ECU dental school hosts potential students for intensive introduction to dentistry

While Sambudha “Sam” Abendschein has always wanted to be a dentist, all that was missing was an intensive, real-world look at what dental school is all about.

ECU School of Dental Medicine faculty member Dr. Roopsi Kaur works with a participant of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Dentists program in the school’s simulation lab. (Photos by Tarrick Cox)

Earlier in June, she got the chance to see firsthand what the journey is like, from the application process to hands-on exercises, during the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine’s Preparing Tomorrow’s Dentists (PTD) summer pathway program.

The annual event is split into two three-day sessions for high school, college and post-graduate students, who meet current students, residents, faculty, staff and administrators and develop a firm grasp and understanding of what dental school entails.

This year, the school hosted 49 PTD participants over both June sessions.

Abendschein, a dental hygienist from Fayetteville, heard about the program through her work as vice president of Methodist University’s Pre-Dental Club. She applied, was accepted and considers herself one step closer to dental school after the program.

“It’s been an amazing and wonderful experience,” she said. “It’s given me all the information so I can initially process what dental school will be like. One of the best things has been being able to ask a plethora of questions, and everyone has been so patient and answered them. This has really helped me feel stronger about ECU.”

The School of Dental Medicine established the PTD program in 2013, in collaboration with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the Old North State Dental Society. Initially funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as an American Dental Education Association Pipeline Program, PTD aims to develop activities to enhance students’ awareness of the dental profession, and to ultimately increase the number of students seeking to pursue a career in dentistry in North Carolina. The PTD programming provides a pathway for future dentists who intend to serve patients from underrepresented or underserved populations across North Carolina, in alignment with the mission of the School of Dental Medicine.

Features of the program include an overview of the first year in dental school, hands-on laboratory experiences, opportunities to interact with dental students in the clinical setting, seminars in time management and test taking skills, personal statement review and a variety of other activities.

“We’re delighted that once again, we’ve had two sessions of our Preparing Tomorrow’s Dentists program that gives students interested in dentistry an opportunity to explore the profession,” said Tarrick Cox, the dental school’s director of admissions. “The participants had hands-on experiences in our simulation lab and got a closer look at nearly every facet of what dental school entails. We hope the experience gives them the strong foundation they need to choose dentistry as their future professional paths.”

A dental student demonstrates a hands-on exercise to participants of the Preparing Tomorrow’s Dentists program during a session in the school’s simulation lab.

Caroline Lostetter and Abigail Lewis both have sisters who are either current or incoming ECU dental students. Both decided to participate in PTD to see what characteristics of the ECU School of Dental Medicine appealed to their siblings.

Lostetter said she feels the mission of the school to prepare dentist leaders to serve North Carolina aligns with her values and career goals.

“This is a good fit for me,” she said. “This program has taught me a lot about ECU, and meeting the faculty and other people who have had an impact in the school have been the best parts.”

Lewis said her sister, who is a fourth-year dental student at ECU, shared her experience from classroom instruction to patient care, sparking a love for the profession in Lewis as well.

“This has given me so much information, beyond what my sister has told me,” she said. “Seeing her get her white coat and start to care for patients is just really exciting.”

Postgraduate student Brittani Strickland of Winston-Salem was all smiles as she reflected on her experience on the final day of PTD.

“Having access to students has been invaluable,” she said, “being able to ask them questions, explore what their journey looked like and hear that insight and advice. This whole experience and the transparency you get here is not something you can get everywhere.”