Do you fit with USC’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry?[Show summary]
Dr. Anita Tourah, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, offers an inside look at the dental student experience and admissions process.
How an emphasis on research, education and patient care makes USC’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry unique [Show notes]
Are you thinking of a career in dentistry? Worried about how to get in? Wondering what a dental education requires before you earn that DDS? My guest today is the Dean of Admissions at a top dental school.
Dr. Anita Tourah is Associate Professor of Clinical Dentistry and Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Tehran Azad University and earned her DDS from Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, as well as a special certificate in prosthodontics.
Can you give me an overview of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s program, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [1:46]
Our school is focused on three fundamentals: research, education, and patient care. These are an integral part of who we are. If we go to the research, we’ve been consistently part of the top-funded private dental schools by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and we have trained many academic leaders who run NIH-funded research nationwide and worldwide. We encourage our students to do research, either basic research or translational research, and our faculty guide them to conduct that research and also put together the manuscript for publication. We host a very successful annual research day, and that’s when our students, faculty, and postdoctoral fellows come together to show their innovative discoveries. We also have a publication, The Explorer, which has won multiple national awards that provides a comprehensive summary of all the innovative discoveries that we do at USC.
The second fundamental is patient care. We are located in the heart of Los Angeles. We have a great and extensive array of patients for our students, and we have very extensive community outreach programs, such as Union Rescue Mission, Mobile Clinic, QueensCare, and numerous rotations to the hospitals and communities that give treatment to our patients. Many of those treatments are free for our patients.
Education. We strive for the best education for our students and we always try to bring new technology, new equipment, new software, new faculty with new ideas. This commitment shines through in all that we do in the field of prosthodontics, endodontics, periodontics, and so on. So at Herman Ostrow, we provide the best education for our students, we provide the best treatment for our patients, and we’re always trying to find new innovations through our research program.
Is research required for the students? How soon do they start in terms of patient care? [3:58]
No, it’s not a required part. But if they’re interested, we encourage them, and we guide them and we support them throughout the process.
Patient care starts in the third year. The first two years are mostly preclinical where they unlock skills and procedures. Once they complete that program, those first two years in a preclinical setting, then they go to the clinic and start patient care.
Ostrow students have “significant preclinical experience, education, training, and restorative dentistry using simulators.” Can you disclose what kinds of simulators? How does that work? [4:34]
Dentistry is a very unique profession. Just think about it. We’re working in a very limited space, and it’s dark and everything is slippery. Everything is in either millimeter or it’s in micron, so it could be very challenging to actually provide dentistry to the patient. We strive for excellence and we want the best quality for our patients, so therefore, we want to mimic these patients in the preclinical setting so that our students learn how to manage them. We have mannequins that have a face, so there’s a limited spacing; they have teeth and they have a jaw that they cannot open very much, and the chair cannot be upside down, so the patient you see straight from the top. We’re simulating the patient, so during the first year and second year, they’re learning the skills with the mannequins, so when they come to the clinic, they’re more comfortable treating the patient.
Dentistry is advancing toward digital planning and digital manufacturing, called CAD/CAM, and we are the forefront in incorporating digital technology in our program. We have many different intraoral scanners that our students in year one and two get to use and practice, and do the restoration and develop the skills. So when they come to third year and fourth year, they use those scanners and those machines and that technology for patient treatment. They can provide all sorts of restoration: crown, inlay, onlay, implant crowns, complete denture, removable partial denture on the patients. And we use this CAD/CAM technology to guide the implant surgeries, and then our students perform the actual surgeries to place the implant on the patient. We have 3D printers; some of the laboratory steps are printed in-house. We’re trying to expose our students to the best technology out there and the best education that they can get throughout the four years.
How has COVID affected the Ostrow dental school experience and admissions process, specifically dental clinic experience and patient exposure? [7:17]
COVID has affected many lives. We modified our admission process slightly, but still, we’re looking for the best for our school. We brought the virtual world to our interview process and we conduct those the same way that we did interviews in previous years, PBL style and a multi-mini-interview through Zoom. In regards to clinic and patient exposure, we have gone above and beyond. Besides what everybody is doing, social distancing, masks, and all of that, we have installed numerous HEPA filters, these massive machines that are constantly cleaning the air. We are doing weekly COVID testing for all the students and faculty and staff. Every student, faculty, or staff member in patient care has been N95 mask-fitted. We’re making sure that they’re using the proper masks. We COVID test our patients that come in for any procedure that may cause aerosol droplets. I’m happy to say we have vaccinated faculty, staff, and students. We try to provide a clean and healthy and productive environment for our faculty, staff, and students, and patients.
