2021 Scholarship Winners & Essays

Scholarship applicants were asked to write an essay of no more than 500 words that addressed the following topic: Looking forward to your graduation, do you think a mandatory residency year should be added to your education?

The following are the scholarship winners and their essays. Congratulations to all!

Sofia Marie Thompson, UIC

It is hard to believe that a thorough dental education can be fit into a four-year program. New findings in dental literature and digital technologies make undergraduate dental education more expansive than ever. There is no question that dentistry is an evolving field. Though I understand the importance of dental education partaking in this evolution, I do not think that adding a year of residency is imperative to this objective. The nature of dental school provides for variable experiences from student to student; therefore, I do not think it would be beneficial to all students to mandate a residency year. Discrepancies in the number and types of cases overseen by students are common in clinical education and are unavoidable due to different needs in assigned patient populations. For example, one student may treat several endodontic cases but few denture cases, while another student may have the reversed situation.

However, if both students complete an acceptable amount of endodontic and denture cases to a set standard of care, both will be deemed competent in these subjects. Therefore, I do not believe that a mandatory residency year is necessary to create a competent dentist. An important point to consider is that most fourth-year dental students may not feel “ready” to treat patients independently. I argue that the feeling of readiness will only come through experience in the form of many years of dental practice. Even if a student decides to pursue postgraduate residency training, he or she may still not feel ready to enter the working world after completion of the one-year program. Fortunately for dentists, many opportunities exist to further education through CE courses, dental conferences, and through participation in local dental societies, such as the ISDS. Though some students may benefit from an additional year of formal training, other students may benefit from different resources. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of each student to evaluate their competency and take the necessary actions to give patients the best healthcare possible; residency, though a great option, is not the only method of improving skills.

Finally, I do not think that a mandatory residency year should be required simply for the reason that it is impractical. According to the ADA website, there are currently nine 12-month residency programs in Illinois. A benefit of joining these programs is that they take small groups of students, and faculty can spend significant time in one-on-one instruction. If a mandatory residency year is required, does that mean that these existing programs will be forced to accept more students? These programs would be overburdened by the extra need for space, faculty, and finances that are necessary to run a GPR and/or AEGD program. If the solution is to require Illinois dental schools to set up programs, I do not think that this is practical either due to several limitations in these facilities. The question presented is not whether extra training is beneficial-it is whether it is truly necessary. I do not believe so.


Gregory Benz, UIC

A mandatory residency would provide students with enhanced and increased clinical opportunities before they enter into practice that would ultimately benefit the dental profession. Dental education and accreditation should strongly consider implementing this requirement. There are many counterarguments to a mandatory residency which current and prospective dental students might raise. Dental students undergo varied areas of training through courses and clinical experience with the opportunity to pursue a residency if they so choose. Many students might argue that it is unnecessary and unfair to tack on additional requirements to the already grueling process that is dental school. If there are so many competent and successful dentists practicing under the current system, why change it? If students don’t want to pursue a residency, why make them?

Significantly, some might even argue that such measures could strip students of their autonomy. Another concern might be that a mandatory residency would deter prospective students from applying to dental programs altogether. Older applicants who have taken a gap year, or more, may not want to further delay their careers. However, the benefits of a mandatory residency far outweigh the costs. Notably, many residency programs are paid positions that offer students additional experience in general dentistry or specialties. Residencies effectively allow students to hone their clinical skills in a “safe zone” under the supervision of an experienced practitioner prior to entering an official practice. While some might be concerned that this mandate could remove students’ autonomy, most other healthcare professions already require residency. As professionals in a field where mistakes matter, there is no such thing as “too much experience.” In addition, residency programs are already acting as an alternative to patient-based board examinations.

Currently, PGY-1 years serve as a path to licensure in some states. This eliminates the need for the non-standardized patient based clinical board exam, which has raised many ethical questions. Though a hotly debated topic, this would ultimately prove beneficial to the profession. Mandatory residencies increase access to care. Many residency programs receive grants and additional funding which allows them to treat historically marginalized groups including special needs, low-income, and elderly patients. Dentists have an ethical responsibility to serve others, and residency programs play a crucial role in this mission. Without residency programs, it is likely that many of these patients would not receive the care they need and deserve. Of course, it would be unfair to impose this requirement on students already enrolled because they will have had no notice prior to make their commitment to dental school. To avoid this, a mandatory residency should be implemented with an incoming class fully aware of this requirement. Overall, I believe that there are numerous benefits to mandating residency following completion of a DMD or DDS degree. The main advantages include expanding the clinical experiences of new dentists, creating alternative paths to licensure, and increasing access to care. All of the aforementioned advantages would play a significant role in enhancing the dental profession and ensuring its success well into the future.


