The following information was contributed by Aaron Whitaker, a dentist in private practice, in response to a questionnaire circulated by The Washington Post. The material is intended to provide students with an idea of what working as a dentist might be like, and some steps students can take to prepare now for a career in that field.

Whitaker is a graduate of Coolidge High School and Howard University in the District of Columbia.

NATURE OF THE WORK:

"First I look at my schedule to see what kind of jobs I have to do that day, then I begin setting up for the patients, sterilizing equipment I'll need to use. I'll then look through my records at the patient's medical history, to assess the patient. The remainder of the day I'm involved in direct patient care. At the end of the day I do billing and other administrative work.

"I like the financial gains and being my own boss. I also like the fact that I meet a lot of people and have a chance to help them. However, on occasion I have to cause people pain to help them feel better later. I don't like that. I also don't like the long hours associated with my work."

EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS:

"Basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics provide a foundation. I would recommend that students volunteer as dental assistants in different dental offices to get a good exposure to what a dentist does and to see if they really want to get involved.

There are two routes you can go. The conventional route is to enroll in an undergraduate school and major in a science-related field, then come out and apply for dental school. There is also the Bachelor of Science Program in which you can take two years of science courses as an undergraduate. Then, if you are accepted, you can go straight to dental school.

"After dental school, you can enroll in a program that will prepare you to to become a specialist or an oral surgeon."

MATCHING YOURSELF WITH THE WORK:

"You need to be organized, patient, and pay special attention to detail. You also need to be sensitive, caring, and self-motivated."