Ostrow is using the AADSAS application. Can you review the timeline for applications to Ostrow with the AADSAS application? [9:09]
The application cycle usually opens in June and it closes February 1st, but the applicants have the option of getting some preparation ready, like a personal statement. You don’t need to wait until the application cycle opens, or you may talk to the people that you want to ask for a letter of recommendation. Have those ready, so when June comes, when the application cycle opens, you can submit it. Once they submit the application, we’ll make sure the transcript and grades are accurate and so forth, and then at that point, we start reading the applications and deciding who to invite for interviews.
We start interviews late August/September. It’s rolling admission and just continues. We try to interview as many as we can because we want to give this opportunity to as many applicants as possible so we can handpick every single one that we want to come here.
What kind of dental clinical exposure do you like to see in your applicants? Can you give a guideline? [10:31]
Dental school is a big commitment, financially, time-wise, and physically. It’s really hard on your neck and your back and so forth. We want to make sure that the applicants know what they’re getting into. This is their passion. This is what they want for the rest of their life. It’s nice when they go to other offices, they shadow a dentist, they talk to the dentist, they ask them, “Why do you like dentistry? What is it that you don’t like in dentistry?” and reflect and see if this is truly what they want to do for the rest of their life.
It’s sad sometimes when you hear that students in the first semester or second semester learn that dentistry is not their passion, and then they change careers. It’s a big loss in time and money for them, and it’s a big loss for someone who could have come and flourished at dental school and become a fantastic clinician. We want to make sure that they know what they’re getting into.
Ostrow does a lot in terms of community service. Do you also like to see non-clinical or non-dental community service in your applicants? Is that important? [12:14]
At Herman Ostrow, we train our students to be healthcare providers. We want them to be great clinicians, the best scholars, and the best healthcare providers for their community. We want them to be compassionate and considerate and kind-hearted, someone who goes above and beyond for their patients. So it’s very heartwarming to read an application where the applicant has done some community service. That shows compassion, and we love to see that. Like I said, we have a very extensive community outreach program that our students go through, including rotations through these underserved communities. This is the lesson that we give them, to be compassionate and reach out to those in need. We do exit interviews with our students. After graduation, we interview them and say, “Tell us what you want to tell us.” Oftentimes, this is one of the things that they mention, that this outreach program has contributed greatly not only to their professional growth, but impacted them as human beings. We provide these fantastic opportunities for them, for students, for our patients, and we would like to have an applicant who is aligned with us in that regard.
At Ostrow, you have an individual interview and then you have the multi-mini-interview. Tell us a little bit more about the interview day at Ostrow in the time of COVID. What do you intend for the next cycle, since that’s around the corner? [13:53]
Because of COVID, since we could not invite them and could not do an interview day, it’s an interview week. We break it down into little pieces. We want to get to know them, and we want them to get to know us. After all, they have to choose us too. Usually on the day, I give an hour presentation. Like you mentioned, I have a very unique position because I was a dental student, I was a resident, I’m faculty, I was a course director, and I was a group practice director mentoring juniors and seniors, so I know every question that applicants ask. During that hour presentation, I’ll tell them who we are at USC and what we do and answer all the questions that they have.
At a separate time, we do MMI interviews virtually, and also we do PBL interviews over Zoom. We want to evaluate their maturity and their reasoning. Are they professional? Are they a team player? Can they communicate? All of that. We pick that up during the interview. Then, we have a fantastic school, so we want to show off our school. We have a virtual tour that applicants can go to. We have sessions where they can talk to the ambassadors to see the life of a dental student at Herman Ostrow. We introduce our student clubs and organizations. We have numerous student clubs, and we want to introduce those to them so they feel more included and engaged.
If we get to a time (hopefully not in the too-distant future) when travel becomes normal again, do you see the interviews going back to being in-person or staying virtual? [16:02]
I don’t know what COVID will do tomorrow, or next month. I don’t know. But if we go back to normal, which I hope will be soon, it’s really nice to see them in person. You get eye contact and body language. It’s very cold when you talk to someone over a camera. I would love to go back to in-person interviews because it’s just more welcoming and more sweet to the applicant, and they can get to see the school and get to see the students in action in a sim lab or in a clinic, but we’ll see what the virus tells us.
