An Interview with Dr. Amanda Dohar, Dentist

by Cathy Sivak
An Interview with Dr. Amanda Dohar, Dentist

Dr. Amanda Dohar, DDS, is finishing her formal dentistry education and is eager to get into the public health field of dentistry upon completion of a voluntary one-year advanced education general dentistry (AEGD) residency program at the Case Western School of Dental Medicine in July of 2006. She completed the four-year Doctor of Dental Surgery program at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry in 2005, but entered the AEGD program to get more in-depth training. She also holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Case Western Reserve University, where she was a consistent dean's list scholar.

Her interest in the field was born as an undergraduate who had an interest in the medical field and landed a student aid job in Case dental school's radiology department. The job plus a combination of student loans, grants and scholarships helped fund her bachelor's degree education, and served as the impetus to her desire to become a dentist. She is an active member of organizations including the American Association of Women, the American Student Dental Association and the Psi Omega Dental Fraternity; in addition she is actively involved in community service through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Big Brother Big Sister organization.

Based on her experiences in dental school, upon completion of the AEGD program, Dr. Dohar plans to go into public health dentistry rather than solo practice, she tells "The patients are awesome; they are so appreciative of anything and everything you can do to help their mouth. That's not always the case with cosmetic dentistry."

Education Information & Advice

How did you decide to study the field of dentistry? How did you choose the schools you attended?

I did my undergrad work at Case Western, because I was from Cleveland. I knew I liked the medical field, so I majored in biology. It was kind of expensive to go to the university, and I needed to work all four years through my undergraduate schooling, so I went to the student employment at Case Western, and they placed me in a job in the dental department. I worked there all four years, and by the time I had graduated, they had paid for me to get my radiographers' license to take x-rays. By then I had a real interest in dental school. I got accepted to the dental school at Case, but I had already been there for four years and wanted to expand my horizons. I got into Ohio State, and went straight though for four years. The first year of dental school at Ohio State you get the summer off; while lots of students go home and work for the summer, I got a research grant for the summer, and studied oral cancer study on hamsters. We would swab their inside of their cheeks with discontinued toothpaste that causes cancer, and tracked the results. I completed dental school, and although you don't have to do a residency in dental school, I could have gone right out to practice; I wanted a little bit more of advanced training. So I got into the Advanced Education General Dentistry. It's a one-year program I started July 1st and will complete June 30th, 2006. then I will go out into practice.

The residency program is really advanced, full mouth rehabilitation, a lot of patients who are immune-compromised --AIDS patients, dialysis patients for diabetes -- they are really sick, the kind of patients you don't see a lot in general practice. Also I'm doing a lot of implants, veneers, that extreme makeover type dentistry.

You have received numerous scholarships and awards throughout your undergraduate and dentistry college experience. Any tips for future applicants to help them gain the winning edge?

Get involved in all sorts of activities. Some of the scholarships I received were need based, some people don't even think that they qualify, but because my parents were divorced, and worked thru undergrad it was based on my income. I got a $10,000 scholarship through Case, but it ended up sort of the same as if I hadn't gotten it, as they took it from my grant money. Also in my undergraduate days, I was in a sorority, Alpha Phi, and I got involved in the overall Greek community, the Pan-Hellenic Council. I was in charge programming, and we got community service awards; one scholarship I won at Case was based on the community service. I also won a community based scholarship through Alpha Phi; it was $1,000 cash, it was so nice. Helped pay for books, I bought a computer that year with the money.

In dental school, they give away quite a few scholarships and awards; I received one based on clinical excellence and another that was an infection control award. I had one scholarship that went one all the way through school, based on GPA (3.0 and above) and parents income, it was a little bit, but it paid by the quarter and it helped, paid for books and stuff.

What do you like and dislike about your education the field of dentistry so far?

I dislike that I don't know it all; it's always changing. You have to stay up on things. The implants are the newest thing; I feel like I can't get enough as a general dentist, you know a little about a lot of things instead of specializing in root canals or orthodontics.

In dental school, some of the medical classes are irrelevant, like bio-chemistry, which really has nothing to do with dentistry. But it's on the National Boards Part 1 in second year (Part 2 is the fourth year). For the boards, they hand out these dental cards as study aids, and some of the techniques are a little antiquated, you don't even learn them in dental school except for the boards. But, you have to pass the boards, and a licensing exam in your fourth year as well.

Describe the 'hands-on' phases of your dentistry education.

The dental schools are getting better now, and students are seeing patients in first year; we didn't get into that until third and fourth year. It's getting better sooner into the education. Some of my classmates kind of struggled when it came to patients, they got into the third year clinics, and they didn't like working with patients. One of my classmates even quit, which to me, seemed a shame. Even without patients, a dental student could get the degree and go into research, so I think it's good they are starting interaction with patients sooner.

I want to go into general dentistry at a public health level. Our senior year in dental school, they had just started the Ohio Project, where go out into public and rotate through to different health community centers; the patients were awesome, they are so appreciative of anything and everything you can do to help their mouth.

In my AEGD, in some of cosmetic-type, makeover jobs you are bending over backwards and often you get no appreciation, though sometimes you do. For instance I just finished with veneers and implants for a lady who was going to a family wedding. When it was done, she was crying, she was excited, hugging me, and running home to show everybody her new teeth.

How can prospective dentistry students assess their skill and aptitude?

If they're near a dental school, they're more than willing to give you fake mouths, to practice on, allow you to shadow students. The students and the faculty are proud of what they do. If you don't have a school near you, shadow a dentist for a day. Everyone I've ever asked has been super nice about it. Definitely it's nice to have majored in a scientific background, I majored in biology. We have some non-traditional students in my class, one man was a 44-year-old accountant, a couple of engineers. they had to take all of the pre-requisites as well, so were a little behind the rest of the class. A science background definitely helps.