Eric Jeffrey Kubacki, SIU

It is difficult to find someone who has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether this impact be on their health or that of their loved ones, on people’s livelihoods, or on one’s educational experience for instance. I myself was one among many students in a dental program who lost months of lab and in-person lecture time before being integrated into the D3/D4 clinical setting. And now, for everyone’s safety, the clinic at my school is running at half-capacity, and has been for my entire D3 year thus far. Though I try to keep a positive perspective, it is admittedly worrisome that if things continue in this manner I may in some way be lacking in hands-on experience with patients compared to previous graduating classes. My heart goes out especially to my D4 friends and mentors, as they knew a time when their schedules were full, they had consistency with procedures they were performing, and felt they had sufficient time for competencies and other responsibilities. Now, a somber recurring theme is that students feel they “haven’t held a handpiece in so long,” “are not ready to be out in practice,” or will almost “have to do a residency” merely to feel competent before graduation. Therefore, I find this year’s prompt to be of particular relevance.

I submit, however, that a mandatory residency ought not be added to our education, and here is why. As a dentist, I firmly believe that you are already a student for life, from the day you walk into and out of these school doors, until the day you close the doors of your own practice. Continued education is a fundamental aspect of being an oral healthcare practitioner. That being said, to make a residency mandatory, while perhaps intending well, does not seem in line with the spirit of what continued education truly is. Instead of looking forward and forcing people to do a residency year, we should be more accountable for our educational experience and proactive about it right now, just as dentistry itself aims to be preventative in nature. A biology professor and mentor of mine once said that you stay current in your field by being conversant in it. So, rather than becoming intimidated by or complacent about current circumstances and shrugging off responsibility for my education now by thinking “I’ll just do a residency,” my D4 friend and I started watching CE videos online together on Sundays and having discussions about them. A simple example, but more the mentality I believe we should all have. While I am in no way devaluing a residency, I think its purpose as an avenue for those wishing to have more experience or specialize hasn’t changed. We must have a participative attitude today, asking, “How can I make the best of this situation now?” Not how am I going to make up for current perceived deficiencies with something later in my future. You will get out of all experiences only that which you put in.


Beau Christopher Byers, SIU

In the field of dentistry, I have come to realize that there are two elements necessary to provide quality care for patients. There is the half that consists of knowledge, in which we use a foundation of science and clinical research to diagnose, educate, and treat our patients. Then, there is the half that pertains to art, where the dentist uses trained hand skills, creativity, and problem-solving to physically perform treatment. In order for dentistry to be successful, both portions of the whole are needed to deliver the optimal standard of care. While many students are proficient in learning the knowledge of dentistry, the actual art of dentistry is variable based on the talent of the students and the amount of practice that they are willing to undertake. As a result, dentists of all skill levels graduate into the country each year. While this may seem like an argument for creating a mandatory residency, I actually believe that this is evidence to the contrary. In keeping with the mission of the ISDS, we take an oath as medical providers to protect and optimize the oral health of Illinois citizens. While our dedication to our patients may seem like an external obligation, I believe that it is also a major internal obligation. In order to provide the standard of care for our patients, we must first be able to discern if we are able to provide such a level of care. If the answer is yes, then we are able to perform the treatment.

However, if the answer is no, then it is our duty as general dentists to refer the treatment to a practitioner more skilled in that particular field. By following the ethical principles of beneficence and non-maleficence, we should be able to weigh the scope of our abilities and compare the potential benefit and harm that we could impose on our patients. In the same manner that we would determine if we are competent enough to provide treatment for a patient, we should also be held to the same standard in deciding if our skills are adequate to enter clinical practice after graduation. In the case of the student who possesses both the knowledge and art of dentistry, I do not believe that a residency would be necessary. Oppositely, the student who possesses the knowledge yet does not grasp the art of dentistry should be encouraged to pursue a residency. In either case, the new dentist should decide his or her own path. As doctors, we are entrusted with the important decision of patient referral. Thus, we should also be entrusted with the decision to pursue a residency, as both are testaments to our own interpretation of our abilities. Regardless, with the support of the ISDS, I am confident in the future of Illinois dentists. Similar to the dentists that paved the way for organized dentistry, I have faith in the new generation of dentists to adapt and grow the field that we have all come to love.