Ostrow typically receives roughly 3,000 applications and matriculates 144 students. What review process does an application typically go through to get from one of 3,000 to one of 144? How on earth do you winnow it down? [17:03]
We have a great pool of applicants. We have so many highly qualified applicants, and I wish we could admit them all, but we can’t unfortunately. The review process is a holistic review. We look at the applicant as a whole, both cognitively and non-cognitively. What is the course load? How many classes are they taking? How are they performing in those classes? Are they working outside? Are they doing any other activities and so forth while doing school? We want to see what kind of applicant we have. Dental school program has a very rigorous curriculum, so we want to make sure that students that are coming to dental school can handle the program. This is very different from undergrad when you have a class Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning. The students are busy everyday, either with classes and seminars, PBL cases, rotation, and patient care. They have to run a few things all at the same time. And when they start treating the patient, they have to think ahead of the game. “What does my patient need two appointments from now so I can have it ready today?” They have to learn to multitask, and that requires discipline, that requires dedication, and motivation, and hard work. These are the elements that we want to learn from the application through their activities, the letter of recommendation, personal essay, grades, scores, all of that.
Is there anything that you look for in applicants today, one year into the pandemic, that maybe you didn’t look for before the pandemic, or two (or five, or 10) years ago? [18:56]
We look for the best clinicians. We look for the best scholars and best educators and the best human beings overall. That’s why we want to look at each applicant in a comprehensive manner. Being great at academic work helps, but also their character, their mindset. How do they approach a problem? Are they resilient? Their maturity? That all plays an important role in our decision-making too. That’s why for the past three years, we have implemented multi-mini-interviews to assess these immeasurable qualities like empathy, professionalism, maturity, ability to work in a team, and communication, and so on.
How many stations are in your MMI? [20:06]
Virtually, we had nine stations. It’s a lot!
How do you view letters of intent or update letters, either from waitlisted applicants or from applicants before they’re waitlisted, maybe after their interview or before their interview? [20:34]
I know, it’s a stressful process. Trust me. I’ve been in that boat too myself. We have many highly qualified applicants that unfortunately we cannot admit, so we have to select. But we have an open door policy. If the applicants have questions, please email us. We can talk over Zoom, we can make a phone call, go over your application. We help them however we can. Sometimes we go over the application and we say, “Okay, maybe you want to improve in this area or you want to do this,” guide them to the right direction.
We interview from September on, and then it’s a rolling admission. However, the first letter of acceptance does not go out until around December 15; the previous year, it was December 1st. But after that, we send the acceptances throughout the cycle. Yes, it is a stressful process but we try to communicate with our students. As soon as we hear something, we communicate with them, and they’re in direct communication with us. We’re here to help them. But unfortunately, as far as being a stressful process, I don’t think there is a way to make it less stressful.
Let’s say they get a 4.0 in the last semester of their senior year. Would you want them to send you an email updating Ostrow? [22:04]
If they completed a summer course or have a new transcript, let us know. We update it. If they do more hours, if they have been working and been doing community outreach, let us know. We add it to their application. It’s a wide open door policy.
On a forward-looking note, what advice would you give to dental school applicants thinking ahead and planning to apply this summer for 2022 matriculation, or perhaps even planning to apply later for a later matriculation? [22:40]
My advice to them is to think long and hard. Is this truly your passion? Do you see yourself doing this every day, all day? Do you love it? Or, like we talked about earlier, is this something that you’re doing because somebody said so? Get involved in these dental clinics, talk to the dentist, talk to many dentists, ask questions. Make sure that this is what you really want to do. Once you confirm that your heart is in the right place, work hard, study well, prove to the admissions committee that you are capable of the course load of dental school, you are hardworking, you are dedicated, you are motivated and committed. Study hard and get good grades.
Prove to the committee members that you will be a great doctor for your community, that you’re compassionate and caring, and you’re putting others before you. Do that with the community service that’s out there. Get involved and prove it to us that you are capable of the course load of the school and you’re going to be the best clinician, the best educator, and the best scholar.
We are here to help our students, and we want them to have a great profession, be fulfilled with what they do, and their patients to be happy with them. And it’s a two-way street. We want to have a great alumni network. We have a very strong alumni network, and we want them to be always available for the community and their colleagues.
This content was originally published here.