The Dos and Don’ts of Observing

We recently hosted two student observers in our dental office. It was a surreal experience to come full circle! I remember observing my mentor (Dr. Stephen O’Brien) chair-side in 2012, praying that I had what it took to gain admission into dental school. Now, I am hosting student observers myself! Having been in the shoes of both the observer and the hosting doctor, here are some thoughts on observation etiquette in the dental office.

DO wear appropriate attire

Scrubs or business professional attire? Either is fine! Just call and ask the office manager which one the office prefers. Be sure to wear comfy shoes (skip the heels)!

DO introduce yourself

Briefly introduce yourself to the Doc and inform them of what stage you’re at within the application process. Our two observers were at vastly different points in their careers. Our first observer was an undergrad student who is applying to dental school. Our second observer was an international dentist, with 10 years of oral surgery experience, who is completing their AEGD. Obviously, how I discussed cases with each observer varied based on their level of experience.

This is also the perfect chance to practice your answer to THE question, “Why dentistry?” Have a canned answer ready to go, because you’ll be asked this question for the ☠️

DON’T take notes

One observer brought an Ipad to take notes, the other did not. Everyone learns differently…but honestly, an Ipad may be overkill! Rather than transcribing each detailed step of a restoration, observations should focus holistically on the experience to determine if this is a career environment well-suited for you. Pursuing dentistry is a HUGE commitment, so take a step back from student mode and really try to envision yourself in this unique (yet challenging!) career.

DO ask questions (at the right time!)

I remember really stressing about this when I was an observer. I wanted to appear engaged, but I also didn’t want to be a pesk! Now, as the hosting doctor, I definitely have some thoughts. Questions while I was completing treatment were annoying. It’s best to hold your questions until after the appointment and the patient has been dismissed. Try asking questions in the hallway between patients, or when the Doc has some downtime in their office.

DON’T smother the Doc

Don’t be Peter Pan’s shadow all day! Undoubtedly, the Doc you’re observing will want some downtime. Be sure to give them some space every now and then. In the meantime, talk with the front office staff, hygienists, and assistants. Or, observe procedures in the office lab. Ask about the process for lab work such as crowns or dentures.

DO leave a resume

If you are hoping for a letter of recommendation or a potential job offer, leave your resume with the front office staff on your way out.

DO show your appreciation

One of our student observers brought the whole office bagels the day of their observation AND emailed me a personalized thank you letter that evening. It really left a lasting impression. What a class act! 👏

What additional tips do you have for student observers? Comment below!


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