“I just wanna pass.” — One of the most common phrases among second-year students at Pacific regarding boards. The majority of us decided to attend Pacific because we knew we would be treated with respect and would get one of the best clinical educations in the country. In comparison to schools like UCLA and UCSF, very few of us plan to specialize so we often see little benefit in trying to get a top score.
Now that I am six months out of school it has become even clearer to me why trying your best on boards is extremely important. The administration will tell you many reasons to do your best like: it will improve Pacific’s reputation, or it will show faculty they are doing a good job, or that you didn’t get into one of the best dental schools by doing the minimum so why would you start now?
These are all very valid and important reasons, but there is another reason to try and get as high a score as you can. Your board score can affect your career options and will be with you for the rest of your life. As I said before, most Pacific students do not plan to specialize or attend a residency at graduation but that does not mean you will not change your mind years later.
Let me give you two examples of people who I met since graduation who never thought they would specialize and how their board score affected their options years after graduation.
The first is about one of my co-residents. His father is a general practitioner in Seattle. He always assumed he would go into practice with his father after graduation and eventually take over the practice. He started out working there three days a week and two days at another office as an associate. At the two day-a-week office the owner asked him to do the root canals for the practice. He agreed because the work load was a little slow starting out. As he performed more and more root canals he started attending many weekend CE courses. After three years he realized that endo was something he really loved and was good at. He never expected or planned to specialize during dental school but eventually he told his dad that he would be leaving the practice to specialize in endodontics. Luckily he tried his best on boards during school and earned a very good score. He was able to apply that summer and gain acceptance to the University of Florida endodontics program.
The second story is of a person I met this year who was applying for an endo residency as well. He was in private practice for two years and then decided endo was the place for him. Like the first story, during dental school he never expected to specialize. As he prepared his application and asked old faculty for letters of recommendation they would often ask him what he received on boards part I. He had barely passed boards and was told by multiple people that he would likely need to retake the boards if he was going to have a chance. So four years after taking boards for the first time he had to start studying anatomy, biochemistry, etc, etc all over again! He studied for two full months but with so much time away from academia he received an almost identical score. Unfortunately he did not gain acceptance to a residency this year. He called some of the schools and multiple schools told him that his boards score was too low. When speaking with him he is convinced that had he tried his best while he was in school, when all of the information was still fresh and while his mind was still in the academic mode he could have done much better. Now he will have to take a year off of work to improve his resume through teaching, research and possibly even take boards part I again. His other option is to return to general practice knowing he is not in the career of his choice.
The boards will be going to pass/no pass in the next couple of years, but until that time your performance on the test can have a long-lasting effect on your future. Look at the exam like you did the DAT. Study hard and do your best. In the process you will keep Pacific’s reputation high, make your faculty proud and regardless of your class rank, you will be keeping your options open. We get a great clinical education at Pacific but nothing is a substitute for real experience. It will be very difficult for you to be sure what aspects of dentistry you will love the most until you work in an office. It may turn out that you enjoy everything and general practice is perfect for you, but what happens if that turns out not to be the case? By getting into Pacific you proved that you are all capable of doing very well on the test. Some extra hard work now can save you many years of disappointment and regret in the future.