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 School of Dentistry.
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 by 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 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."
"Basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics provide a basic 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. The dental assistant programs offered through the schools are good to get into.
There are two routes you can go after high school. The conventional route is to enroll in an four-year college and major in a science-related field, then apply to dental school. Dental school takes 4 years.
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."
As a beginning dentist, a person can expect to make $30,000 to $60,000 per year. If you stay in that field for ten years or so you can expect to get into the six-figure bracket.
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."
CLASSES OFFERED BY D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
The D.C. Public School Office of Career and Adult Education offers classes in Practical Nursing, Nursing Assistance, and Dental Assistance at the M.M. Washington Career Center.
Students can also enroll in the Health Careers Program at Eastern High School and at the M.M. Washington Career Center through the Private Partnership program in D.C. Public Schools. These half-day programs are open to high school students and adults.
For more information about these programs contact the Office of Career and Adult Education at 724-4207.