Here’s what it takes
to succeed in postgraduate
training—and why it
could be worth it
For those who choose not to dive straight into practice after
graduation, the alternative pathway is to pursue postgraduate
training via either a general practice residency (GPR) or an
advanced education in general dentistry (AEGD). After
having gone through the experience of applying, interviewing and
choosing my one-year postgraduate residency, I wanted to share
this information with interested dental students to help navigate
the nerve-wracking process.
GPR and AEGD programs received a record-breaking number
of applicants last year. According to the National Match Service,
there were 1,178 applicants to GPR programs and 678 for AEGD.
Of those applicants, 779 positions were offered for GPR and 336
I was interested in learning about the application process
from the perspective of the programs. I interviewed the directors
of three outstanding programs for their advice about applying to
residencies, what they’re looking for in their future residents, and
what applicants should look for in a program:
GPR versus AEGD
When considering whether to apply to a GPR or an AEGD,
establish what exactly you want to get out of the experience.
Traditionally, GPR programs are more hospital-based, focusing
on managing patients with complex medical histories and working
in a hospital setting, while AEGDs are clinic-based and provide a
more accurate representation of private practice. This generalization,
however, does not hold true for all programs: Some AEGD programs
have a hospital dentistry focus and have a broad experience with
medically complex patients and, likewise, some GPR programs are
- Dr. Allen Wong, program director, University of the Pacific AEGD, Union City, California.
- Dr. Ryan O’Connor, program director, University of Washington GPR, Seattle.
- Dr. Hans Malmstrom, program director, University of Rochester AEGD (two-year), Rochester, New York.
Both programs are generally one year in length, but two-year
programs are available. It’s important to have a vision of what you
want to achieve from the residency and align those goals with the
programs to which you choose to apply.
All three residency directors strongly suggest getting to know
each program by reaching out to current residents or the program
director, or visiting the site if feasible. What are the strengths and
weaknesses? Is the program hospital- or clinic-based? What type
of procedures are commonly done?
O’Connor suggests applicants ask current and recently graduated
residents if the program has met their expectations. Wong encourages investigating which specialists will be available for teaching and
researching the faculty and director’s interests in dentistry to get a
better idea of what the program will likely focus on. Malmstrom
says it’s essential to find a program whose curriculum will help you
fulfill your goals for future practice—for example, if you’d like to
do more endodontics or periodontics in your practice, look for a
program with a specialist who’s available for mentorship. Apply
only to programs that will help you reach your goals!
Applying to a program
Applying to residency can be intimidating. Will class rank or
extracurricular activities affect your application? Can you enhance
your résumé to get noticed? Should you take the Advanced Dental
Admission Test (ADAT) to strengthen your application?
While aspects like class rank, community involvement,
leadership and participation in group activities play important
roles, every applicant should have specific reasons for why they
are passionate about each program and relay those reasons as
clearly as possible via personal statement and interview. All three
program directors agree that sincerity, preparedness and being able
to work with a team have more weight to them than the other
parts of an application.
O’Connor looks for applicants who are eager to learn from
another year of training and have enthusiasm for the content
of his rotations. He wants to know that residents will work well
with other residents who match. These personality traits may be
difficult to relay in a CV, but they can be shown through letters of
recommendation and demonstration of community involvement.
Even more importantly, the more applicants know about the program
and address why they’re applying in their personal statements and
interviews, the better the application.
Malmstrom, who directs a program that is heavily based on
academia and research, holds class rank in high importance. Many
of his applicants have a master’s degree and are seeking a two-year
AEGD program. He looks for experience in teaching, academia
and research because the admission committee would like to be
certain their program will meet the residents’ needs and vice versa.
He mentioned that taking the ADAT may be helpful in his selection
process, though it is not required at this stage.
Wong says he looks for someone who is prepared in the sense
that they know what kind of program they want, and that their
goals can be achieved in his curriculum. He also values a “team
player,” and someone who is flexible and driven. Work ethic is
important in dentistry, and with the University of the Pacific’s
AEGD only being one year, he is looking for residents who will
make the most out of the year and are willing to learn from each
case, be it simple or complex.
While grades and class rank are important, Wong says they often
don’t tell the whole story. All three directors described the difficulty
of comparing schools with GPA-based class ranking versus a pass/
fail curriculum, but emphasized the importance of a well-written
and genuine personal statement to strengthen an application. The
more an applicant knows about the program, the easier it is for
admission committees to accept the student.
Is it worth it?
Dentistry is constantly expanding in materials, application and
technology. All three program directors believe dental students can
greatly benefit from an extra year of education to keep up with
these advances. Residency is a time for doctors to grow, learn and
become more independent. Wong says he’s never had a graduate
of his program say they felt like it was a waste of time; in fact, his
residents say they can’t imagine going out into the world without
everything they learned in their AEGD.
Malmstrom, too, feels strongly that every dental student should do
one more year of training. He believes students don’t get enough of a
diverse clinical experience in dental school and everyone can benefit
from more guidance. In his experience, residents enter the program
feeling confident about their dental education and skills, but are soon
humbled after realizing the amount of experience to be had. A GPR
or an AEGD gives graduates a wider breadth of knowledge, be it in
implants, root canal treatments or treatment planning.
New York State requires dental graduates to do a one-year
GPR or AEGD. Malmstrom believes this should be standardized
throughout the country but acknowledges there are not enough
programs to accommodate this. He encourages those who are
interested in specializing to do a GPR or AEGD before applying
to their specialty to provide a better understanding of treatment
planning and easier communications with general dentists in their
O’Connor believes that when all is said and done, dentists who
apply themselves will succeed whether they do a residency or not.
However, choosing to do a residency allows them to be in a learning
environment with attending dentists present, and some experiences
are unique to residency. For example, his residents learn how to
administer IV sedation and work in an operating room environment
providing general anesthesia and maintaining airways, an experience
that can’t be reproduced in a CE course.
Whether a new graduate chooses an associateship in private
practice, a general practice residency or an advanced education in
general dentistry residency, it’s important to find the best fit for
their professional goals. Finding good mentors, the right clinical
experience and an educational environment that will fulfill your
professional objectives are the most important components to ensure
success in this next phase in your dental journey.
Dr. Emma Bhaskar
graduated from the
University of the Pacific
Arthur A. Dugoni School of
Dentistry in June. She is
from Monterey, California,
and a third-generation
dentist. Bhaskar, who
graduated from the
University of Washington
in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in public health
and is currently doing a general practice residency
at UW, is passionate about dental public and global
health projects involving prevention, education and
improving access to underserved communities.
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