More Than Medical School
Rebecca Fine postbac ’16 and Chase Phillips postbac ’16 discuss how Bennington College’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program prepared them for their experiences in dental school.
Bennington’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program offers a one-year, hands-on science intensive that covers the basic requirements for medical school and other health profession tracks.
Compared to other postbac programs, Bennington’s intimate cohort program is exceptional in its curricular flexibility, as current dental school students Rebecca Fine postbac ’16 and Chase Phillips postbac ’16 both experienced during their time at Bennington.
“When I was researching postbac programs, I wanted to find a program that was open to accepting students who didn’t just want to go to medical school,” said Chase Phillips postbac ’16. “I remember seeing on Bennington's website that they were explicit about accepting students who also wanted to pursue other areas of occupation, like dentistry or veterinary school.”
While at Bennington, with the help of postbac faculty members, Phillips and Fine added an additional four-credit Chemistry 4 course to their studies in order to meet the requirements needed to apply to dental school.
“Bennington’s faculty members were so willing and accepting of our goals,” said Fine. “We did a journal study as part of Chem 4, where we read articles and researched the mechanisms of the chemical and medications behind them, and then presented our findings. It was an interesting opportunity for us that went beyond the Bennington curriculum. Our faculty had to also read these articles, but they wanted to, and they encouraged us to be inquisitive.”
“For the lab portion of Chem 4, we paired up and basically designed our own research study,” said Phillips. “Rebecca and I looked at essential oils and their antibacterial effect on oral bacteria. It was cool because the program allowed us to look at something that was connected to dentistry—to do our own research, come up with our own ideas, and implement them. We got to present our poster on research day for that semester. It was like we were becoming our own experimenters in the field that we were interested in pursuing.”
Phillips came to Bennington’s postbac program after completing his undergraduate studies in Psychology at the College of William and Mary and earning a Masters in Psychology at Villanova University.
“After I got my masters, I applied to PHD programs while also working at a special education program at an elementary school,” said Phillips. “I was testing the waters, and when I wasn’t working, I shadowed doctors with different areas of expertise in the medical field. A friend of mine recommended I shadow a dentist to see what that was like, and when I did, I realized dentistry was something I could see myself doing.”
Fine applied to Bennington’s postbac program after earning her bachelors in Health Science and Social Policy at Brandeis University.
“I was intrigued by this major because it had basic science courses—though not the heavy lab work that you need for pre-med or pre-dental programs—and it had a social component, too,” said Fine. “I liked the public health aspect of it, and I strive to have my own dental future connected with the public health field.”
Near the end of her undergraduate experience, Fine became interested in pursuing dentistry, and she realized she would need a postbac program to fill in her science requirements for dental school.
At Bennington, Fine and Phillips found a different scientific approach and classroom experience than they had in undergrad.
“Bennington’s program is wonderfully collaborative—it’s a different nature and classroom presentation of materials,” said Fine. “The program also allowed you to incorporate your own interests. There were a lot of opportunities that allowed you to do your own research, and it gave you a lot of autonomy, with support from faculty who helped you understand what you were doing.”
“Even during the lectures at Bennington, you never really feel like you were being lectured at,” said Phillips. “Everything is delivered with a kind of Socratic method, which pushed me as a student because I hadn’t encountered it before coming to Bennington. Classes at Bennington were collaborative and encouraged participation. I grew as a student, and it prepared me for an experience like dental school.”
For his winter Field Work Term, Phillips shadowed his family dentist, whose friendship and warmth had inspired Phillips to pursue the profession.
“A lot of dental schools expect to see that you have shadowed a certain number of hours,” said Phillips. “Since I had been working a full-time job before I started at Bennington, I didn’t have time to do my shadowing hours beforehand. Field Work Term was perfect for me because I could do all my hours with my family dentist. She let me come back with the patients and see their procedures, and she would let me sit at the front desk and learn the management aspect of running your own practice.”
For her Field Work Term, Fine shadowed an oral surgeon.
“In high school and college, I had done a little bit of shadowing in the general dentistry field, but oral surgery definitely has a lot more hands-on work,” said Fine. “It was an interesting point to connect the medical knowledge I was learning at Bennington, and then cross it with the dental interest I had.”
Currently, Fine and Phillips are both in their fourth year of dental school—Fine at Boston University, and Phillips at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.
For students considering Bennington, both recommend this small, cohort-based, collaborative postbac program.
“Dental school can be competitive and cut-throat, but I always compared Bennington’s program to soldiers going to war together, trying to help each other out whatever way we could,” said Fine. “Bennington’s program is small; you can’t get lost or left behind, and that’s how companionship and mentorship are able to happen.”
“Look into programs and talk with students who have gone through the program,” said Phillips. “It’s important to think about yourself as a student and what works best for you. I knew I wanted a program where I wasn’t just a number—I wanted instructors to know me personally so I could work one-on-one with them. Small class size, where I could get individual attention and feel like my own person was important to me. And that’s exactly what Bennington was.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer