Kristen Bonkowski – Dental Medicine

NU 2010 - B.S. Biology; Georgia Health Sciences University, DMD 2014; Residency: Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program at Georgia Regents University

As a new Dentist, what advice would you give to Northeastern PreHealth students?  Really understand which dental schools you’ll be applying to-  there are benefits to each program and you really want more then to “just get into” a graduate program. You want the school to share in your philosophy and be a great stepping stone to your next step. You also need to consider what will work for you financially.

What led to your interest in a career in dental medicine? Who or what inspired you?

My interest stemmed primarily from my father’s undying love, commitment, and passion for his profession.  We have always had similar interests growing up, so naturally I found the dynamic field appealing and stimulating while assisting him. It is a career that demands mental toughness and physical excellence.  Knowing myself, dentistry matched up well to my athletic passion for strategy, desire to fulfill the needs of patients and love for utilizing my hand skills.

How did you prepare yourself for dental school? The application process?

I prepared myself for dental school through extensive hours (over 1,000) of dental assisting at my father’s office and shadowing of local oral surgeons- there is nothing like experience as a learning tool.  The more I observed –procedures, the art of explanation to patients on their options, treatment planning, diagnosis of x-rays—the easier and more comfortable clinic and lab sections became in Dental school.

The biology courses at Northeastern were instrumental to my success.  The higher level courses –biochemistry, parasitology, histology, molecular cell –provided a strong solid foundation for the didactic portion of Dental school.  As some of my fellow students struggled with the biological details and equations, I found most of the material review.  A part of Northeastern that was sometimes difficult, yet extremely beneficial for everyday life was the degree of responsibility instilled on every student. As you know, we have to fabricate our own class schedule, choose additional programs to boost our resume and apply for the co-operative programs.  It forced me to be organized, a skill that I am able to use as secretary of my Dental school class by constantly updating our demanding schedule.

What obstacles or hurdles did you overcome in your dental school journey?

One obstacle I had to overcome on my dental school journey was balancing sports, extracurricular programs and academics.  I was sure not let myself get caught up entirely in grades and placed heavy emphasis on exercise and being involved in other activities, like volunteer work.  Although school was my top priority, there were invaluable lessons to learn in life outside the world of academia.  You’re going to have off days.  I cannot stress the importance of having an activity outside of school to fall back on, that makes you happy and rejuvenates you for a new day with a different outlook.

Another obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that I did not have the perfect 4.0, although I tried extremely hard, I was not the “perfect” student.  Instead, I was a well-rounded student with a laundry list of extracurricular activities that had slightly impacted study time.  It was discouraging at first, but I quickly learned that grad programs are searching for a person who is in balance.  The interviewers were actually pleased to hear that I could handle all of my outside activities and maintain a reasonable academic average.

Did you did matriculate directly from NU to medical school or did you have a gap year?

I had one gap year in between Northeastern and Dental school.

I decided to graduate a year early (4 years instead of 5) and by the time I realized this, the deadline was the next week for the applications.  Instead of jumping the gun, I took the extra time to gain more experience and applied for a surgical assisting position down in Augusta, Georgia in the General Practice Residency Program at Medical College of Georgia.

If you did not matriculate directly from NU to medical school, how many gap years? What did you do during your gap year?

Working in the General Practice Residency Program at Medical College of Georgia, I learned a huge amount of invaluable information that has excelled me through Dental school and will undoubtedly help me thrive in private practice.  I became familiar with dental materials, customized procedure techniques, as well as taking x-rays and making impressions.  This program specialized in implant placement, surgical extractions, bone grafts and sinus lifts besides the usual realm of general dentistry, which meant I was in heaven 40 plus hours a week.

Whether you entered medical school directly from NU or had a gap year (or more), looking back, are you happy with the decision you made? Why or why not?

I would not trade my gap year experience for anything.  I have the utmost respect for the attending and the residents who have been through that program. I have such a strong foundation that I am building upon right now.  I am more prepared for clinic then I would have been if I had matriculated right after undergrad.

Is medical school what you thought it would be? Would you share your thoughts?

I thought dental school would be incredibly fast paced and challenging and I would be struggling to keep up with the workload. Which was true at first, but it becomes a way of life and you get used to the pressure and heavy schedule.  I have always been one to react well in the face of a challenge; it becomes a competitive game to me.  I am constantly trying to better myself and as long as I am learning from my mistakes, I stay positive and consider myself doing well.  We, dental students, learn how to take criticism in a constructive manner very quickly, ask anyone of us.  We are here to discover our weaknesses, fix them, and become competent in our skills to help patients. I love what I am doing, so it makes dental school pretty simple and easy.  Plus, I believe that there is a reason and rhyme to all the madness: our curriculum is preparing us for real life situations so we will be able to react to all situations in a calm and collective manner. Being responsible for a human being is a serious matter, so I am glad we are put through continuous hurdles.

What are your career goals right now? Have they changed since you begin your medical school studies?

One of my goals is to be an associate dentist or own my own dental practice someday. I would also like to become a general dentist with the capability of placing implants, performing extractions, and doing IV sedation for my patients.  My goals have not changed since the start of dental school, but I still have two and a half years to go.  I have a strong background in dentistry, so I am pretty firm on that direction, but it could change at any second.

What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career in medicine?

My advice to future applicants of Dental school is that you need to be well rounded.  Dental schools would rather a 3.5 (GPA) student who is well rounded, than a 4.0 student who doesn’t have a clue what the world looks like outside of the library.  You live in Boston, so there is no excuse.  There are a million different activities happening around you at this very minute. You have to be able to relate to all different cultures and understand your future patient base. So get out and be social in different activities offered by Northeastern. Take advantage of the different clubs, sports and unique opportunities you have now.  Learn how to play the piano, paint, draw, learn sign language –refining those fine finger movements will make you a top candidate and put you ahead of your class in clinic and lab.  Be a leader –you need to learn how to motivate and inspire your peers, because if you can’t, how do you think you’ll gain that ability for future patients? Push yourself to the limit by packing your schedule full of activities, because it will make the transition in Dental school easier. Lastly, do not get discouraged.  Learn from your mistakes and keep going; you can always turn a negative into a positive.  One of my mottos has been “Never give up; challenges are put there to test how much you want something”.

Posted 1/17/2012

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