Andrea Valencia's Journey to UMSOD


Welcome, Terps! Today, I am pleased to bring you insights from an accomplished UMD alum: Andrea Valencia. Andrea graduated from UMD with a major in Biological Sciences: General Biology and a minor in French. She is currently in her fourth year of the DMD program at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) and is in the process of applying for an Advanced General Practice Residency. 

Her initial drive to pursue dentistry was rooted in her positive experience with her pediatric dentist. While she was a pre-dental student, her motivation to be in healthcare was because she enjoyed working with and helping people. Having now treated her own patients in the clinic as a fourth-year dental student, Andrea’s ‘why dentistry’ has further evolved to encompass her appreciation of dentistry as a “really unique field in the sense that a dentist not only impacts a person’s health in a positive way (such as when they treat an infection) but they also play a role in the patient’s self-confidence and self-esteem.” A BIG thank you to Andrea, as she not only shared her invaluable thoughts through this interview but also offered to share her personal statements for both dental school and dental residency programs.

Application Process

Reflecting back on her time at UMD, Andrea shares that some of her most memorable experiences were serving as the President of a Pre-dental Society, interning at the Maryland State Dental Association, and volunteering on a dental mission trip to Honduras through Global Dental Brigades. In fact, the dental mission trip was a source of inspiration for her dental school personal statement. During her internship at the Maryland State dental association, she was responsible for helping to organize the Mission of Mercy free dental clinics. Because UMSOD plays a large part in hosting the Mission of Mercy dental clinics in Baltimore, Andrea had the opportunity to meet UMD dental school faculty members early on which confirmed her interest in attending this school. 

To prepare for her dental school interviews, Andrea looked up the one hundred most common interview questions online and came up with a general idea for each of those questions. She also recommends looking at your resume and rereading your personal statement to have your most notable experiences fresh in your mind. Specifically for UMSOD, some of the questions she was asked were “tell me about yourself, what made you choose dentistry, why do you want to go to Maryland, where do you see yourself after graduation in Maryland, what are the three positives and three negatives of dentistry, is diversity and inclusion important to you and what kind of a place that holds in dental school and in the greater world.”

“If I could give a tip it would be that you're not ever going to be able to prepare for everything that they're going to ask you. And also, you don't want to sound rehearsed. I think the most important thing is to take a second to think about your answer during the interview. Don't just blurt something out and whatever you decide to answer, just go with it. Sell it as if you truly believe it. They don't want you to be flip-flopping between two things or saying something with the intention to please them.”

Shifting gears to talk about dental residency programs, Andrea shared that each specialty has different deadlines for the interviews/applications. Applying to residency is similar to applying for dental school in that primary applications (personal statement, resume, boards, transcripts from undergrad and dental school) are all submitted through a central portal system (ADEA PASS for residency) and each program has a fee that's around $200. Interestingly, some dental programs participate in a match system where the dental student ranks the programs they applied for and the program ranks that dental student, and the system matches students to programs based on that. For both dental school and residency programs, Andrea emphasizes that applying early is critical! Looking back, she is grateful that she took the DAT the summer before her junior year of college because that allowed her to dedicate her junior summer to solely focus on her dental school application. 

Life at UMSOD 

In terms of the clinical side of dental school, Andrea shares that “although there is no good transition from working on fake teeth to a real person, at UMSOD students get plenty of time to practice on mannequins and in the lab before they are in the clinic with patients.” Specifically, first-year and second-year dental schools students complete didactic classes and labs. In the third year of dental school, patients are transferred to third-year dental students from their bigs (who are fourth-year dental students) or the third-year dental students find their own patients. For Andrea, D4 is her favorite year because “it's really nice to be treating patients and like actually being in the clinic and doing exactly what you're going to be doing in the real world, like when, when you graduate.” Some things to anticipate completing during the D4 year are licensing exams, board exams, and interviews for residency programs.

For Andrea’s first-ever dental appointment as the clinician, she recalls it being “super nerve-racking because you don't know what to say to the patient, but then I realized they're just a person and you're just having a conversation.” For cleanings, the dental students are expected to bring the patient back and review their medical history, dental history, medications, and record their blood pressure. Before starting the cleaning or procedure, students present the information they collected to the attending faculty. Throughout the treatment, the faculty will check on the dental student’s skill in tooth isolation, preparation, and overall quality of the procedure. Still, faculty are not “watching you over your shoulder. If there's something that you need help with, they'll gladly like sit down and help you. I never felt like I had I needed someone to hold my hand, but they're there if you need them they'll respect how much help you want or how much help you don't want.” A dental student’s first appointments last around two and a half hours, but in Andrea’s experience, after more practice, she learned how to use her time more effectively and became faster at doing things. “This means that a procedure that would have maybe taken you an hour at first takes you 20 minutes.”

Andrea shares her insights about her work-life balance in dental school. D1 year is a lot of classes focused on foundational science courses and in the D2 year, the material is more geared towards dentistry. Based on her experience, a week in D1 and D2 may look like classes from 8 am to 4 pm followed by the gym and studying. For D3 years the course load is reduced to allow you to have time in the clinic. For a typical week, dental students can be in the clinic all of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, you have classes in the morning and a clinic in the afternoon. Throughout dental school, some exams require purely recall and others are case-based. To prepare for all these exams, Andrea suggests that “when you get that lecture, you should learn it then.” Still, she acknowledges that “most of us don't do that, but in an ideal world that's what you would do.” 

When gross anatomy exams were coming up, Andrea would devote her entire weekends studying for those. However, for most other exams, as a very social person, she would give herself time off on the weekend ahead to go out to eat with friends, exercise, attend concerts, or go to the movies. To support students in learning the material, UMD dental school professors hold office hours, review sessions, and are always open to talking to students. Andrea values that the University of Maryland School of Dentistry is a large university program, meaning that there are many graduate schools there. For this reason, it feels like a large campus with a correspondingly extensive amount of resources. “There's a counseling center that I know a lot of my friends use. It's free. There's the library, the student center, the gym, and public transportation which are all included in your tuition. There's a lot that is there for you to use if you need it.” 

That’s all for today Terps! Look out for Andrea’s personal statements which will be posted in the future :)

With care,