For those applying to NUS dentistry, information about the course may seem difficult to get unless you already have friends studying there, or if you are somehow in the know. I remember emailing the academic office back in the day before I enrolled, hoping to get more information about the course subjects and timetable. All I got in response was an amusing and rather curt response - 'Please refer to our admission website for more information' ?
This series of posts is aimed at helping prospective applicants get more information about the course in general. In the first of these series, I will detail the experience I had when first applying the course back in the mid 2010s.
Disclaimer: I graduated not long ago in the mid 2010s, but as with all things (and life in general), stuff may have changed slightly. Do forgive this old man if some of the information is slightly incorrect.
Dentistry is a rather competitive course to get into. Back in the earlier days (up to the mid 2000s), the course only accepted 30-36 students. It has slowly increased since, accepting 48 applicants in the early 2010s, and currently accepts approximately 54 students every year.
However, there are plans to increase its intake to 80 in 2020. This is because the new and bigger dentistry campus, the National University Centre for Oral Health, will open soon in 2018/2019. For now, however, you will have to try to get into one of the 54 slots available.
I will detail the application process through the 'A' levels route, as I was a JC student. If you are a polytechnic graduate applying to NUS dentistry, the process may be slightly different.
After receiving your 'A' level results in late February to early March (the 2018 result release is planned for somewhere between 23-27 February 2018), NUS applications also concurrently open in late February, and you can submit your application online.
The NUS Office of Admissions website lists the 'official' grade requirement for Dentistry as follows:
Good 'A' Level results,
Good pass in Chemistry
and having either taken Biology or physics
...which honestly, is not saying much. How do you define a 'good' pass?!
Speaking from experience, I am telling you that you need to have taken at least 4 H2 subjects, and have preferably scored straight As for all subjects. A H3 subject is not required, but it will be a useful advantage considering your volume of competition
Can you get into dentistry if you get a 'B' or 'C'? Sure - it is not impossible. I know of a few classmates who have scored Bs, or who only took 3 H2s subjects and entered dentistry. The majority, however, scored perfectly for the A levels.
Also consider this - when I applied for NUS dentistry in the early 2010s, NUS shortlisted applicants from a total of approximately 2000 applicants. These shortlisted applicants then went on for the interview and the manual dexterity test. In line with the increasing number of applicants year on year, I will only assume that the competition has since only increased.
In conclusion - sorry for being straightforward, but it is what it is. Don't let grades limit you from applying, but do also be realistic. Also, remember that you have to place dentistry as your first or second choice in order to be shortlisted. Keep that in mind as you juggle your other choices.
Are there any other pre-requisites before applying? Do you need to have done Internships? Does your CCA matter?
Official answer: No.
Unofficial answer: It would probably help to have done something related to dentistry, but changes in the interview process have somewhat diminished its importance. Before 2016, shortlisted applicants had to sit through a formal interview panel with 3 senior professors or lecturers. You would have been asked a series of traditional questions, like:
Why are you interested in dentistry?
What have you done to show that you are interested?
...and so and and so forth. It would then have helped if you had some sort of experience and/or clinical internships to demonstrate your interest.
Since 2016, however, the formal interview process has been done away with. In its place are a series of Multiple Mini Interviews - which I will explain later.
With the end of the formal interview process, candidates now need not justify their extra-curricular achievements.
In addition, NUS now does not require submission of your CCA records, testimonials nor your transcripts.
Personally, though, I think prospective applicants should have done a job shadowing of some kind for a feel of what dentistry is like.
There are hundreds of private clinics now in Singapore - give them a ring, I'm sure at least one or two will be glad to have you and show you around for the day.
Some of you might be interested in being a dental assistant to gain some experience or knowledge. I actually believe that this is the best way to see dentistry up close and get a feel for what it really is like.
Dental assistant positions are actually quite common on job search sites. Simply apply and hope for the best!
If you are a male, however, you chances of getting an assistantship is very low. Clinics usually very much prefer female dental assistants for various reasons. Don't fret if you are unable to get such an opportunity, it means very little in the scheme of getting selected for the program.
What Happens Once You are Shortlisted
A shortlist of roughly 800-1000 applicants should be released around mid-March 2018. If you are one of the lucky few, congrats! It is now time to prepare for the Multiple Mini Interviews as well as the Manual Dexterity Test.
Multiple Mini Interviews
As mentioned previously, the Multiple Mini Interview format was recently started in 2016. Prior to this, candidates sat at a more formal, traditional interview format with 3 senior faculty staff members. This was abolished to give rise to a more 'holistic and rounded' selection process.
What is it?
A series of stations where candidates are rotated to react to various scenarios acted out by testers who are usually people paid to act as 'live', dummy patients. There is a staff in each station to grade you as well. There are 10 stations in all, 8 testing stations and 2 rest stations.
There will be 10 candidates doing the MMIs concurrently, and will be rotated in a round-robin manner every 10 minutes. You should be able to complete the MMI in 1 hour and 40 minutes (or 100 minutes).