What factors should prospective dentistry students consider when choosing a school? Are there any different considerations for those who know what area of dentistry they want to specialize in?

Some schools are focused more in academics and research, and others are focused more in clinical. Look into the school web sites, ask other students. Ohio State is more clinical-based, University of Pennsylvania is more research based. One place to check is in the application packets; most will have information on placement and practice rates for their graduates.

When I picked my school, I found tuition cheaper at a state school rather than a private university. But when it comes to out-of-state tuition, check the requirements. In Ohio, the schools let you become a residence after you've lived here for six months, which can be nice. One thing is that private universities tend to have more funding, so often have more advanced equipment than state schools.

What are perceived as the most competitive dental school programs?

The hardest to get into orthodontics is pretty tough; pediatric dentists are in demand, as well as dentistry for special needs patients. The dental schools aren't producing enough students each year to cover the needs. Today, the average GPA is 3.9 for dental school students; for the Dental Aptitude Test, the scores of incoming students keep going up. The DAT is partly a visual test, with reversed images as you would see in a mirror.

Would you change anything about your dentistry education if you could?

I definitely would have done one of the six or seven year programs-you go two years of undergraduate, then straight into four or five years of dental school. You have to maintain a relatively high GPA and in the end, you don't get a BA. They have two years less of college, two year less of tuition, and they are out practicing. That would be something to look into, but it's pretty competitive.

What can students applying to dentistry programs do to increase their chances of being accepted?

The more involved you are in the field, the better. At Ohio State, you had to have 20 hours of private dentist office shadowing to even apply. The more you show an interest; they're always looking for dental assistants to help on Saturdays when you are a junior or senior in high school; you can get certified to take x-rays then.

I had also interviewed at Indiana University, that's where I was born. I was on a waiting list for Indiana University, and meanwhile I got accepted by both Case and Ohio State; about three months after that, Indiana called me. I guess the advice would be not to give up if you're on the wait list.

You & Your Career

Tell us about your dentistry career choice. What area of the field of dentistry do you plan to go into?

I plan to go into public health.cosmetic dentistry can be rewarding, but I really like the public health aspect. If you practice in an underserved area, there is a loan repayment program for up to seven years, so I'll probably join the National Health Center Corps. The community centers pay quite a bit, and then on top, pay loans of 25,000 a year for the first years, then by third year, $35,000.

The academic part of dentistry, owning and operating a practice, is tough. Doing the dentistry is the easy part; running the practice, being the boss, worrying about the insurance, getting rid of the waste, etc.; its makes public health appealing. One day I want kids and a family, and public health dentistry is more of a 9-to-5 job. You don't have to worry if Suzy doesn't show up for a crown, whereas if you're in private practice you still have to pay the staff. A friend bought a practice, works 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and works on paperwork until midnight every night. The money can be nice in private practice, with better earning potential than public health, but is it worth it? Other people will tell you yes.

You are an active member of several professional organizations, including American Association of Women Dentists, American Student Dental Association, Psi Omega Dental Fraternity and American Medical Student Association. How have these organizations supported your career development goals?

At Ohio State there were three dental fraternities, they help students study for anatomy class with things like tooth identification studies, pizza parties, test trials, things like that. Some of the school faculty is in charge as advisers, and there are also outside dentists involved, which is good for networking. It's good to get to know professionals and the older students.

What steps are you taking as a student to launch your dentistry career?

I'm in a one-year post doctorate residency; it's not necessary, but I've learned so much beyond the basics. Dental school gives you the basics, and this residency expands on it, gives extra patient experience.

What was it like when you worked on your first patient?

I was definitely nervous. Probably the biggest thing, when you are practicing on the fake heads, you are practicing on ivory-type teeth. Real teeth are totally different: a real mouth has a tongue, and salvia, and a gag reflex, and can cough, and might be scared. It's a lot different than the fake head. Now, its like riding a bike, it's so easy.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

I'd like to be a director of a public health clinic, like this Ohio Project, going to schools, mobile dentistry, offering free dental care to those in need. We had a month where we went south of Columbus, and heck, I don't know if they even have running water down there. In some cases, were out there doing extractions with a flashlight and a card table chair. In some of these rural areas, the nearest dentist is two hours away, and the people don't have a way to get there. We did similar work in the community centers; people would come, we'd do whatever they needed, cleanings, extractions or realign their dentures.

Are there any common myths about the dentistry profession?

People say dentists are the No. 1 profession to commit suicide; that's just crazy.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about the field of dentistry in order to be successful?

Yes, yes, yes. I couldn't imagine doing it every day and not liking it. You can get away with not liking your job if you sit in front of a computer, but your patients can tell your attitude if you don't like being a dentist. That's a real live human patient, you can't not like it and be good at it.

What are the hottest specialties in the field of dentistry expected to be through 2010?

Implant dentistry and cosmetic dentistry are the hottest things right now; the patients are all seeing these extreme makeover shows, and they all want the whitening procedures. The patients come in for the cosmetics, but oftentimes they need to have basic care done, take care of rotten teeth, etc., so we tell them we have to take care of that first, then we can talk about cosmetics.

Any other advice else that would be interesting or helpful to potential students?

The ladies should go for it; ladies and dentistry is a good fit. So many patients are like, "Wow, a lady dentist." They are surprised, but afterwards they tell me the ladies are gentler, with smaller hands, than some of the male dentists. Right now, I think it is something like three to one men to women in dental school. The guys may tell you differently.

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