Faculty & Alumni
Related Articles
Related Links

“Open Letter to a High School Student ” by Dean Leroy R. Boling, 1964

Leroy R. Boling

The May 1964 issue of the Washington University Dental Journal was devoted to “A Future in Dentistry.” Its purpose was to give the school’s alumni information that they could pass on to any patients who might be interested in dentistry as a career.  A series of articles, each written by a member of the four classes, explained “Life in Dental School.”  Other articles explored what is dentistry and career opportunities in dentistry.  This article was written by Leroy R. Boling, dean of the School of Dentistry from 1953 to 1967.

Leroy R. Boling

Dean Leroy R. Boling

So you have decided to prepare yourself to become a dentist.  Congratulations!  You have chosen a career in a field badly in need of a large number of the best minds and hands available, provided these minds and hands are trained.  This is a field in which you can offer a crucial service – can, if you will, become a highly respected member of your community and can look forward to an income that will provide for a comfortable living for you and your family and security for your old age.

Congratulations also on having chosen a career early enough so that you may plan an educational program that will prepare you for success in dental school and in dental practice and for an intelligent, interesting and effective social life as part of your community.

What courses should you take in high school?  First of all you must prepare yourself for admission to a good, fully accredited college or university.  Pick a few and inquire about their requirements.  In general you should follow an academic program.  Take as many English and Mathematics courses as you can.  You will want some science courses, but don’t overload, you can concentrate on sciences in college.  Take Latin or some foreign language – most good colleges will require credit in a language for admission.  Fill in with social sciences.  This will make a heavy load but you, as a prospective professional man or woman, are expected to be a superior student.

How do you choose the college or university you are to attend?  This is not easy.  Investigate several; find out about the success of their graduates; are they selective in their admissions; have they prepared other pre-professional students.  Don’t pick a college just because it is conveniently located, or because you have heard that it is easy to make good grades – admissions committees in dental schools can spot these schools and snap courses.  The size of the college does not necessarily determine quality.  So far as possible, don’t let costs determine your choice.  The investment you or your parents are making in money and in your time is the most important investment you will ever make.  Don’t sell yourself short.  If finances are a critical factor you will find many excellent state supported universities with low tuition.

What courses do you take in college?  You will be required to take courses in English, Biology, general and organic Chemistry and Physics.  You will undoubtedly want to take additional science courses to prepare for the advanced sciences in the dental school curriculum, since you will naturally be interested in sciences because of the profession you have selected.

However, one of the chief purposes of the pre-dental college program is the acquisition of a broad, liberal education.  You will find that the success of your dental practice depends as much on your personal relationships with your patients and community as it does on your knowledge and skill.  You need to become proficient in the art of communicating with others, both in explaining and understanding.  You need to understand interpersonal relationships, what makes people behave as they do, what makes you behave as you do, and how to make adjustments.  You, as a professional person have an opportunity to be a leader in social and political affairs and at least you need to understand the social implications of your profession.  You are going to be responsible for the social and political nature of your country and even of the world.  You are not going to be able to assume this responsibility effectively unless you have a background of information and are able to express yourself intelligently.  In practice you will be working for less than one fourth of the 168 hours in a week.  What you do with the remainder for your enjoyment and for your community’s improvement depends on your preparation.

You should plan on four years in college.  If this proves impossible, spend as much time as you can.  Remember that you may never have a similar opportunity again.  In dental school you will find your time involved in mastering the specific scientific background for practice and in acquiring the technical and surgical skills of your profession with little time for broadening your background.  Take advantage of your present opportunities.

How about the importance of extra-curricular activities?  These activities can be an important part of the learning process, especially from the standpoint of developing social and personal relationship patterns.  All students should take part in some of these activities, the selection to be made on interests, abilities and time.  Active or spectator participation in athletics can be constructive and relaxing.  Now is the time to develop hobbies that can be followed after your formal education is completed.  But remember, both in high school and college, your primary aim is an education and other activities are secondary.

Why are grades considered so important?  Most teachers and students alike wish that there were less emphasis on grades, but there must be some measure of scholastic achievement.  You, as a potential dentist, are planning to assume responsibility for the health of your future patients, consequently you should be able to demonstrate better than average ability.  At the very least your grade indicates how much your teacher thinks you have learned from his course.  It also indicates something of your ability or your motivation to cause you to study and learn up to your ability.  It may show whether you have learned how to study.  Dental schools, contrary to some opinions, do not expect all of their students to have been A or even B students in high school and college.  There are many other factors besides grades used in selecting students.  But the need for dentists is so great and dental education is so expensive that dental faculties cannot afford to waste time with educational dilettantes or those who have not demonstrated the ability and motivation necessary to be successful.

How difficult is it going to be to gain admittance to a dental school?  If you have demonstrated your ability and your desire to become a dentist you will find that you are not competing for admission to dental school but that dental schools are competing for you.  It is not as hard to gain admission as it is to graduate.

In recent years several schools have failed to fill their classes because of lack of qualified applicants.  New schools are being established and old schools are increasing class size.  If you have demonstrated your qualifications you will have no trouble in the foreseeable future.

Again let me congratulate you on your selection of a profession, encourage you obtain the best possible preparation for it and wish you every success in school and in practice.

       Leroy R. Boling, Dean


  Home | History | Biographies | Faculty & Alumni | Timeline | Related Articles | Related Links
Washington University School of Medicine Bernard Becker Medical Library