How Assisting a Third-Year Dental Student Changed My View on Dental Education at UCSF

It’s been about five months since I’ve started dental school. After going through two quarters of studying, and now assisting a third-year dental student, I’ve finally come to see why the classes I’ve been taking at UCSF are necessary for me to become a knowledgeable and competent dentist.

The classes I have taken these past two quarters have been anatomy, histopathology, microbiology, pharmacology, research methods, dental procedures, tooth development and morphology, and patient care. Before dental school, I used to think that being skilled at dental procedures was enough to be a good dentist. This is because I mostly focused on how dentists performed clinical procedures rather than how they approached patients’ health conditions in a comprehensive manner. Honestly, even until the end of last quarter, I was not able to see the true benefit of learning didactic material in dental school. I felt like it was extra work. However, I realized how all the knowledge I have learned from didactic classes fit into clinical skills when I came to assist a third-year-dental student this quarter. During the assisting session, the student dentist assessed the medical records of a new patient. The medications, overall health conditions, previous surgeries, infections, diets, allergies, oral health conditions, and social history were assessed. There were many factors to be considered to come up with a treatment plan. The student dentist had to have some knowledge about medications in the patient’s medical record and the patient’s current health condition to decide if it was safe to provide the required dental procedure. In addition, the student dentist used knowledge from didactic courses to explain to the patient what was going on with their oral health status and why the proposed procedures were necessary.

This experience gave me an explanation for why I need to master material from a variety of courses at the UCSF School of Dentistry. To deliver the safest and the best possible care, a dentist should know not only how to perform dental procedures, but also how to consider such procedures in the context of the patient’s overall health condition.

ADCFP Spotlight: Mariam Abadir (’19)

The Academic Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP) provides dental students at UCSF the opportunity to explore academia through faculty mentorship and research- or education-based projects. Read what some of our students are working on below:

I am Mariam Abadir a fourth year student in International dental program. My research project as a fellow of ADCFP is about international dentists that enter U.S. dental schools with diverse dental experiences. I have created a survey that has been distributed to former students of the international dental programs of both third and forth years of UCSF and UOP. Our goal of this research is to create a common language between educators and students, that is by having a basic base of understanding of international students’ expectations and their level of expertise to maximize their beneficial educational journey at U.S dental Schools.

ADCFP Spotlight: Wilson Ng (’20)

The Academic Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP) provides dental students at UCSF the opportunity to explore academia through faculty mentorship and research- or education-based projects. Read what some of our students are working on below:

The UCSF School of Dentistry currently uses E-value for D3/4s in their clinical years to provide general praise or critique for faculty members. In this one-sided interaction, faculty members do not have a way to respond or get more information, unless a personal relationship was built to the point where a student felt comfortable enough to provide face-to-face critique to the teacher. Even then, due to the individual nature of such a rare discussion, there remains loss learning/teaching opportunities for other students, and even other faculty members, who were not participants in the discussion. The main goal of this project is to create a teaching tool in which D3/4 students can anonymously report the student perspective, both positive or negative, on specific interactions and incidences with faculty members. Once enough feedback has been received, a PowerPoint presentation will be used to share the cases with a panel of clinical faculty. All discussion or responses from the faculty will be noted, and “clinical teaching pearls” can be generated that can help improve their pedagogical skills.

Advice to Pre-Dentals!

One of the biggest steps toward your dental education is the process of preparing for and applying to dental school. As a current D1 coming out of this process pretty recently, I remember how overwhelming but incredibly exciting of a time this was! As this application cycle slowly gets closer, here’s just a few of the many things that I would keep in mind as a pre-dental getting ready to apply to dental school! 

