How to pick the best residency program for you

By | September 21, 2020

Trying to find information on all the residency programs out there and then trying to narrow it down to find a best fit may seem like near impossible task. There are no official rankings, the information about each program is scattered, and for the most part, the information you do glean is anecdotal from past residents or friends who may have heard something through a grapevine.

Photo of Dr. Markov

Dr. Markov

I am a pediatric dentist and practice owner at VK Pediatric Dentistry and I went through this process a few years ago. I am thankful and fortunate to have matched at my #1 ranked program for a pediatric dental residency at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Although it was not an easy process, here are some tips that may help you pick the best residency program!

Externships are important

Many consider an externship a mini interview and a good chance to make a first impression, but it is so much more important than that. Sure, you get some face time with the residents and attendings at the program, but more importantly, you get firsthand experience to find out if the program is a good fit for what you are looking for. Each program has a vastly different feel with different philosophies, teaching styles, and approaches to your learning and it is almost impossible to tell this from their description on their website. If you are at an extremely busy, trauma intense hospital program, it will not make a good impression if you tell them you are looking for a something laid back with a good work life balance. My goal of my externships was to do my homework and figure out exactly the kind of program I would strive and be happy in. During my interviews, not only did I tell programs what I was looking for in a residency program, I was able to tell them specifics of what I liked about their residency and why I’d be a good fit for their program and this helped me tremendously.

Find somewhere that makes you feel a little uncomfortable

Residency is your time to learn. You may have graduated dental school but there is still a long way to go. And trust me, if you do not feel comfortable doing something in residency, you will not feel comfortable doing it in private practice. Look for a residency that challenges you to step a little out of your comfort zone and gives you a variety of experience. You want to experience anything and everything you can because you never know what the future may hold, and it will only help you as a provider. As a specific example: my residency program gave me ample opportunity to extract third molars. As a private practice pediatric dentist, I am rarely extracting third molars. However, this training helped expand my knowledge base, my surgical skill, and extraction technique in general. Do not sell yourself short and look for an easier, more comfortable time during residency when it is truly your opportunity to become the best dentist you can be.

Crush your interview with confidence

I had so many friends tell me after an externship or interview: “I loved that program but there is no chance I’ll get in there,” and then they ended up matching at that very same program just a few months later. Every single program is looking for candidates that will be a good fit for that program. Some programs prefer work experience, some prefer no experience, some programs prefer in house applicants, some programs prefer a diversity of training backgrounds. There is no one-size-fits-all and no perfect candidate for all programs. You have a unique story – don’t be afraid to tell it. Have the confidence to belong because you do!

Dr. Peter Markov is a pediatric dentist and owner of VK Pediatric Dentistry in Arlington, Virginia. He is passionate about pediatric oral health, children’s dentistry, and overall wellness. You can find him trying the local espresso at coffee shops in Northern Virginia, paddleboarding in Mclean, or exploring the DC monuments.  

Editor’s note: The Commission on Dental Accreditation and the American Student Dental Association offer information on post-graduate programs. Visit CODA and ASDA to start your search.

One thought on “How to pick the best residency program for you

  1. Charles Incalcaterra

    Good article. I would add that most programs have great websites that you can visit, since many of them are restricting personal visits and externships at this time. At Lehigh Valley Health Network in PA, my program is developing a live virtual webinar that we will be using in the spring of 2021 to reach out to dental students interested in pursuing a GPR. We will also be doing virtual interviews this year, so that is a new challenge for everyone. One tip – dress up for your virtual interview as if it were in person!


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