Your D1 Survival Guide: Part 2—How to Stay Motivated and First Patient Experiences

Posted by Abby Halpern on Sat, Feb 27, 2016 @ 03:00 PM

IMG_5100.jpgStarting dental school can be challenging for some first-year students, as you are faced with new terminology and a wealth information right out of the gate. As a D2 at the Dental College of Georgia, I’ve had some of those experiences, but with a little perseverance and helpful hints from more experienced students, I was able to get my footing. In this series, I’m going to tackle a few important issues and share some insight to help YOU through the process, too. 

In Part 1, we covered note taking and adjusting to dental school; in Part 2 we’re going to build on that foundation with some new topics below.

Q: "AM I EVER GOING TO GET OUT OF HERE ALIVE?" Or maybe that's just me. Less dramatically, "How can I keep this up for four years?"

Well, this question is a toughie, mostly because I am no expert as a D2. It's something that all dental students continue to ask themselves throughout dental school right until graduation. I’m sure you’ve heard “work-life balance” mentioned a time or two, and that same mantra rings true here as well. For me, the key to staying motivated is doing things outside of the academic environment—including activities unrelated to dentistry. When you have the chance to step back, put the exhausting days and nights into perspective, you are able to reinvigorate yourself.

I’ve become involved in the American Student Dental Association, both at the national and local levels. While I’m biased about how inspiring this organization is, I think the important part is to be involved in any organization while in dental school. When I have the opportunity to travel and problem-solve with dental students from all over the country or to become aware of legislation affecting dentistry, the bigger picture reappears. I’m no longer as consumed by that microbiology exam; it no longer seems like such an insurmountable feat.

Dentistry becomes bigger than all the “what-ifs,” “can-I-dos,” and “will-I-succeeds.” Allowing yourself to serve others, whether it’s your peers, future colleagues, or larger community, reminds you of why you came to dental school in the first place. It's part of what sharing my experiences here at THE NEXTDDS means to me as well. That initial excitement you felt when you answered that phone call accepting you into dental school—that excitement all rushes back.

It's also imperative to stay close to people who aren’t so dentally inclined. Once you begin dental school, you’ll realize just how much you “talk shop.” You may even be at an end-of-semester party and still discussing with your classmates that ridiculously difficult occlusion exam you had three weeks ago. We are a really weird breed!

I think in order to stay motivated, it’s necessary to have things, or rather people that distract you from it all (in a good way). I’ve been so lucky to stay very close with an amazing group of friends from undergrad, none of whom want to discuss dentistry (aside from the occasional toothbrush recommendation). This is a great thing! Catching up with these friends gives me the opportunity to put things into perspective. Everyone else’s world continues to turn regardless of the fact that I’ve been sucked into the black hole that we call dental school, but it’s important to stay tethered to the rest of the world.

My family and boyfriend do the same; they allow me a mental reprieve from dental school so that when my focus returns, I have a bit more motivation because I want to make all those people supporting me proud. As I’ve said elsewhere, dental school is no doubt distracting and time-consuming, but the universal truth—one affirmed by all dental students I know—is that we need our people. The relationships we bring to dental school? Those are tested, and the ones that survive are fortified.

Q: What is your first patient interaction like and how does it feel?

The time frame for your first patient interaction depends upon your dental school. At the Dental College of Georgia, we start seeing patients very early—the fall semester of our second year.

If you’re anything like me, you will be pretty nervous before your first patient experience. I mean this is not just a classmate. You will want to do everything perfectly and for the patient to have full confidence in you (or as much as they can have for an unseasoned dental student). At the same time, you are so busy with everything else happening during the semester that there’s only so much stressing out you can do.

You set up your operatory, brief your assistant, and then it’s time to get the patient from the waiting room. Once you bring him or her back and you’ve built some rapport, it’s time to get to the dentistry. The best way I can describe my experience is that my body kind of took over, and the whole situation felt extremely comfortable. I look back on it now and think about how much more in control I felt as compared to how I thought I would feel.

My takeaway, and one I’m glad to share with you, was that my professors and school would not put me in a situation to treat a patient if they did not believe I would be prepared. Trust in this, prepare as best you can, and be confident in the fact that you have made it to this exciting point in the dental curriculum where everything becomes real. Oh…and maybe don’t admit to your patient that this is your first time!


Thank you for reading! I hope this helped give you an idea of what dental school is really like. In Part 3 of the series, we will cover two or three new topics to help you keep that momentum as you prepare for your second year of dental school. Stay tuned, and I welcome any questions you have!

Tags: dental school clinics, clinic, motivation, first patient experiences

VCU School of Dentistry Students Provide Primary Care to the Underserved in Jamaica

Posted by THE NEXTDDS on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 @ 01:00 PM



VCU School of Dentistry faculty and dental students at the Long Pond Clinic in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica.

