How To Cope With COVID Related Shut-Downs
I had the opportunity to be a panelist at Melbourne Dental School’s career round table, recently. I got to interact with a lot of dental students who were in their third and final year of dental school and a lot of questions were fired at me. It took me back to all the experiences I have had over the past few years. One part of which was, everything I learnt from my practice as a dentist working day-to-day, and two, all the knowledge I gained from interviewing so many amazing dentists on the Noobie Dentist Podcast. And it got me thinking about how helpful it might be for you guys, if I could create a mini podcast series, that went on once a week for 5-10 minutes, tackling different topics around dental school and being a fresh graduate, and trying to answer all your questions in an open and honest manner.
Dealing With The Pandemic As a Dental Student
The first question that I want to take on today is how to maximize your experience in dental school during the pandemic. Obviously, I do empathize with the situation dental students are in right now. Because of all the restrictions, they’ve been out of clinics and unable to get the hands-on experience they would have gotten during regular dental school to build basic foundational skills required for their clinical career. For the dental students listening in from Australia, Canada or the US, the main thing to do is to just look after yourself at this point. It’s quite stressful, I agree. You’re paying a lot of tuition and there’s so much uncertainty about what’s happening, when you may graduate and what the job prospects may be like once you have graduated. And when there’s uncertainty, there’s a toll on mental health and wellbeing. So look out for each other and reach out to friends and peers if you’re having a bad day. Vent it out.
Another thing I recommend is – because I went through a similar situation myself a couple years back, where I was waiting on my registration process after moving back to Australia and wasn’t allowed to work for almost 3-4 months – is to spend less time on social media. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of FOMO on social media, when you see everybody else practicing dentistry. You feel like you’re the only one at home and not working while everybody is busy and being productive. This can have a big impact on your mental health as well. So I recommend taking a little social media holiday and laying off Instagram and Facebook dental groups just for a bit, to shift your focus to other things.
Getting Back To Dental School
Go out and exercise, meet your friends and family or use this downtime to nurture a hobby you have been meaning to get into, but never had the time for. Don’t worry about not getting enough clinical experience, because if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, there are a lot of people in the same boat as you. Many may even have it worse than you.
When you finally go back to dental school and clinics, it’s really important to not get lazy. It’s common for students to get lax as soon as their clinical requirements or quotas are complete. When all your case presentations are done, you tend to slack off and not take up bigger cases. You don’t want to get into the lab and do the hard work of making your special trays or denture sets, so you get complacent with your learning opportunities.
Get as Much Clinical Time as Possible
My advice here is that even if you want to spend your time studying for the boards or looking for work, don’t waste precious clinical time when you finally get it. Try to take up big cases and keep interacting with your demonstrators to learn as much as you can. School is a protected environment where you don’t have the stresses of treatment failures hanging over your head. It’s a good place to push clinical boundaries under supervision, without having to worry about unpleasant outcomes. There’s always a senior faculty or staff looking after you, or a senior student to help you out if you go wrong.
Another thing is, if you have some down time in the mornings or afternoons when you’re not in clinics, you might want to try and reach out to specialty clinics. It could be a good opportunity for you to set up times to shadow post-grads or community specialists in these specialty clinics. Spend some time with them and pick their brains regarding various topics and cases. You can really learn a lot from watching other dentists work.
When you graduate and you’re working on your own doing things all by yourself, you tend to fall into a habit of doing things a certain way. The more you go out and see other dentists or specialists in a different clinical space, the more you can learn. It could be something as trivial as the way they hold their instruments or manipulate their materials, or the manner in which they interact with patients. It’s a great opportunity to learn not only clinical skills, but also things like communication and patient management.
Be Optimistic About the Future
Don’t get too down! You will get through this difficult period of not getting enough clinical time to prepare for your future careers. Having this uncertainty about your graduation or finding work after that, is certainly awful. But make an effort to sit together with your friends, and look after each other. Exercise, take up new hobbies and just try to take care of yourself. Keep yourself occupied! Don’t go down the rabbit hole of overthinking about the future. It’s really out of our hands and stressing about it is not going to do much for it. Practice some stoicism and try to make the best out of the situation.
Secondly, once you’re back in clinics, make sure you are hungry and not shying away from taking up challenging cases just because you don’t want to put in the extra time and effort in the treatment planning or lab work. Or because you don’t want to fail and get a bad grade on a certain procedure. Don’t stress about the little things. Try and get bigger procedures done and it will go a long way in preparing you for a better dental career.
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Have a great day!