GPS for a DDS: The Concordia College Pre-Dental Externship Class

GPS for a DDS: The Concordia College Pre-Dental Externship Class

John E. Lueth, D.D.S.*:

Height of contour. Distal buccal occlusal point angle. PK Thomas.


Think of life as a game of chess now and then? Then here’s an opening gambit for you: Did you  know everything there was to know about dentistry and how to get accepted into dental school   before that acceptance letter arrived? Was your preparation focused along these lines: (1) take the DAT, and (2) choose what clothes to wear to your interview? Was gaining admittance to a dental  school and entering the profession simple or complicated for you, and what was the process like?

Back when life was simpler and not overwhelmed with things like constant instantaneous electronic  communications - think “mimeograph”, handwritten letters, the rotary landline phone on the kitchen  wall, your entire television viewing options consisting of ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus you had to get up  and walk across the living room to change the channel or volume! (You younger practitioners should   Google these anachronisms!) - there certainly were pressures and concerns relating to college  success and entering our profession. But the pace of the world has turned up a notch (or three), bringing with it a few different skills to master in negotiating the maze of obstacles required to join  the august group of students slaving over wax carvings of premolars. (Couldn’t that now be done  electronically with your Smart Phone app? That’s what they’re supposed to be, after all: smart! And milled by a wax carving machine, all while you attend a histology lecture?) of blowing dust off the  Ivorine teeth by mouth, not using the chip bulb provided, only to forget later on and do so on your  first live patient?! But again, I digress.

I had the opportunity to observe Dr. Joel Kangas this past spring as he, with the help of three of his  former students who had been accepted into dental schools around the nation, spent an entire  evening sharing with college pre-dent students from Fargo-Moorhead their knowledge, experience,  and recommendations for dental school acceptance.

Preparation Nation

The pre-dental preparation class at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota has been  successfully preparing college students for gaining admission to dental schools for more than a  decade now. As reported by various sources, competition for seats in dental schools is intense.  Proper and thorough preparation regarding undergraduate coursework combined with knowledge of  the complexities and intricacies in the process of application can give an applicant an advantage.

The Concordia Pre-Dental Externship class is a unique and excellent course for those young men  and women wishing to prepare themselves thoroughly for the application, interviewing, and acceptance journey.

Pull Up a Chair

At 7:00 p.m. every other week during the spring, students from Concordia College, North Dakota State University (NDSU), and the University of Minnesota/Moorhead stroll across the lovely campus  of Concordia and gather in Ivers Room 386 in the Science Building. Offered through Concordia as  an evening course during the second semester of each school year, this pre-dental class exposes  college students who are interested in practicing dentistry to the widest possible range of knowledge  about gaining admittance to a dental school as well as life within careers in dentistry. The NDSU and  MSU students self-reported that they learned about the existence of the class through word of  mouth, a pre-dental club, or e-mails from their school. Concordia students are given preference in  enrollment for the class.

Leading by Example

Dr. Joel Kangas, a general dentist practicing in Fargo, North Dakota, is the primary instructor. A  Concordia grad himself (aka Cobber), his path into practice was through Nebraska and the  Creighton University School of Dentistry. In recent years, his daughter, an OHSU grad and partner in  practice, Dr. Stephanie Kangas Hardy, has joined him to lead the pre-dent class.

Running the gamut as Joel and Stephanie expose their eager students to the journey of gaining  acceptance into a dental program (the primary objective of the course) and describing what a career  practicing dentistry can entail (all kinds of wonderful information for the class to know and gain  insight into), the young people taking advantage of this class have a marvelous experience to inform  their knowledge about the dental profession. Joel shines as the leader of this course by the manner  in which he informs the class of the obstacles to overcome, the effort required to get into school and  to start a practice, and the rewards to be enjoyed; by how he stresses the importance of their  preparation; and in the enthusiasm he has when he talks about patients. He defines esthetics as well  as function, then goes on to tell the students how important their good dental work will be for their patients in establishing and maintaining the function provided by their care, and how esthetics may  affect people’s lives. He is the task-master as well as the highly motivational coach, giving these  young people a look into their future far beyond what many or most of us older practitioners received  at this stage!

Brass Tacks

Of course, the practical aspects of preparing oneself occupy the greatest portion of the class  periods. What college courses are required for dental school application? Which courses complement them? What kinds of observation, community service, and dental professional  interaction are beneficial and which are a must in order to hold the eye of admissions committees  and interviewers? There is no shortage of preparatory options the pre-dent students should consider as they build their resumés prior to application. And no less important is the coaching in preparation  to actually sit for the Dental Admissions Test!

The Tri-College Arrangement

NDSU has a pre-dental club, comprised of those students interested in learning more about dentistry  as a possible career path for themselves, and by those more serious students further along the path  of commitment to enter the profession. Moorhead State students have a less formal organization,  but with the same goals. It is Concordia that has offered the structure and depth of preparation through a class, and this is available to students of all three of the colleges through their long-  standing Tri-College arrangement. Behind the scenes for students from each of the institutions are  pre-dental advisors. These people are involved to some degree in the actual pre-dental class, and  are very specifically recognized by Dr. Kangas. He does this in a way that reminds even practicing  dentists of long-standing that those people “behind the scenes” on our successful road into and  through our profession includes every educator who has ever touched our lives!

Course Specifics

As an introduction to the semester’s work, the course leaders inform the class of its scope. They are  told how they will:

• Hear the stories of those for whom dentistry has been a blessing.

• Meet some of the staff from Drs. Kangas and Hardy’s dental office and learn the various roles they  play in the dental office.

• Listen to and ask questions of specialists who have continued their education beyond the four  years of dental school.

• Do a “hands on” exercise where they get to fill an actual tooth. (Parenthetically emphasized by Dr.  Kangas: “No … not on a real patient!”)

• Hear from former students who have been accepted into dental school, getting to ask them  questions and otherwise interact with them.

• Observe at several dental offices in the Fargo-Moorhead area and visit the University of Minnesota  School of Dentistry.

• Discuss in detail the process involved in applying to dental school.

• And, of course, they have the privilege of writing a year-end paper on their observations and experiences!

Peppered throughout the course are plenty of little asides relating to dentistry which add nuance,  humor, and added insight or breadth. Just look at the course title: “Existentialism and Stomatology in  the 21st Century: 2012 Pre-Dental Externship Class”. I certainly didn’t understand jargon like that  when I began my pre-dental journey! And I wonder if I completely get it now! Dredging up memories for me was the little tidbit shared with the class during one motivational (my interpretation) power  point presentation: “Lilac … the color of dentistry. The color of the hood you will receive upon  graduation from dental school.”


Whether or not these pre-dental students are accepted into a dental school somewhere in North  America is in their own hands. Dr. Kangas, with the help of the great resources assembled through  this class, promises to do whatever he and his colleagues can to help their students understand dentistry, understand the DAT* and the AADSAS**, and appreciate the rigors and joys of dentistry.  These efforts have been very successful. In 2011, nine former students were accepted into dental  schools.

This parting quote, shared with students as part of the aforementioned power point slideshow,  speaks on several levels: as heard by a patient; as experienced by a student preparing to gain  acceptance into dental school; and through the lens of a private practitioner of 30 years … plus, it simply tickles my funny bone! “Some tortures are physical and some are mental, But the one that is  both is dental.” Ogden Nash 


*Dental Admission Test ** Association of American Dental Schools Application Service

*Dr. Lueth is a general practitioner in private practice in Bemidji, Minnesota. Email is