  • Be involved in a wide variety of things that you are passionate about!
    • It might seem like dental schools care the most about dental-related experiences, like lots of shadowing, and while this is definitely important to make sure that you know what the career is like, it’s also equally important to show dental schools what makes you a unique applicant through the things that you are truly passionate about. Be involved in a variety of things, from dental experiences to completely unrelated experiences, and schools will see your passion through the things that you do.
  • Start preparing early so you can apply early!
    • I know everyone says to apply early, but they do because it’s actually important! Don’t wait till the last minute to start your personal statement, collect letters of recommendation, or take your DAT. Applying early increases your chances of landing an interview at your top schools, so try to make sure that one part of your application isn’t holding back the whole thing! You can collect letters of recommendation in advance and hold them securely on websites like Interfolio, and continually work on editing your personal statement so you can have something you are truly proud of to submit.
  • Talk to dental students from schools you are considering to know what the school is like!
    • I knew I wanted to go to UCSF for dental school since my first year of undergrad, and even so, I still talked to current students before fully committing to the school. Where you receive your dental education will completely shape your experience, and every student wants something different out of dental school. Whether you are focused on a specific specialty, passionate about Public Health, interested in research, or whatever the case may be, you want to know that the school you decide upon is one that will fit your needs and interests.
  • Finally, enjoy the process!
    • Applying to dental school might seem overwhelming, but looking back on it, it is really one of the most exciting times as a student. Try not to get too stressed out or compare yourself to other applicants. Every applicant will have a different experience going through this process, but everyone ends up where they’re supposed to be.

ADCFP Spotlight: Punam Patel (’21)

The Academic Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP) provides dental students at UCSF the opportunity to explore academia through faculty mentorship and research- or education-based projects. Read what some of our students are working on below:

Dentistry is a complex field consisting of many career options, oral health-related topics, and specialties. Unfortunately, many pre-dental students are unaware of the breadth of the field, what it entails, and the options they have, while other undergraduate students do not have the resources to learn more about or consider the field at all. The goal of this project is to assess whether actively reaching out to pre-dental/pre-health students in their own communities and providing information on a broad range of topics within the dental field will encourage them to consider a career in dentistry, dental research, or dental academia. It will evaluate matriculating students’ preparedness and the need for structured informational programs and resources, potentially impacting future pipeline programs and recruitment.

Mistakes I made in dental school

My time in dental school is passing with a blur. It seems like yesterday I was waxing a tooth in simlab, and now I’m halfway through my 3rd year. Looking back, there was many triumphs and also many many failures. Here’s the most major mistakes I have made:

not going to class. There are days where I feel so tired that it’s easier to lie on my bed than going to class. Looking back, I wish I have gone to class more. Most of what’s been taught in lecture is useful in someway. And we all paid large $$ every year to be in dental school. Not going to class is like cheating yourself. 

not asking for help when I needed. Sometimes pride gets in the way and I didn’t want to look stupid by asking for help. But now is the time to ask questions, make mistakes, and get help because we have a safety net called dental school. Once we leave dental school, there’s no one there to protect you from lawsuit.

not putting my health first. When you’re young, you don’t realize your body has a limit. But realize in order to practice dentistry, you got to be well enough to endure through the long work days. No matter how many test cases, exams, and patients you have coming up, don’t forget to sleep, eat well, and exercise. 

not enjoying my time in dental school. Dental school is short. Even though the days seem long now, your time in dental school will be over in a blink of an eye. For some people, it’s the last time they will be in school. Your time now in dental school is precious. Treasure it and make the most of everyday so you will have no regrets looking back.

Thank you for reading. Hope you can learn from my mistakes and good luck to your dental school journey.

ADCFP Spotlight: Kevin Hildebrandt (’21)

The Academic Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP) provides dental students at UCSF the opportunity to explore academia through faculty mentorship and research- or education-based projects. Read what some of our students are working on below:

Increasing Value Care in the Pre-doctoral Clinic:

In exploration of a complete dental education experience, the pre-doctoral clinic is a major aspect of student development into future clinicians. Across the country, our students and faculty work together to provide the best care possible while learning procedures, patient management and administrative processing. While the student clinic is a laboratory for learning, it is also a business that produces a product in exchange for compensation from patients and insurers. With this in mind I am working through a retrospective chart audit from the pre-doctoral clinic to evaluate production per chair and number of visits for specific procedures in hopes to develop a further study on improving value and outcomes for the patients and the dental center. 