For dental students, some learning experiences make a bigger difference than others. For Amy Reichert, Class of 2016 at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Dentistry, the opportunity to provide care for the underserved population in Jamaica is especially powerful. Since 1986, VCU students have been going to Trelawny Parish in Jamaica and working out of a clinic that is adjacent to a sugar cane factory. These D4 students perform cleanings, extractions, restorations, and provide education for the local community, and the Jamaicans welcomed them warmly. “People would get so excited about making sure that their children would get looked at,” she said in a recent interview with THE NEXTDDS.

Every year, VCU Jamaica Project sends three waves of D4 students and dental hygiene students for one week stints to provide diagnostic and definitive care services under the direct guidance of preceptors. According to Reichert, the students rotate in their duties in the clinic. “We tried to rotate every few hours,” she said, to avoid fatigue and to broaden the experience. The demand for their care was high. “When do you say no? You can’t see everybody. All the patients were so appreciative,” she noted. Since the local population generally worked at the sugar cane plant, “we saw a lot of anterior caries, not so much the occlusal and buccal decay we see here in Richmond.”


Amy Reichert, 2016 DDS Candidate, of VCU School of Dentistry.

Besides the high demand for their services, the students faced challenges with technology as well, Reichert said. “We had no X-rays there. It made doing restorations much more difficult. Every tooth you opened up was completely bombed out, even if they didn’t look too bad initially. We ended up pulping and pulling a lot of teeth.”

Mick Pope, DDS, and a faculty coordinator for the annual visit, emphasized that the students pay their individual airfare and they go there to work. “It’s not a trip that you win. The program runs only because the students raise the money.” Students initially express interest at an organizational meeting in January or February, then they coordinate fundraising events to pay for food, supplies and housing. Every year one student takes the initiative to be the coordinator, and for this most recent trip that student was Reichert. She kept track of how involved students were, who participated in fundraisers, and who took on leadership roles.  The most involved students were invited to go.  The trips take place in late October and early November, a challenging time for fourth-year students to leave since it is considered prime interviewing season.

Remarked Pope, “We take nine or ten students each wave over three weeks, so between 24 and 28 go each year. Most years we have an overabundance of students who want to go.” Not every dental school makes such an experience available to their students. “I don’t know how many students [go to Jamaica] from purely academic programs here in the U.S.” The experience has been powerful for students, Pope noted. “Feedback from students after each Project routinely includes the comment, ‘that’s the best thing that I ever did in dental school.’”

Dental students performed tooth extractions and provided preventive care, restorative procedures, and oral hygiene education to the Trelawny clinic patients.

Reichert agrees. She found the opportunity to work closely with their preceptor, oral surgeon Dr. Greg Zoghby, was priceless. “Working with Dr. Zoghby was amazing. The little techniques I learned from him I will take with me for the rest of my career. I learned so many small techniques not just with extractions but also the anesthesia. Usually we do a lot of infiltrations in school, but he taught us how to do specific blocks and made sure we really understood the anatomy. A lot of us don’t get much experience with that in school.”

Over the 29-year history of the Jamaica trip, Pope says the school has developed many strong relationships with Jamaicans throughout Trelawny. “The clinic is in a sugar cane factory, set up to service their workforce.” The group stores their equipment in the clinic at the end of each Project, “and hopefully it will be there waiting for us next year,” he notes. When asked what the future holds, Pope says that they never really know. “This could always be the last year – we relay on the favors and willingness of our Jamaican friends to help us do this. We have no securities other than the on-going relationships we've established.” He fully expects that the effort will continue despite the challenges. “With 1,000 people being laid off [from the factory] just recently, they’re going to want and need our services next fall more than ever.”

Reichert also enjoyed the cultural exposure. “I’m really glad we had the opportunity to experience what it was like to be there day-to-day. We had a chance to see what it was like to actually be a Jamaican. The staff that we had in our houses were amazing. I’m a vegan, so cooking for me was more of a challenge. Gordon, our cook, went above and beyond. He made sure I was taken care of every night.”

Was there one especially memorable patient? Reichert shared this case. “There was this one lady…probably in her 60s, and I was taking out the rest of her teeth. She was nothing but smiles and gave me the biggest hug and told me she loved me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that good after seeing a patient.” She hopes to continue doing outreach care after she finishes her endodontics residency.

More information on the VCU trip to Jamaica can be found at their “unofficial” website. On behalf of all at THE NEXTDDS, we thank the VCU School of Dentistry team for sharing this amazing adventure.

Tags: dental students, VCU School of Dentistry, outreach, clinic

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