Specializing in Oral Surgery

Interested in pursuing a specialty in oral surgery? Read below for an interview of my colleague, Dr. John McKelvey, who is entering his oral surgery residency this fall! He provides some great advice for dental students who are considering OS!

1. What general advice do you have for students interested in specializing in oral surgery?

If you are interested in OS, my suggestion would be to do a 1 or 2 week long externship at a hospital that has an OMFS program. By doing an externship, you’ll not only get to see the different kinds of surgeries oral surgeons do, but you’ll also see first-hand what life is like as a resident and will have a much better idea about whether or not you think it’s something you would want to do for 4-6 years after dental school.

2. What can a D1/D2 (prior to entering clinic) do to make him/herself a competitive candidate for an oral surgery residency?

As a D1/D2, your priority should be to get the best grades you possibly can. Additionally, study your butt off for the CBSE (the exam you have to take to apply for residency). That exam is no joke and by getting a high score on the CBSE, you’ll put yourself in a great position. The first two things most programs look at when reviewing applicants are their GPA and CBSE score. However, I wouldn’t study for the CBSE until D2 year because, as a D1, you won’t have much time since you already have so much to study for. So, during D1, focus on getting the best grades you can and then D2, focus on getting the best grades you can plus study really hard for CBSE and take it.

3. What can a D3/D4 (currently in clinic) do to make him/herself a competitive candidate for an oral surgery residency?

As a D3, I would focus on going to your school’s oral surgery clinic as much as you can for a couple reasons. First, you get more exposure to extractions to see if it’s something you truly enjoy and could see yourself doing a lot of in the future. Second, you want to develop a strong relationship with your school’s oral surgery faculty. Programs like to see strong letters of recommendation from oral surgeons, so make sure to show your face in the oral surgery clinic to demonstrate to faculty that you’re truly interested. Additionally, as a D3 I would do another externship or two at a hospital if you have time. Most OMFS programs like to see their applicants have ~5 weeks of externships under their belt before applying. Lastly as a D3, I would take the CBSE if you haven’t already or take it a second time if you would like to improve your score. As a D4, your focus should be on organizing your application. Research which programs you want to apply to, figure out who you want to ask for letters of recommendation, and prepare for your interviews. Also, as a D4, go to the oral surgery clinic as much as you can to get better at extractions before residency.

4. What types of questions can students expect in their interview?

Each interview will be different, but some of the most common interview questions will be things like: Tell us about yourself? Why do you want to be an oral surgeon? What qualifies you more than another applicant? Name a recent criticism and how you handled it? What types of procedures have you seen or like? Strengths and weaknesses? Why do you want to come to this specific program? Any questions for us?

5. How can students set themselves apart from other candidates interested in oral surgery?

Aside from getting the best grades you can and having a great CBSE score, other things you can do to make yourself stand out are going on externships, doing research, community involvement, and having great letters of recommendation. Another piece of advice I have for helping you stand out is actually pretty simple: be a good person. By showing compassion to patients in the clinic, by getting along with your classmates, by being an overall nice person – in my opinion – goes a long way and will set you up for success no matter what you choose to do. It also doesn’t hurt that your faculty will notice it and will write you good letters.

The last thing I want to mention is it’s not easy to balance all the things I listed above. It’s ok if you don’t have a 4.0 GPA and an amazing CBSE score, plus 7 weeks of externship under your belt, plus 2 published papers, plus community service every single weekend. We’re all human and dental school is already stressful. I had a very average GPA and CBSE score and didn’t do any research and still got accepted into residency. Just remember to relax and don’t get discouraged throughout the process!

I hope you enjoyed my interview with John! He dished out some insightful advice (which doesn’t surprise me…he’s a dental powerhouse)! Be sure to check out my other posts on AEGD vs. GPR, Peds Residencies, Ortho Residencies, Perio Residencies, and Endo Residencies.

Are you interested in specializing in oral surgery? How are you preparing for your future specialty? Comment below!


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