Marshall Lee Marrs, Midwestern

I don’t feel that a mandatory residence year should be added to the standard dental school curriculum. The field of dentistry is much broader than people assume. To be a skilled practitioner, one has to have a solid foundation of biochemistry, mechanics, medical sciences, and even art. In that regard, I feel dental school has prepared me well and given me tools to continue to advance my knowledge in areas where I am lacking. That said, there is no substitute for clinical experience. In dental school, students are insulated from many potential hazards that dentists encounter in the real world. Once we graduate, we are expected to garner experience through our own work and continuing education and to tackle trickier cases as we become more seasoned professionally. Unfortunately, not all practitioners will have that luxury. Some of us will venture out into the far reaches where quality dental care is sparse, yet patients’ needs remain high. This is the true value of residency programs: to provide a more realistic space for dentists to hone their skills in a supportive environment. One extra year might pay dividends in terms of the quality of care a dentist can comfortably provide. The knowledge and skill acquired from an advanced education may be vital when it comes to the well-being of a community that has high demand or limited access. Residency programs are a valuable asset to many providers. But they shouldn’t be a mandatory requirement for all practitioners, mostly due to my original point: the field of dentistry is incredibly broad. For all the dentists pushing the frontiers of our treatment, there will also be plenty of new graduates comfortably serving as employees of more experienced professionals. They will handle simpler procedures while building their confidence and knowledge-base. Let’s not discount the quality of current dental school education; it is perfectly adequate for those serving these valid and necessary roles in our profession.

Personally, in my third-year dental school career, I’ve been able to perform surgical extractions, root canal treatment, and plenty of restorative work. I’ve handled denture cases, and even restored implants. I’ve had opportunities to work with modern equipment, such as lasers and CAD/CAM software. Due to the variety of dental work environments, some of us will not do all of these procedures when first starting out. There is very little need for those types of practitioners to spend an additional year in a residency program when their dental school education is already beyond what will be asked of them. The value of residency programs is obvious. However, it should not be a requirement for all dental students. The broad environment in which we practice allows for dentists to operate in a variety of ways, still without straying from the standard of care. Based on my understanding, the standard dental school education serves well to meet the needs of many graduates entering the modern dental profession.


Aaron Schwark, Midwestern

Shortly after submitting my application to dental schools around the country, I allowed myself a deep breath and a moment to visualize what I just signed up to do. I didn’t picture the studying, the sim clinic practice, or the learning curve of beginning patient care. I pictured myself as a comforting, confident, and capable dentist, stepping into the shoes of the dentists I had shadowed. All of these dentists share the same title of doctor, yet it is critical to understand that for every dentist, there was a unique and incomparable process that led to their success and evolution from a student to the practitioner they are today. A piece of advice from my partner that stuck with me was to focus on my own patients and to not compare my experiences to anyone else’s, whether that be a classmate or a comrade at another school.

Every student is training to become a competent dentist, but everyone has strengths and weaknesses, procedures that come naturally, and procedures that require more repetition to perfect. I have been fortunate that Midwestern University has a deep and dedicated patient base and employs faculty that are top dental providers as well as mentors. These luxuries have provided a bounty of experiences throughout my first year treating patients, from fillings to endodontic treatments. As my final year of school begins, I will continue to build a portfolio of procedures and reach a level of competency and confidence that allows me to seamlessly join a team as a full-time dentist immediately upon graduation. Residencies can be an invaluable resource to a beginning dentist who has not been afforded enough experience to feel confident practicing on their own once they graduate. However, each dentists’ level of knowledge and confidence is their own and should not be assumed or categorized based solely on their years of schooling or practice.

Some dentists are ready to practice and provide the high-quality care that patients deserve right out of school, while others may benefit from additional supervised hours of training. Requiring a residency would delay a salary and an invaluable spot as a part of a dental team from those who are ready to practice, while simultaneously taking spots away from those dentists who would benefit from a spot as a resident. Therefore, while no dentist comes fresh out of school with the knowledge of a decade long practitioner, it would be misguided to require each and every student to partake in a residency. Blossoming dental professionals are sufficiently self-aware to know if a residency is in their best interest and should be given the autonomy to decide the best course of action for their own professional career.