The Ups and Downs of Dental School

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Ups and Downs

Dental school is a journey, complete with the ups and downs that any good adventurist expects. It can be difficult to keep up the motivation required to perform well each day. But a good attitude and a little motivation will persevere.

There have been very few days so far this year that I have not had to study for an upcoming quiz, case presentation, practical, or exam. As with most things in life, consistency is key. PersPerBut in dental school, avoiding burnout is difficult.

Like most of my classmates, I have found it hard to maintain the same enthusiasm and drive that I had the first few weeks of school. Today marks the end of the infamous neurobiology module that the second years warned us about.

We learned the ins and outs of critical brain structures, key spinal pathways, cranial nerve functions, etc. This module is said to be the hardest of the year and it was certainly a bear. Most frustratingly I saw my chances at an A slip away when I performed poorly on the third of four exams.

So that’s what I thought I would write about today. When things are going your way until suddenly they aren’t.

I had an A until suddenly I didn’t…

My first two neuro exams went very well. But I did very poorly on the third. I was shocked to see just how many questions I had missed when our grades came back.

But you know what? That’s life. Facing adversity, dealing with failure, accepting that you can’t win ’em all is a part of growing. You certainly can’t be the best at everything. Knowing that only makes you stronger, drives you to push harder, and forces you to grow beyond who you already are.

At the end of the day, do you want a dentist who thinks they are better than everyone at every procedure? I certainly don’t! I want the dentist who works hard but accepts their limitations. They know their strengths, they embrace them, and they know when they should refer to someone more experienced.

That is the kind of dentist I plan to be, and that is the attitude I have adopted in dental school. I am the best that I can be, even though I am certainly not the best at everything or perhaps anything at all.

Learning to fail

Dental students are high achievers who strive to do well. We want to be at or near the top of every class academically. It can be difficult to accept that you may not be the best at waxing teeth or the basic sciences. But too many students are defeated by small hiccups along the way.

So you didn’t get the grade you wanted on a practical exam; come in and work harder! Don’t just give up and tell yourself that you weren’t born with golden hands! In my experience, the people with golden hands are those folks who spent hours practicing outside of class. They are great at what they do because they put in the time and effort.

When we first started school a lot of my classmates planned to become dental specialists. As the first year has progressed, a lot of them have already given up on their dreams. They aren’t getting the grades they wanted so they throw in the towel. A few have said that they must not want it badly enough if they can’t make the grades.

But future plans for life after dental school aside, shouldn’t we all be working hard for the good of our future patients? It shouldn’t matter if we want to specialize, we should be working to become the best dentists that we can possibly be because that is itself a noble goal, right?

Never, never, never give up!

It is easy to let a few blows bring you down and make you feel mediocre. But that is exactly what leads to mediocrity in the first place. Instead of giving up and letting a bad grade or two affect you, work harder to be at the top of your class.

Your future patients will thank you, as will your future self and family. If you only plan to be a general dentist, you still benefit from being the best that you can be right now.

Not being at the top of the class is less important than working hard to be at the top of the class. Aim for #1 because it will make you a better dentist. Don’t do it because it will make you look like a better dentist. The more you learn in dental school, the harder you practice before you have actual patients, the better off you will be in the real world.

I may have done poorly on my third neuro exam, but I worked hard to get an A this time. I am happy that I will probably never have to touch neuro again outside of studying for the NBDE. But I know that I learned a lot of valuable information that will help me to understand and treat patients who have cognitive disabilities and neurological disorders.

Almost nothing we learn here is a waste of time. But the greatest lessons are often those which teach us how to fail and then pick ourselves up again.

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