that into the format requested.

When documenting your observation hours, note the following.

  • Licensed Professional Observed (name, email address, License #)
  • Specialty Area, if applicable, and Types of Patients
  • Healthcare Facility (clinic/facility mailing address; type of setting)
  • Experience Dates (start date and end date, or anticipate end date)
  • Paid/Volunteer
  • Hours (hours completed and those planned or in-progress)

Reflect on the Experience

Throughout your experience, we encourage you to journal. Journaling is not a diary. Your entries are based on the activities of the day/week, but journaling is more than documenting those activities. Journaling is a tool to reflect upon the activities and begin creating personal meaning of those activities. You can read and reread your entries to see your own growth over time. Seeing htis growth can help you as you prepare to write a personal statement or interview for your professional health program.

Maintain Your Network - Follow-Up

Send a thank you note after the experience has concluded. This note should be sent within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for their time and sharing their experiences and perspective.

Keep in touch with th person, especially if you choose to pursue the profession. Let him/her know if you followed their advice and how things are going as a result. Also keep him/her abreast of your academic, leadership, service, and other healthcare experiences. This connection could become an important part of your network.

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