UCSF Students’ Favorite Clinical Moments

It’s winter quarter here at UCSF which means third year dental students are 6 months into their time in clinic and finally getting into the swing of patient care. With only 6 more months until they become fourth year students, the stress of taking skills assessments and competency exams is in full force. To top it all off, they just started night clinic once a week, adding even more to their already full plate. Fourth year students are just 6 months from graduation and can be found studying for upcoming board exams and sending desperate messages asking for cases that qualify for their graduation requirements. Overall, it is a high anxiety time in clinic with colorful exam sheets being spotted all over the cubicles and students looking more exhausted than ever when packing up at the end of the day. All throughout first and second year we were just waiting to make it to the clinical years when we would finally get to practice dentistry and do what we came to school for in the first place. But now that we are there, it’s easy to get bogged down in the stress of requirements, difficult patients, paperwork, class assignments, or a procedure that doesn’t go as planned. As a way to remind everyone why we chose a career in dentistry, I wanted to hear from fellow D3 and D4 students about experiences in clinic that reminded them of why they chose the profession. I posed the question, “What has been one of your favorite moments in clinic so far?” and some of the responses can be seen below. Hopefully they brighten your day and remind you why we dreamed of being dentists in the first place!

“With the stress of getting graduation requirement cases, it is refreshing to see a patient who has a simple treatment plan. Some of my favorite patents have been ones with a short treatment plan, which gives us more time to connect as human beings. We’re not rushing to do multiple fillings or to get a final impression in one appointment. When they do come to see me, I got to learn about their childhood, their travels, and one even brought her grandma to see me!” – Brittany Zhang, D4

UCSF School of Dentistry Predoc Clinic, source:

“The sweetest patient said she is going to look me up after I graduate to find out where I’m practicing and told me I’m going to be a great dentist. I was on radio rotation. That must have been some FMX.” – Karisa Yamamoto, D3

“One of my favorite experiences has been noticing tangible growth in my skills as a provider. My first crown took four visits (over 12 hours!): remove the old filling, do the build-up, prep, and get a good impression. It was super challenging for me, but ultimately I was happy with the result and the process helped me for future procedures. Fast forward 6 months and I saw the same patient again for 4 more crowns. With 6 more months of practice, I was able to finish the four crowns in less time than my first. I really surprised myself with my growth in that period of time. The best part was my patient was equally as grateful for the first long crown as the four faster crowns. She recognized that both times I was trying my best and had her best interest in mind, and encouraged me throughout.” – Elizabeth Grover, D4

“One of my favorite and most rewarding moments in clinic was delivering my denture! It was so heartwarming to see a patient who hasn’t had teeth in almost a year be able to smile again. When he came back for his denture adjustments, he was beaming and said that he had gotten compliments from his wife, and friends about how great it looked. It was validating to see six months of work come to fruition but nothing was better than knowing I had made a small difference in this patient’s quality of life.”  – Rebecca Lerman, D3

“One of my favorite moments in clinic so far has been restoring my patient’s anterior teeth. She came in with chipped lower anteriors and did not even know that restoring them was an option. She was never given that treatment option before. After I completed my class 4 composite restorations, she was ecstatic and said she had got her old smile back. She told me she used to hide her teeth when she laughed, but now feels more confident in smiling. I love how dentistry allows me to enable others to rediscover their strength and happiness again.” – Albert Ngo, D3

“One of my patients calls me smalls. Every time I have to push his spot back he messaged me you’re killing me smalls. I had another patient that had to get the same filling done over a couple years and then I re did it and he was so elated. He went home and said for the first time his tooth felt normal and he could eat again. When I told him I got into ortho, he said general dentistry just suffered a great loss.” – Joti Kaler, D4

“D3 year. What a pivotal time as a dental student. It’s hard to believe we are already 6 months into clinic. Amidst the stresses of scheduling patients, administrative nuances, and overcoming all the other quirks that come with clinic life, it can be easy to lose sight at times about what brought us to dentistry in the first place. Our days are busy, but it’s so important to pause and remember the little things that make the long days worthwhile. For me, patient interaction and building a trusting relationship with my patients is a very important aspect of dentistry. I love seeing new faces day to day and discovering pieces of their unique stories. One of my patients early on came to UCSF because he was in pain, as many of our patients do. I quickly discovered how much he dreaded the dentist, not because he didn’t like us, but rather because he feared us. My patient was so anxious and jumpy before the exam – I was surprised he even made it through the door! But no matter the reason why, the important thing was that he was there. I knew it was up to me to try and provide my patient with a different experience and help make sure that pain wasn’t his only motivator to see a dentist. Patience (with patients) can really be a virtue as taking the extra time goes a long way. With my patient, the few extra moments I took to make sure he was comfortable, ask questions, listen, and communicate with him each step of the way, made a huge difference. Before my patient left, he had a smile on his face and said, “This was the best experience I’ve had at the dentist. I wish I could have had a dentist like you growing up. Thank you for showing that you care.” He made my day with those words, and I was instantly reminded of why our profession can be so rewarding. I was happy to have made a small impact on my patient and help turn what was a negative, fearful experience into one he could walk away smiling from.”  – Sapna Saini, D3

