Competitive applicants to dental schools are well rounded and have pursued a wide range of experiences to develop not only their scientific, thinking, and reasoning skills, but also interpersonal skills. In addition, dentistry is an “art” that requires good manual dexterity and an aesthetic eye, so hobbies or activities which develop these skills are valued. Most dental schools like to see some job shadowing or experience working in two or more different dental settings so you have some idea what the doctor-patient relationship is like from the dentist’s perspective, and have an opportunity to explore and appreciate different styles of dental practice or specialties. There is no set number of hours required - it’s more about quality than quantity of experience.
Volunteering and community service, whether or not it is in a healthcare setting, demonstrates your commitment to serving others, as you will as a future physician.
Research experience helps you to learn the problem-solving skills needed to think like a dentist, and develop an understanding and appreciation for the scientific and clinical research that will be the basis for modern dental practice. And research-driven dental schools such has the University of Illinois especially value this experience.
Becoming a leader in a student organization, job, etc. gives you experience working with teams, communicating, and working together to share responsibility for accomplishing shared goals. Consider joining organizations such as Alpha Epsilon Delta honor society, Student Health Advisory Committee or GMT, and working your way toward an executive board or other leadership role.