Sparked by best job rankings and bright job growth projections, applications into dental schools are at an all-time high and competition for the few spots has never been tougher.
That’s why University of the Ozarks senior Bristol Chilton remembers the exact time and day when he learned that he been accepted into his first choice---the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry.
"I received the phone call at 7:58 a.m. on December 1," said Chilton. "I was absolutely ecstatic; I could hardly speak. I am still in disbelief."
Chilton, a biology major from Midway, Ark., later learned he had also been accepted as an alternate at Oklahoma University School of Dentistry, one of the three dental schools he had applied for. It was an impressive acceptance rate for Chilton in one of the hottest professions around.
Dentistry was ranked the No. 1 job in the country by U.S. News & World Report in its 2015 rankings of the "100 Best Jobs." In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 16 percent growth, or a need for 23,000 dentists, by the year 2022.
Senior Bristol Chilton has had the opportunity to experience the dentist profession firsthand by “shadowing” local dentists as part of his academic coursework at Ozarks.
According to the American Dental Education Association, there were 11,789 applications for just over 5,900 positions in the country’s 65 dental schools in 2015.
Chilton credits his Ozarks education for helping him overcome those odds and taking that next step to fulfilling a childhood dream.
"Dentistry is a very competitive field to get into," he said. "With so many students competing for spots both here in the United States as well as internationally, it is more difficult than ever to get accepted into dental school. I think the education I’ve received at Ozarks is very telling. The knowledge that I have gained not only has given me confidence throughout the process, but it also gave the schools who interviewed me confidence in my cognitive abilities."
He first got interested in the profession as a 6-year-old during a much-dreaded visit to the dentist.
"I initially had negative experiences with dentists until my parents decided to switch clinics," Chilton said. "On my first visit, Dr. Nick Dollar joked with me about being a dentist, saying that I looked the part. It turned out that I was actually fascinated with dental procedures and how integral oral health is to an individual’s overall well-being. Coming into college, I had no doubt in my mind that dentistry was what I wanted to do."
In addition to his classes, Chilton’s professional ambitions were fueled by "shadowing" dentists at the River Valley Primary Care Services branch in Ratcliff, Ark., and the Arkansas River Valley Dentistry in Clarksville.
"My shadowing experiences with Drs. (Edward) Vela and (J.R.) Cook reinforced my desire to be a dentist," he said. "Seeing positive patient-provider interactions and priceless reactions to treatments firsthand was both uplifting and fulfilling. My experiences at both clinics no doubt gave me added motivation to keep pursuing dentistry as a profession. My best piece of advice to those that wish to get accepted into dental school is to get a lot of shadowing experience. Shadowing is a great opportunity to learn about all the dental procedures that you would be performing as a general dentist, and you have the added benefit of being able to ask any questions that you might have about the profession. I feel that shadowing local dentists is what really solidified my decision to proceed down that career path."
Chilton said he received guidance and support from his professors as he went through the arduous task of taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and applying to dental schools.
"My advisors helped me immensely throughout the process, writing letters of recommendation for me as well as critiquing my personal statement and giving me invaluable interviewing experience."
Saying he was drawn to Ozarks because of its liberal arts emphasis, Chilton has taken full advantage of the diverse curriculum. He is on his way to earning minors in chemistry, psychology and history.
"While I am passionate about the biological sciences, my interests branch out much further," Chilton said. "University of the Ozarks nurtured my pursuit for knowledge and allowed me to gain extensive knowledge in chemistry, psychology, and history. I was introduced to each of these subjects early in my undergraduate career as I needed to complete general requirements for my major and I quickly developed interest in all three."
Chilton, who hopes to practice dentistry in rural Arkansas once he graduates from dental school, believes the Ozarks experience has benefitted him greatly as he prepares for professional school.
"I personally feel that the liberal arts education offered at Ozarks has made me a well-rounded and prepared student," he said. "The attention that the professors give to the students is something truly unique, and it’s this quality that has allowed me to form professional relationships with my professors that I know will proceed beyond graduation. It is thanks to the comprehensive education that I’ve received at Ozarks that I can confidently say that I am prepared for dental school."