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Pre-dental to Pre-PA?

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Hi all,

I'm a graduate student in an MS in Biomedicine program and have always thought about becoming a dentist. Right now I am worried about the many years spent in dental school as well as the cost of dental school. The school that I have a good shot at getting into is supposed to cost ~$370k (in-state) and I will already have about $36k in loans from the MS degree when I graduate this year. I have never wanted to own my own practice, so I'm not sure if taking on that amount of debt (easily over $400k) makes it worth becoming a dentist to get paid ~$125k starting salary as an associate dentist. I also don't think the military scholarship is a good fit for me. I would be graduating dental school at age 28 going on 29 and I am female and would like to have a family. PA school sounds attractive since it's 2-3 years and costs ~$100k or less and you still get a good starting salary. I think I would be happy with either career since I'd get to help people and think critically about medical issues, but having $400k of debt hanging over me for such a long time sounds miserable.

With these concerns, I have been thinking about PA school, but I do not have the direct patient contact hours. I also haven't shadowed any PAs yet, since I've been focused on dentistry. I am a mental health counselor through the Crisis Textline, so maybe some of those hours would count. I also got my EMT license in high school, but never used it because of the serious commitment the rescue squad wanted while in college. I remember loving my EMT training. I am still within the re-entry period, so I could get it back and use that to get my hours. I will have a busy school year ahead completing this Master's degree and I will apply to either dental school or PA schools in May/June 2020, so I will have a gap year after submitting the applications. During that time, I could greatly increase the amount of patient contact hours.

I have all the pre-requisites and more, and GPAs are as follows:

Science undergrad: 2.9,  should be 3.2 when I graduate with the Master's

Overall undergrad GPA: 3.3 at UVA

Master's GPA: 4.0 

GRE: 319 (163 verbal, 156 quant, 4.5 writing) 

I am writing this post to see if I would even have a shot at getting into PA school this cycle. I would definitely spend some time shadowing PAs and hopefully spend some time doing EMT work over winter break and such. The minimum 1000 hours of patient contact seems daunting right now and so I'd like your opinions about if it's even a good idea to apply. In terms of being ready to apply to dental school, I already have the shadowing and volunteer hours needed and would take the DAT in May. This would be a pretty big switch for me since I'm almost ready to apply to dental school, maybe this all sounds crazy? Not sure if applying to both would be feasible or just a waste of time. Grateful for all opinions. Thanks 


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Wow- dental school sounds expensive! It seems like you're fairly passionate about dental health. To offer some advice from my recent experience applying to PA school:

  • Keep in mind that for some schools, the minimum may be 500 or 1000 PCE and/or HCE, however, most applicants that are accepted have well over the minimum amount of hours. It is common for applicants to apply to multiple cycles before the amount of hours they have accrued is sufficient. Is that doable for you?
  • Your hours at the Crisis Line are great to count towards volunteering, but I assume they are not in a medical setting, so they would not fit the definition of PCE or HCE.
  • There are programs that will accept applicants with zero PCE/HCE. You can research these, however, you will need for your application stand out in other ways.  
  • Your science GPA is below what is generally average for PA school, but that's not necessarily a deal breaker. However, your motivation to pursue the profession might be. The "less time/less debt" argument will not get you accepted to PA school- the process is far too competitive, and there are many other applicants that this is their dream. 

I'd say if you've always wanted to be a dentist, look into loan forgiveness opportunities in your state. Check out the National Health Service Corps: https://nhsc.hrsa.gov/loan-repayment/nhsc-loan-repayment-program.html. See if there are scholarships available. I'd do more research on if there are other ways to make it work before switching your path all together.

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