For example, you may be asked to convince a smoker to quit smoking. Or, you could be asked to manage and diffuse a situation with an angry, irate patient.
The possibilities are endless, really. I assume the purpose behind introducing these real life, scenario based situations is the faculty's way of judging if candidates have the suitable temperament and mettle to be in the professional healthcare industry.
How do I prepare for the Multiple Mini Interviews?
With the older, more formal interview formats, you had to anticipate what questions the panel would ask, and you probably had to rehearse some pre-manufactured reply. There was the stress of trying to impress strangers who knew nothing about you, and definitely nothing about your lives other than your results and CCA achievements laid in front of them.
On the other hand, the MMI attempts to test the candidates' communication skills.
For example, you could be asked to persuade a long time smoker to quit smoking for the sake of his teeth. To make things more challenging, the 'patient' could be a difficult, grouchy, disillusioned patient who doesn't trust dentists. How would you handle this situation?
If you are interested, you might want to check out this blog post about Behavioural Science and Motivational Interviewing. Click here to find out more!
If nothing else, always remember this: Be genuine, be calm, speak slowly, and do not panic.
And of course, do remember to dress formally for the MMI, meaning shirt and office trousers with covered shoes for the guys, and for the girls, nothing too revealing or too short please!
Manual Dexterity Test
This one probably scares the crap out of candidates and has that air of mythology surrounding it.
So, here is my reassurance.
No, it shouldn't scare you.
No, dentists do not need to have godly hand skills.
No, you do not need to be able to draw a painting like Michaelangelo (but it would help if you could!?)
Strangely though, the tasks required for the MDT have not really changed over the years. I have been told that candidates now are asked to perform roughly the same tasks that I was asked to do quite a few years ago.
Hence, the resourceful ones amongst you should probably already know what you will be required to do in the MDT. For the clueless, here are the tasks:
Mould a piece of playdough into a shape of a tooth
Carve a shape into a cylindrical piece of soap (during my time, it was plaster of paris)
Bend a piece of wire into a pre-determined shape
You will be given 3 hours to complete the tasks, although some of you may require less time.
Conversely (and rather hilariously), I remember a guy during my time who gave up and walked out of the room after just 30 minutes.
You gave up? Seriously?
Don't be like that dude! Just try your best, you've already made it this far!
I didn't - but now that you know the details of the MDT, you could!
It's not difficult to find these materials at your basic hardware store.
Personally, I didn't prepare for the MDT (no, that is not a humble-brag), so if you choose not to, you shouldn't be at a distinct disadvantage.
I could see, however, a person becoming really good at these tasks if they bought the materials and practised daily.
Which leads us to the next question...
The tasks that you are asked to do in the MDT are very different from what we do when practising dentistry.
Dentistry is about making small, precise, calculated movements. Error margins are dictated not in centimetres but in millimetres, and in some cases, even sub-milimetre.
In that sense, being able to mould or carve perfect shapes will not translate directly to having good clinical skills.
What the MDT does well, however, is to provide a gauge of a person's hand-eye coordination, as well as his or her basic dexterity.
To be brutally honest, some people just do not possess that level of basic dexterity. And without a basic level of dexterity, it becomes challenging to practise dentistry.
To those who are now panicking about their level of basic dexterity, relax. Take me, for example.
I was horrible, and am still horrible, at arts and craft. Ask me to draw something and I guarantee that it will look like something out of a children's playbook.
Am I a 'handy' person? No. I do not fix my own television sets or build my own cupboards or anything you would think a 'handy' person (whatever that means) might do.
I don't do pottery or sit around folding cute little shapes - I very much rather be out there doing sports and being outdoors.
I did, however, play the piano to a rather advanced level and did basic stuff like playing the guitar.
So no, I am not what people would traditionally associate a dentist to be, ie. 'being good with your hands', which honestly is a frivolous thing to say anyway.
Dentistry is a skill, and like all skills, it can be developed.
So, to all the overly-concerned candidates out there, I say chill, and just do your best. Whatever will be, will be.
How important is the MDT and MMI in the scheme of selection? Which one is more important?
To be honest, I do not know.
Back when I was doing the MDT, I honestly did not think I did a fantastic job. In fact, I saw a couple of people around me with way nicer carvings and mouldings.
In fact, I even told my interviewers what I thought - that I felt other people had nicer MDT end products than me.
In fact, many of my classmates also thought the same way - but they were selected anyway.
If it was before 2016 and we still had the traditional interviews, and if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the interviews were probably more important. I think that the professors and lecturers are generally an intuitive bunch and from my experience, probably place more emphasis on your character rather than what you came up with in the MDT.
With the introduction of the MMI, however, it is difficult to say which is more important.
With the large number of applicants applying for a small number of places, getting into NUS dentistry will inevitably require a bit of luck. Nevertheless, brushing up on your dexterity and communication skills could give you an upper hand from the other applicants.
I hope that this post has given you some valuable insight into the application process - and here's wishing you the best of luck!
As always, comment below if you have any questions.
Next, stay tuned for my next post to have a greater understanding of what dental school life is like!