By: Joseph DePalo | Student Education Coordinator

So…how do you survive dental school? That’s a good question. It takes grit, determination, and a lot of caffeine!

Just kidding. Dental school is hard work. And I truly believe there is no absolute correct or incorrect path to navigate dental school. There are many ways to approach the day-to-day, the short-term, and the long-term.

In addition, there are even more study strategies, means of developing clinical skills, and ways to find that often overlooked “work-life balanceâ€. And, to top it all off…there are multiple ways to define “success†in dental school.

Nevertheless, as a recent grad, I know these tips will provide a framework that you can use to write your own story as a student.

So, I encourage you to interpret these “tips†in the context of your own dental school experience and career aspirations.

1. FIND YOURSELF A ROCK

No, I don’t mean a literal rock. I’m speaking of the person, place, or idea that is at the foundation of your dental school experience or maybe even your life. Maybe you came to dental school to make difference in the lives of loved ones, give back to a community close to your heart, or because you fervently believe in an idea that you are so driven to explore.

This rock is what you can turn to during the good times or the bad.

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If your rock is a loved or friend, give them a call (no, don’t send them a text) when your biochemistry exam didn’t go as planned or maybe your RPD didn’t quite fit on the day of delivery.

On the flip side, reach out to them when you’ve had the best day ever.

If instead, your rock is a community or an idea that drives you on a daily basis, use this idea to constantly remind yourself that all of your hard work and dedication WILL be worth it. In many cases, you are already making a huge difference and it is your job to recognize how valuable your skill set and knowledge are and will be.

Just find someone or something that you can turn to for support and motivation.

2. BE A TEAM PLAYER

Believe it or not, maybe recess was a lot more valuable than we all thought.

Remember the good ol’ days of playing capture the flag or double dutching for what seemed like hours? Perhaps recess accomplished more, like teaching us a thing or two about teamwork, than just tiring us out to the point that Ms. Smith could actually teach something without someone throwing a paper airplane across the classroom.

Childhood nostalgia aside, there’s far more team play in dental school than many of us realize. You and your study group are a team, you and your clinic group (if your school has that sort of thing) are a team, you and your professors are a team, you and your roommates are a team…

You get the idea!

Communicate; understand your strengths and weaknesses as well as those of your peers, and recognize your role.

And remember…you don’t have to be a leader all the time.

Don’t be afraid of “lesser” roles because there is no such thing. NO SUCH THING.

Be the person who shares their study guide.

The one who stays late in clinic to help a faculty member or classmate clean up after a challenging case.

Be the guy or gal who shares some of those decadent chocolate chip cookies you made this weekend.

Those cookies may taste great, but what’s even sweeter is seeing how much they can brighten up the day of those around you.

3. DON’T JUST LEARN FROM FAILURES. LEARN FROM SUCCESSES AS WELL.

With dental school consisting of more ups and downs than the elevator business, it’s hard not to want to celebrate our successes. And trust me, there’s nothing wrong with doing so. If you just cemented that FPD and your patient is brimming with satisfaction, then take that opportunity to embrace that success. You worked hard and deserve to celebrate. However, try to stay grounded and remember that even our successes are invaluable learning opportunities.

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By now we all know how to learn from our mistakes, but I encourage you to constantly look for areas of improvement in your successes as well. That patient might be ecstatic, but reflect back on the case as a whole and try to identify areas of improvement. Perhaps your preps could have been slightly different or maybe you could have sent that patient a reminder notification so they didn’t miss one of their appointments.

Same goes for an exam or extracurricular activity. Celebrate if you crushed that test. Give yourself a high five if the interest club you are president of held an event that went off without a hitch.

Always reserve time for reflection and debriefing.

4. GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

This piece of advice is short and sweet, but packs a powerful punch. Dental school can be stressful. No doubt about it. It’s okay to be a little nervous and uncomfortable.

But guess what? You’re probably going to experience this feeling every day for the rest of your career!

No two patients will ever be identical.

Clinical cases never seem to go as planned.

Exams are never exactly how we anticipate them to be regardless how much studying we did to prepare!

You are going to feel uncomfortable every single day.

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DON’T LET THIS SCARE YOU.

Let it motivate you! Be eager to confront these scenarios and let them make you a better student, provider, and person.

Dentistry is a unique and dynamic profession that requires constant adaptation, and hopefully, that’s one of the reasons you are in dental school right now!

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