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

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