UCSF School of Dentistry Predoc Clinic, source:

 “After a year and a half of stressing and apologizing to my patients, by far one of my favorite things to hear is when my patients ask what I’ll be doing after I graduate and that they hope I practice close by. It humbles me and makes me feel good to know that they trust me to be their provider. I didn’t have the quickest appointments or the most beautiful work but I know I delivered my best and I appreciate my patients for recognizing that.” – Raymond Lee, D4“A few weeks ago, a patient passed on to me came in complaining of pain and a “bony piece” under his lower denture that had been bothering him for over 6 months. None of the previous dentists could see anything and radiographs were insignificant. Upon taking off the denture and taking another x-ray, we successfully detected a retained root tip that had been rubbing his alveolar bone for months. Working together, the attending dentist and I removed the root tip in minutes. One week later during his post-op appointment he expressed his undying gratitude for us in relieving him of months of discomfort. We have the opportunity to touch lives every time we step into clinic, and I am grateful for the skills I’ve acquired to treat patients in all capacities.” – Michael Nguyen, D3

ADCFP Spotlight: Naya Okeke (’21)

The Academic Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP) provides dental students at UCSF the opportunity to explore academia through faculty mentorship and research- or education-based projects. Read what some of our students are working on below:

Dental schools nationwide are striving to increase student diversity to help better serve our population. Schools have improved in recruiting minority students, but after admission these students’ needs and programs can be forgotten. More attention should be directed into mentorship opportunities for minority students. To do this I will be conducting a qualitative research experiment to understand the experience of underrepresented minorities (URM) at non Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to understand if URM students feel that they receive a sufficient support system after being accepted into dental school.


On top of the typical didactic and preclinical courses we’re taking throughout the year, 22 UCSF students and I are working toward a larger goal: bettering the UCSF School of Dentistry as ADCFP fellows. The ADCFP (Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program) is an opportunity for motivated, research- and education-minded students to work with a faculty mentor on a project geared toward improving dental education. My project, for example, is to implement waste reduction and waste management systems in our dental clinics and simulation labs and eventually to incorporate sustainability education into current practice and curriculum.

With a cohort capped at 22 students, UCSF’s 2018-2019 ADCFP class boasts projects with a wide diversity of topics, including depression and wellness among California dental students, the accuracy of UCSF student treatment phasing, assessment of nitrous oxide sedation curriculum, and improvement of the relevance of biomaterials courses. The ADCFP program as a whole is designed by national ADEA and has a number of requirements that help students learn about academic careers, including mandatory faculty interviews and teaching activities.

UCSF ADEA ADCFP 2018-2019 Cohort

ADEA Education Chair board members have the responsibility of organizing monthly meetings for ADCFP fellows. Here at UCSF, our November meeting featured a fun Jeopardy game with facts and stories from five of our clinical coaches!  Dr. Diana Nguyen (DDS) reflected on a humorous incident when a patient inquired about her performing breast implants. Dr. Kurt Schroeder (DDS) shed light on his decision to go back to specialize in endodontics after 12 years of general dentistry. And Dr. Ram Vaderhobli (BDS, MS) shared some powerful advice: be thankful for the opportunity of learning and growth that each patient offers, which will help you become a better healthcare professional.    

On a more exciting note, 11 members of our cohort will attend the ADEA Annual Session this March in Chicago, IL.  There, fellows will participate in a poster session presenting their projects to dental students, faculty, and educators from around the nation.  In particular, I am looking forward to the poster session as an opportunity to share my project on sustainability and inspire students and faculty from other schools to look into ways to improve their own sustainability. At this conference, we will also have the opportunity to attend three full days of plenary sessions, speakers, and workshops all about improving the field of dental education. It will be a wonderful weekend of student networking, bonding, and learning all made possible by ADEA, ADCFP, and UCSF! 

The UCSF ADCFP programming is overseen by faculty advisor Dr. Wilson Hsin and run by ADEA Education and Jr. Education Chairs Auvi Tran ( and Claire Skach ( Please contact either Education Chair if you’d like to hear more information about UCSF’s program! 

Posters used in my ADCFP project on sustainability