The Postgrad Path by Dr. Emma Bhaskar

The Postgrad Path 

Here’s what it takes to succeed in postgraduate training—and why it could be worth it

by Dr. Emma Bhaskar

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 to AEGD.

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 heavily clinic-based.

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 future career.

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.
Author Bio
Dr. Emma Bhaskar 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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