Can You Shadow A Professional Until Your Dental License Comes In?

It is absolutely possible—and recommended—to shadow at a dental practice after college. Cloud Dentistry illuminates how to get started.
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A group of dental students shadowing a professional dentist.

Congratulations! You’ve just capped off years of hard work with your graduation from dental school, standing on the brink of an exciting new chapter in your career as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH).

But as you await your professional RDH license so you can begin a dental career, you might find yourself in an exhilarating yet slightly daunting limbo—eager to put your skills to use, but still needing that official stamp of approval. So, what can you RDH grads do in this interim period to stay on top of your game and prepare for the fast-paced world of dental healthcare? Can you, for instance, shadow at an office even before your license comes in?

Let’s dive into why this could be your best move yet!

The Value and Benefits of Shadowing Before Licensing

So, what exactly is shadowing? It's more than just an opportunity to watch and learn—it's a front-row seat to the day-to-day workings of a dental office. For an aspiring RDH like you, shadowing is your backstage pass to observe the real-world dynamics of dental health care beyond the textbooks and exams.

Here's how shadowing uniquely prepares you for a seamless transition into your career:

Hands-On Preview

Get a front-row seat to the day-to-day operations in a dental office, from patient interactions and treatment procedures to navigating office dynamics and staff collaboration. Shadowing offers a real-time, interactive experience that builds on what you've learned in dental school by connecting those skills to their practical applications.

Workflow Familiarity

Immersing yourself in the environment of a dental office helps you understand the workflow and protocols, making it much easier to integrate smoothly once you're licensed. This familiarity can significantly reduce first-day anxieties and accelerate your adaptation to professional demands.

Efficient Time Management

Observing a seasoned RDH helps you learn how to manage appointment times effectively, a crucial skill since the professional setting is much more fast-paced than school, requiring you to handle more diverse treatments in a shorter amount of time. This prepares you to manage your schedule effectively so you can meet patient needs within constrained timeframes.

Discovering Specialties

Shadowing in various dental offices and specialties opens the door to different practice areas—be it pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, or others. This not only broadens your understanding, but also aids in identifying the type of dental environment best suited to your skills and preferences.

Tips On What To Observe And What To Ask

But what exactly are you watching for? Here’s a list of key observations to make while shadowing a dental professional—along with some questions you can ask that will keep you engaged in the task at hand.

What to Observe

  • Office Culture and Atmosphere: Pay attention to how staff members interact with each other and with patients. Is the environment supportive and friendly, or is it more formal and structured?
  • Work Pace: Notice the pace at which the dental professionals work. Is it relaxed, or high-energy and fast-paced? Consider what pace you thrive under.
  • Patient Interaction: Observe how dental hygienists interact with patients. Are they patient and educational, or more efficient and direct? This will help you understand the office’s patient care philosophy.
  • Technology and Equipment: Take note of the technology and equipment used in the office. Is it modern and up-to-date, suggesting a commitment to staying current, or is it older but well-maintained?
  • Hygiene Practices: Keep an eye on the cleanliness standards and hygiene practices. High standards are not only a legal requirement, but also reflect the overall quality of care provided.

Questions to Ask

What are the typical challenges a dental hygienist faces here?

This question can reveal much about the underlying stressors and expectations within the office.

How is success measured for a dental hygienist in this office?

Understanding what metrics or outcomes are valued most can tell you about the office’s priorities and your potential growth opportunities.

Can you describe the training and professional development opportunities available?

This indicates how the office invests in its staff and whether there's room for advancement and skill enhancement.

What is the office’s policy on handling emergencies or unexpected situations?

This helps you gauge the preparedness and flexibility of the office environment.

What do you enjoy most about working here?

The answer can provide insights into the positive aspects of the office culture and whether those aspects align with what you’re looking for.

Casting Light on Your Dental Career: How to Start Shadowing

At Cloud Dentistry, we strongly recommend that you shadow a dental professional while you wait for your license. But how can you get started? We’ve got some ideas!

  1. Research Local Dental Offices

    Start by identifying dental offices in your area. Look for those that align with your interests in dental specialties.

  2. Prepare Your Approach

    Craft a professional email or letter introducing yourself as a recent dental school graduate interested in shadowing opportunities. Be clear about your goals and what you hope to learn.

  3. Leverage Your Network

    Reach out to your school’s alumni network, professors, or even classmates who might have contacts in the dental industry. Personal referrals can significantly enhance your chances of securing a shadowing spot.

  4. Follow Up Respectfully

    After sending your initial request, follow up if you haven’t heard back in a week or two. A polite phone call or email can demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment.

  5. Be Prepared

    Once you secure a shadowing opportunity, prepare by reviewing basic dental procedures and office etiquette to make a good impression.

As you consider these steps to initiate your shadowing journey, keep in mind the profound impact it can have on your budding career.

"Shadowing is an invaluable experience for dental students, providing a firsthand glimpse into the practical world of dental healthcare,” said Amber D'Andrea, Student Engagement Manager for Cloud Dentistry. “It’s an excellent way to build skills, confidence, and a deeper understanding of your chosen field. We encourage all dental students to embrace these opportunities to advance their careers."

Are you a recent dental school graduate? Create your Cloud Dentistry profile now!

Written By Cloud Dentistry