This past academic year was the most challenging one I have faced yet, no question. Starting dental school in a pandemic posed quite a few challenges for my class. We were fully virtual, meaning no anatomy lab, a very delayed start to dental morphology lab, and the freedom to log onto Zoom from wherever we were. So, as a result, I and many of my classmates lived at home for the Fall semester. In January 2021, we began our in-person lab work, and began a full dental school curriculum after finishing our medical school courses.
Over the next 6 months, I learned and applied lessons that were necessary to finish D1 strong. I’m happy to share these here and hope that they help an incoming D1 or pre-dental student!
1. Take Care of Yourself First
Yes, you are studying to become a dentist, but you have to remember that you are first and foremost a human being that needs to take care of themselves. When I neglected my own daily maintenance, I noticed that it took me longer to do the work that I had to get done. Find activities that you love to make sure that your mental and physical wellbeing are taken care of every single day. I, for one, practice meditation using Headspace, journal using a Notion template, and exercise 3-5 times a week. Physical training is really important since we spend so much time performing mental training in the form of studying. Finding your most preferred methods will help you get through those tough days of didactics. Incorporating these practices into morning and evening routines is a great way to make sure that they’ll get done.
2. Celebrate Small Victories, Learn from Failures
There is no shortage of exams, quizzes, and practicals/ competencies in dental school. Still, every single one gets you a step closer to your ultimate goal. Never lose sight of that fact! It will give you some perspective and towards the end of the year, you will realize just how far you’ve come. Small rewards after success will keep you going. On the flip side, sometimes things don’t pan out. You had a bad day, didn’t study enough, got cursed, etc. Whether it’s an exam, a practical, or just having to redo an assignment, the majority of people fail at some point in dental school. Don’t let it get you down! In this situation, the best thing to do is ask questions of your professors and or upperclassmen. See each failure or mistake as an opportunity to learn and to better reinforce the concepts. Hand skills in particular can be very stressful to learn, so be kind to yourself and trust the process. Some extra practice never hurt anyone, right?!
3. Take Time Away
This is hardly possible during the rush of the school year, but it is crucial to take some time away from academics. Be sure to spend as much time as you can manage with family and friends, or even do something alone! Going full steam ahead 24/7 is an easy way to burn out. Your classmates will be going through all the same struggles and doing something not school-related together will make your bond even stronger. Going back to #1, find some activities and places that get you going and unplug from school for a few hours, or days, preferably!
4. Time Management is Your Best Friend
Building on the last point, being able to manage your time is an invaluable skill. Just ask all the docs that run 15 minutes behind all day after their first patient! But seriously, some days get so packed that you have to skip a meal and or stay up until midnight studying. To minimize unintentional fasting and sleep deprivation, prepare as best you can. Personally, I take note of every scheduled exam, quiz, and report at the beginning of each course. Then, every Saturday or Sunday, I take 5-10 minutes to look through the class calendar for anything coming up that week. From there I make daily “Get To-Do” lists. (The “Get” is a little trick I saw somewhere that switches your perspective from “you HAVE to do this” to “you GET to do this” and makes completing each task more fulfilling.) This list includes everything from meals, study sessions, classes, workouts, you get the drift. Even better if you can assign time slots to specific tasks and incorporate them into your preferred calendar. This can help reduce (but not eliminate…) cramming tons of material the night before exams. Bar none, your time is your most valuable asset. Use it wisely.
5. Useful Apps
This is not so much a lesson learned as an unpaid plug for the various apps I use daily during school. So here goes:
Headspace: meditation, sleep sounds, some light home workouts.
Notion: organization and schedule keeping, journaling. Really can be made into anything you want it to be.
Notability: app of choice for importing and marking up PDFs of slides, textbooks, etc. Best feature is audio recording which syncs to the notes, allowing you to play back the lecture and see the notes you made.
Forest: Focus app with Pomodoro timer built in. Also, you plant trees for each session so you can see the total time you study build up!
GroupMe: Keep up with class news/ struggles and dental memes.
This post was contributed by Gil Barahman, Programming Chair at ASDA District 2 and student at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine ('24). Instagram: @license2gil