Is Dental School Right For You?
Guess what time it is? Time for another guest post! My friend over at Brush or Die (don’t you think that’s a little dramatic, buddy?) invited me to share a few thoughts on his site. He is starting dental school this fall, so we decided that in honor of that, I would share some of my tips about life in dental school. You’ll notice that his blog description says, “All Things Dental Except the Boring Stuff.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s why he asked me to write a post for him.
So if you have more questions about dental school, if you are already a student, or if you have been out in the real world for years, we’d love to hear what you think!
Update: Our friend over at Brush or Die is so busy with school that he decided he didn’t have time to blog. We wish him well, and now you get to read the whole blog post here!
Is Dental School Right For You?
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to dental school! You’ve spent the last few years researching, observing, and preparing for this day. Now what? How can you get the most out of this experience and how can you be sure that you are making the right career choice?
Thinking back to my first day of dental school, I’m reminded of how little I knew about dentistry and how I had envisioned it to be. I chose this field out of a desire to help people, work in a social atmosphere, and have a secure, stable income. I had a genuine interest in teeth and smiles, and the autonomy was also an attractive quality. I was so sure dentistry was the best career ever that I convinced one of my closest college friends to choose dentistry instead of medicine. To this day she still thanks me for my endless persuasion about the benefits of dentistry over medicine; and she is now a successful endodontist, loving her career choice. I wish I could say the same for myself. I, on the other hand, am not even in the field anymore. How could this happen? How could I be so sure that dentistry was so right for me when in reality it was so wrong?
How do you know you are making the right decision about your future career?
No amount of planning can prepare you enough for what you will encounter until you actually walk in those shoes. Sure, you can decide if you like people and health and teeth, but how do you know what it’s like to anesthetize and perform surgery on a living, breathing human being? How do you know what it’s like to have to tell the patient that instead of the simple filling you suggested, the tooth needs to be pulled because you couldn’t see the cracked root on the x-ray? The answer is you don’t, and you never will until you do it.
But there may be some signs in dental school that indicate whether you are in the right or the wrong career. Here are a few questions to help you decide if dentistry is right for you while you are in school:
Do your classes interest you? The first semester of school is filled with the basic science classes such as Biochem, Histology, Gross Anatomy, and Physiology. While some of these classes can be slightly useful in your career, most of the information you will learn during this time is not relevant. These classes aren’t a true indication of what you will really be doing. Take note of the classes like Dental Anatomy, Operative Dentistry, and the hands-on lab courses that will prepare you for everyday life in dentistry. Do you like the subject matter? Do you find it interesting, or do you absolutely hate it? If you have no interest in this, it’s most likely not the field for you.
Does lab interest you? In addition to the basic science courses, you will get some hands-on experience. You will learn everything you need to know before you touch another human being. Er… not quite everything… you will learn just the basics. You will learn how to prepare teeth for fillings, crowns, bridges, and root canals. If you dislike practicing the techniques on fake teeth that are not attached to a human, then you will hate doing it on real teeth. It only gets harder when you have cheeks, lips, a tongue, and saliva to work around… not to mention a human being with feelings.
Does clinic interest you? This is when it starts to get real. Once you get the chance to actually put all the information you’ve learned to use in clinic, you will have a much better sense of the actual work you will perform. The first time doing any procedure may be the scariest event of your life. You will likely go through many emotions: fear, excitement, intrigue. Be sure to differentiate between something that is challenging or intimidating and something that you truly dislike. If you’re scared to give your first injection, that’s okay. It will get easier. If you hate interacting with patients and doing procedures on them, think about changing before you get in too deep.
Will you be a good dentist if you don’t get straight A’s? Dental school is much harder than undergrad. If you expected that 4 years of dental school were going to be an extension of college, I’m sorry to shatter these expectations. Yeah, you still have instant friends and parties galore, but instead of the 3 hours of class per day, realize that the opposite will occur. You will now have 3 hours of free time per day. And in that time, don’t forget to eat, exercise, relax… and oh yeah, study for exams. While most dental school entrants were in the top of the class in undergrad, someone has to be in the bottom now. Here’s a little secret: grades don’t really matter in dental school. They really only matter if you want to enroll in a post-graduate program. That’s not to say that you should blow it all off. The information and the skills you develop matter, but no one is going to look at your grades to determine if they want to hire you or give you the business loan to start your business. Ease up on yourself and do your best.
Why are you here? Be honest with yourself. Is it for your parents, or is it for you? Is your reputation the driving force for getting you here? Are you looking for prestige? Are you looking for an easy job with easy money? I’ll tell you right now, if you think anything about this will be easy, think again!
And if you’re just not sure, here are a few tips to make sure you get the most of your experience:
- Be active. Join clubs and societies. One of the best parts of dentistry is the camaraderie.
- Get out. Yep, as in take a break from eating, breathing, living dentistry. Have some balance. Blow off steam with your dental school friends. They may be some of the best in your life, but also find some friends that aren’t in school with you. You might want a chance to discuss something other than that filling you did today.
- Find a mentor. They are all around you! Connect with one of your teachers and get to know them. They’ll have a lot of helpful advice.
- If you are interested in a specialty, find a mentor in that department. It’s not a bad idea to dedicate some time to assisting or hanging around the clinic to get a better idea of what it’s all about.
Dental school will be full of challenges, but it is only a snippet of what the real world will hold for you. Take the time to make the most out of your experience and discover your priorities before you’re swimming in student debt. Whether it’s in or out of dentistry, it’s never too late to choose the future that’s right for you!