The Difference Between Pre-Med and Pre-Dental

Your position on the application waitlist seems to be moving at a glacial pace. And official application decisions begin to trickle in for another group of budding health professionals. Given the abysmal reality of the uncertain application cycle, it becomes easy to develop the “I’ll go anywhere as long as I’m a doctor” mentality. Often students interested in becoming a doctor apply to multiple medical programs (both DO and MD) as well as pre-dental programs with little reflection on how the training and the career trajectory differs. While there is subtle difference between DO and MD program, there is an unmistakable difference between becoming a doctor and becoming a dentist. Students who find themselves in this predicament – choosing what kind of doctor they wish to become – should not make this decision with a fickle heart.

As a college student, I remember standing at a career crossroads and genuinely conflicted between choosing medicine and dentistry. I was fiercely passionate about emergency medicine and working as a physician in level 1 trauma center. I was also fired up about medical journalism and so medicine seemed like the best option, allowing me to intertwine two passions into a career. But, the lifestyle and compensation of a dentist was undeniably appealing. Looking back, my rationale for choosing one career over the other was entirely superficial. I wish I was more contemplative – especially when I was weighing my options during the application cycle. My hope is to shed some light on a decision for students who may be in the same situation I was a few years ago.

Scope of practice

As a dentist, you are a doctor. But, your scope of practice is limited mostly to the oral cavity although you will often find that your area of knowledge also extends to the head and neck region. That being said, physicians, unless specialist physicians, have a larger scope and their area of knowledge is the entire human body and expertise is unlimited.


The lifestyle of a dentist is glorified with good reason. Dentists typically do not have to attend to emergencies in the middle of the night (unless a student choses oral surgery or a hospital-based residency program). In addition, dentists can begin to practice immediately after graduating with the DDS degree – unless they are interested in practicing in New York State which requires 1-year post-graduate residency. This means, students can pay back their loans faster as a dentist. Dentistry enables the doctor to schedule their patients according to their own hours and do not have to work on certain days if they chose not to. For example, it is common for dentists to take Friday off and extend their weekend. This luxury, of course, is not afforded to physicians who are hospital-based. 


The didactic coursework for medical and dental students is more or less the same in the first year. In fact, some schools combine both med and dent students in lectures such as Human Anatomy, but administer different exams. For example, dental students are not required to learn the human body below the waist and/or the head and neck exam for the dental students may be more difficult than for medical students. As the dental student progresses throughout the program, they will be expected to develop their hand skills. This means that more and more courses will become dentistry related and students will get to treat patients sooner in the dental profession.

While you wait to hear from your program of choice, I urge you to consider why choosing dentistry or medicine is best for you – not your family, your friends, or your significant other. Both medicine and dentistry are not just jobs, they are lifelong pursuits. And you simply cannot enter either profession with the lofty hope that you will find happiness once you get your degree. Getting into either program is definitely hard, but going through the program to earn your degree is unquestionably harder.

1508 Total Views 5 Views Today

Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.