Updated July 22, 2021. The article was updated to correct minor grammatical errors.
I’m tired. I feel like I’ve been saying this since the first day of dental school. Long days of class and lab work followed by long nights of studying begin to catch up with a person after a while. As a good friend of mine once put it “I’m so tired of being tired”. But then I remind myself, I’m here. I made it. There was a time I never would have dreamed of even being accepted to dental school, let alone getting to attend the school I fell in love with during interviews. Ok, better keep that thought in my brain next week when I have three exams and a group presentation that I have not even started yet.
This is what all dental students must do when negative thoughts about school start to creep in. Yes, dental school is hard. Sometimes it gets so difficult that the thought of dropping out and grabbing the nearest desk job sounds oh so appealing. However, all dental students made it to dental school for a reason, and there is no reason to let negative thoughts rule our minds during this exciting yet exhausting season of life. Dental school is only four years. Four years! That is nothing, my friends. As happy as it may make some students never have to go to school again after these four years, I am here to tell you that these are some of the most unique years of life we will ever have the chance to experience, so do not waste them. And do not let the thought of getting out ruin your chance to take advantage of the things you can only do in dental school.
Have classmates who become family
I cannot think of another time in life where I will spend as much time as I currently spend with my classmates. We go to class together, study together, have fun together, and sometimes cry together. Almost everyone told me before starting dental school that I will spend more time with my classmates than I will with my own family, and it is absolutely true. We all have the same exact schedule and we all know every single person in our class. At UAB, this is inevitable with a class size of only 63. One big happy family! Sure, after graduation it is possible to find great colleagues and coworkers who may also turn into lifelong friends. However, the nature of dental school leads to the formation of relationships like no others. The people you become friends with within dental school will be the ones that lift you up and help you get through it. Then they become the colleagues you call when you have no clue what to do on a case in private practice. Sure, people make friends throughout their entire life. But the forging of friendships over long hours in the anatomy lab, sim lab, and eventually clinic lab is a kind of magic only found in dental school.
Use the excuse “I have to study” to get out of things
We have all done it. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s not. But it certainly is an excuse that would only fly while in graduate school. While I long for the day when I do not have to study anymore, it is nice to always have the option to pull the study card if socializing just seems like too much for that day.
Being able to ask as many questions as you want
It sounds cliché, but students often forget the main reason why they are in dental school: to become learners and gain knowledge in order to best serve our patients. Not only do we forget how fortunate we are to be able to take part in the learning process, but we also forget that we are paying copious amounts of money to be doing so. Our faculty are getting paid a lot to do their jobs. Use them! Pick their brains while you can because once we get out into the real world, we are on our own for the most part. Sure, we will be able to call our friends for advice, but we will not have a faculty member to lean on each step of the way if we get stuck. Moreover, do not be afraid to ask questions. I cannot tell you the number of seemingly mundane questions I have asked that have helped me better comprehend a subject. Do not let the fear of someone thinking it is a bad question keep you from asking it. Remember, after dental school, you will not have nearly as many opportunities to ask those burning questions in your brain.
Get several vacations a year
While it may seem as though the time between breaks drags on forever and ever and that there are not enough breaks, dental students must remember to be thankful that they even get a break at all. At UAB, students get about eight weeks total off of school per year including a fall, winter, spring, and summer break. If anyone expects to get this amount of time off at their first job out of school think again! The nature of dental school leads to the necessity for breaks throughout the year, otherwise, our brains would explode. But the reality is we will most likely never get this much vacation time ever again. We are fortunate as dentists as most offices are closed one or two days a week. However once dental school is over, it’s time to say goodbye to several week-long vacations a year. Be sure to appreciate that spring break more than ever before.
Live in a new place
Going to dental school is a chance to explore! Once a new dentist gets plugged into a job or even buys a new practice, there will not be a reason to move away from that location. Going to dental school out of state or in an area of the country far different than one’s home may be one of the last opportunities for people in our field to live in a new place. As someone who loves traveling and living in new places, I was excited at the opportunity to live in a new city and explore my surroundings. Birmingham, Alabama is certainly different than where I grew up in Orlando, Florida! For the pre-dents reading this, take advantage of this unique opportunity and consider the possibilities of going to school in a new state. For dental students, be sure to explore the city you live in while you can. You never know where life will take you, and if dental school takes you to an exciting new city, treat it as an adventure!
At first glance, four years does not seem like a very long period of time. However, speaking as someone who is almost halfway through dental school, two more years of school is starting to look like an eternity. We all long for the day when we can live in the real world, have a normal schedule, and not have to study at night. But having this mindset is no way to conquer dental school. There are only so many things we can control in life and our attitude is one of them. So instead of focusing on all the hardships of dental school, try to keep in mind that at the end of the day, it’s four very special years of our lives that we do not want to waste moping around complaining every day. With a positive mindset like this, the school will fly by, and graduation will seem that much closer. Have fun and remember; the real world is right around the corner!