Shadowing for Pre-Dental Students

Shadowing is an important part of the pre-dental preparation process. The experience allows pre-dental students to get a good sense of the day-to-day responsibilities of a dental practitioner and ask questions about the journey to dental school. Dental schools like to see applicants with shadowing experience because it demonstrates commitment to and an understanding of the practice of dentistry. 

Shadowing is a passive (as opposed to active) experience. Pre-dental students who shadow should expect to: 

  • Observe procedures 
  • Learn terminology and techniques (by watching) 
  • Observe different practice environments 
  • Ask the dentist questions. The ADEA website has a comprehensive list of suggested questions. 

Some dental education programs require a minimum number of shadowing hours from their applicants. Be sure to check dental school websites for specific requirements related to shadowing. Some programs will only allow true shadowing experiences to fulfill their requirements while others may allow a combination of shadowing and dental assisting (or other hands-on dental work) to count. 

It is important to note that shadowing a parent or relative or shadowing during high school are not considered as enough exposure to the field.  Many dental education programs expect a letter of evaluation from a dentist that an applicant has shadowed so it is important to work on building a relationship during shadowing time.  

How to Get Started

Unfortunately, there is not a database or website that pre-dental students can visit to 'sign up' for shadowing. The PMHSC does not set up this opportunity for pre-dental students either. Because of the competitive nature of dental school admissions, it is the pre-dental student's responsibility to both find and document their shadowing experiences. Below are a few suggestions to help get started. 

  1. Talk to your personal dentist about shadowing 
  2. If your personal dentist is unable to allow shadowing, ask for other dentist recommendations 
  3. Discuss with your friends, classmates, professors, mentors many pre-dental students find someone to shadow through networking 
  4. Join a pre-dental or pre-health club and interact with guest speakers 
  5. Reach out to the Michigan dental schools to see if they have alumni, they can connect you with 

ADEA recently published an article, written by Sharda Patel, D.D.S., about how to approach a dentist for shadowing.  Note: WSU does not have a shadowing policy. 

Recording Your Shadowing on the Application

The dental school application allows shadowing to be recorded in two different ways: In-Person and Virtual.  While most of your shadowing should be completed in person, virtual shadowing may be an option to expand exposure to specialties or diverse areas of practice.  Valuable virtual shadowing will allow observers to interact with a preceptor and allow a pre-dental student to articulate what they gained from the experience.  The PMHSC strongly suggests developing some kind of activity tracking system.  To learn more, please visit the Application Support, Activity Tracker section of the website.  

Shadowing Abroad

Some students look for mission trips that will allow them to shadow outside of the United States. It is important to know that mission trips and companies sponsoring these trips should not expect you to administer care to a patient. Pre-dental students should never allow themselves to be put in a position that requires unethical behavior or decision-making. Talk to a pre-dental advisor if you have further questions.