Samar is a fourth-year dental student at the University of Manchester.
In this interview, we find out how Samar used her gap year to enhance her application and get valuable work experience.
The core message of this interview: keep trying, keep learning.
As a child, I was always scared of going to the dentist — I know I wasn’t alone!
This all changed when I was referred to a specialist paediatric dentist to have an urgent extraction due to a periodontal abscess.
During the treatment, I received an immense amount of care and compassion from the paediatrician, which really inspired me. I was able to overcome my phobia and transitioned from having no trust in the profession to wanting to emulate my incredible dentist.
In all honesty, I thought about medicine for about five minutes, but really couldn’t see myself living the lifestyle my father, who is a urologist, lived. He thoroughly enjoys it, but I do think medicine is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging, and I am not sure if I would have found happiness that way. I couldn’t tolerate the on calls and night shifts.
In contrast, dentistry has flexible working hours and you can have a great lifestyle.
In terms of my background, my father and both of my elder brothers are doctors. Based on this, I do think it was quite clear early on that something along these lines was expected!
My eldest brother set the path as he was an extremely bright child and always achieved outstanding results; he got into Christ’s college, Cambridge for Medicine. This definitely set the bar high for the rest of us!
Because of my personal challenges, my parents never pushed me to overwork myself or go into a career I wasn’t interested in. They would have been happy with whatever I chose to do. It was my own motivation which drove me; I couldn’t let my ill health keep me from getting what I wanted out of life.
I missed a lot of school due to ill health (60% attendance some years!) and it was definitely harder for me to do as well. To make up for the time I missed, my father took a lot of time out of his day to tutor me. This was an amazing boost.
I attended a state grammar school and due to my low attendance, I was predicted Bs in my GCSEs.
I spent a lot of time teaching myself at home, and worked really hard in the run up to my GCSEs. I couldn’t believe it when I achieved all A*’s and A’s!
After this, I grew in confidence and had new self-belief as I had proved to myself that my previous ill-health would not keep me from doing as well as the rest of my family.
The teachers were supportive, but in a class of 30 they were limited in how much they could help me catch up the time I had missed.
I wouldn’t pay much attention in science, as I preferred self-study - it was a lot more effective!
As for the application process for dentistry, my school did try to help but they didn’t really know what was required (they assumed it was like any other course).
Because of this, I really had to take most of the organisation into my own hands. I took advantage of resources online and also tried to get in touch with dental students I knew for advice on my personal statement and how perfect my application.
Find out how to write a personal statement for dentistry.
I was quite lucky with work experience. I got exposure to a variety of settings, which was more than enough for any applicant.
Manchester had a strict two-week work experience minimum to even get an interview, and this had to be mentioned in the personal statement (many applicants are rejected for this reason). Liverpool also required experience in many settings - somewhat unfairly, in my opinion, as it is extremely hard to get.
My work experience:
All this meant I could walk into my interview and talk about contrasting settings in the UK and abroad, as well as the differences between NHS and private dentistry.
Learn more about getting work experience for dental or medical school.
During my exams, my mother became unwell and was admitted to hospital, and my grandmother underwent emergency surgery. This made it very hard for me to focus in my last few days of preparation and I kept suffering from complete mind blanks which in hindsight may have been from shock and anxiety.
I sat two of my final exams with completely brain fog, unable to remember simple concepts that I had been studying for two years.
On results day, I opened UCAS and saw that Manchester (my firm offer) had instead offered me a place to study a BSc in oral health sciences. I was one grade short in two subjects, and just by a few marks.
The whole situation made me realise that sometimes you just don’t have control over what will happen, even if everything is in place on your end!
I went back to my first step - entry requirements. After many hours of researching, calling up universities, and trying to work out where I stood, I figured out a plan to achieve my end goal.
It took another year of improving my application and resitting a couple exams, I received two offers, including one from my first choice - without an interview.
During this time, I also worked towards a plan B and secured a place to study pharmacy at UCL. After all, despite your best efforts, things might not work out.
Luckily, I did go on to get the grades, and I am currently in my fourth year at my first choice university.
My additional year prepared me for the degree ahead, it turns out studying dentistry at university is just as challenging as getting in!
Learn more about getting into dentistry
I knew that Manchester had very few contact hours (6-8 hours a week), and I saw this as a massive bonus to begin with as I planned to commute and less time at uni meant more time to enjoy myself as a fresher!
I did not realise that this would mean less contact time with course mates, and not getting to know everyone for a very long time! I think having more contact hours in first year would have been a lot more enjoyable as you get to work with your course mates and really get to know them!
Additionally, Manchester is centred around independent learning. This was something I was very used to at school and assumed it would be perfect for me!
I quickly realised that with something as specialised and complex as dentistry, I’d have preferred a more ‘spoon fed’ course with a more traditional style of teaching and lots of lectures. Teaching styles are VERY IMPORTANT.
Being involved in the dental hospital with the dental therapy students, nurses, postgraduates, tutors and consultants, where we all treat patients together. This makes you feel like a dentist from early on in the course.
Not only are you learning but you are also providing treatment! You feel like you are in the real world working as a trainee!
Want to learn more? Read our medical and dental admissions guide.