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Becoming a Dentist: What they did on their summer vacations

August 17, 2018

By Jennifer Garvin

Photo of Ben and siblings on bike ride
Sibling reunion: Dental student Ben (second from left) hangs out with his brothers and sister, all of whom are in the health care family. From left, Jason (orthodontist), Ben, Ryan (periodontist), Adam (radiation oncologist resident), and Meghan (cardiac anesthesiologist).
Editor's note: In November 2017, the ADA News launched Becoming a Dentist, a series of stories that follow three dental students at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry — Dan Yang, LaShonda Shepherd and Ben Horn — during their journey of becoming dentists.

If the summer between the first and second years of dental school really is "the last free summer," then LaShonda, Dan and Ben did everything they could to soak up life beyond the walls of 450 W Baltimore St., aka the University of Maryland School of Dentistry or UMSOD.

Image of Becoming A Dentist graphicBut first, they needed to study. And study. And study some more. That's because UMSOD requires its students to take Part I of the National Board Dental Examination no later than October 1 of their second year in dental school.  

With 400 questions ranging from biochemistry to anatomy and several clinical scenarios, the pressure was on.

"The board exam is definitely the most important exam of the year," Ben said, "but then again, every exam in dental school feels like taking a final in undergrad, so there was no way to begin prepping for it while school was in session."

LaShonda was grateful to be taking the exam in 2018. She couldn't imagine waiting until the following summer, when her notes and memories of her 2017 curriculum review might not be as fresh.

"I started off studying dental anatomy because I felt that we were most removed from that section since the course ended in the first semester, and I knew it would cover a large chunk of questions on the exam," said LaShonda, who took her exam on June 27. "These are fact-based questions and I'd forgotten some of the small details."

Each day she hunkered down in her apartment complex's community room and surrounded herself with study tools: Dental Decks flashcards, the Dental Mastery app and the First Aid for the NBDE Part 1 study guide.

Photo of Dan and LaShonda during trip to CAD/CAM course
Boot camp: Dan and LaShonda during their June trip to California for a CAD/CAM course.
"I kind of went back through my notes and then took screenshots of notes—I have crazy ways of remembering things," she said. "That's all I did my first few days of studying and then I'd test myself on the Mastery app."

In addition to the study sessions, LaShonda also interned at the Maryland State Dental Association in her spare time, taking part in her first Mission of Mercy.

"It was great being able to see firsthand what it means to help people in this profession," she said.

Down the road in Annapolis, Ben was perfecting his own study routine. After scheduling his exam for July 3, Ben got down to business. Setting a strict "no weekends" policy — in order to maximize time with his wife and young daughters — Ben quickly assumed a routine that entailed regular study sessions at the Naval Academy library by day and self-administered quizzes at night.

Photo of Dan studying in library
Study tools: Coffee and candy help fuel Dan as he prepares to take Part I of the National Dental Board Exam.
Like LaShonda, dental anatomy also took precedence for Ben. He went back and consulted his own notes and followed up by testing himself with the Mastery app.

"I like to write my own notes for what I need to study," he said. "I also went through the app and made about two pages of notes per segment that I want to make sure to read before the exam. Stuff that was repeated that's bound to be important."

When he wasn't studying, Ben prioritized seeing his family— extended and nuclear. There was a friend's wedding in Chicago, a siblings retreat in North Carolina and a long visit with his entire family, including his parents. He also announced he and his wife were expecting their third child in October.

Photo of LaShonda at MOM event
Volunteer smiles: LaShonda, second from left, at the Maryland Mission of Mercy.
No one logged more miles than Dan. In June, he and LaShonda took part in a digital dentistry boot camp in Irvine, California, where they learned about incorporating digital dentistry techniques into practical lessons for the clinic. The course gave the students hands-on experience with crown prep, digital scanning, design tools, milling/sintering, staining and glazing, and cementation.  

"It was wonderful meeting with dental students from across the country and networking with them," Dan said. "Except for three rising D2's from Maryland, all the other students were upperclassmen with clinic experience. It was super cool just to learn from those who have walked the road before us. I was lost at times because we only have preclinic knowledge so I didn't understand all the jargon or techniques, but it was still interesting to be exposed to it all!"

In addition to the California trip, he also flew to China to visit his grandparents. Plus, Dan moved into a new apartment near campus.

"After this summer, the following summers in dental school are all pretty busy so this might be my only chance to go back to visit my extended family," he said.

Photo of Ben studying
Room with a view: Ben, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, takes advantage of a view from the campus library as he goes over his notes from dental anatomy.

He took his exam July 9, about six weeks after classes ended.

"I felt pretty burnt out at the end of my first year so I wanted to take a minibreak before getting back into the grind," he said.

Like the others, Dan also relied on the Mastery app as well as the First-Aid book and averaged 4-6 hours a day studying, usually at the Ellicott City, Maryland, library. He also spent time studying in nearby cafes and coffee shops so he "didn't get sick of one location."  

By the end of July, with their "real" summers under way, the exam results were in.

And did our intrepid dental students pass? Of course they did, all three of them. On to second year!

To read all the stories from the Becoming A Dentist series, visit