Live, laugh, love. How many times have you heard that phrase? It encompasses the core components of “wellness,” but at times we find difficulty achieving it. In dental school, we can become so busy that we forget to eat. How can we balance life, work and happiness? One easy answer is pets or animals in general, especially the cute and furry ones.
Dental school can be incredibly stressful. Even the healthiest and most confident student can succumb to hard days, external pressures and self-doubt. Depression and burnout are real concerns. In spring of 2014, ASDA lost our past president, Jiwon Lee, to suicide. Later that year, then-president Dr. Kris Mendoza wrote, “We wished we would have known that she was suffering. Everyone wishes they could have helped her. But she kept her troubles to herself.”
In high school, I started going to the gym every day and avoiding junk food because I wanted to be healthier. I couldn’t run 400 meters without getting winded. I spent hours in front of my computer. My favorite Saturday lunchtime tradition was getting a pizza from Pizza Hut and eating it all myself. At first, exercising more and eating less junk food did make me feel healthier. I felt more alert. I could finally run a mile without stopping. I became more confident in myself and less clumsy when I walked.
But with my aspiring-dentist Type-A personality, exercise and eating became parts of my life that I liked to work on obsessively. When I moved away to college in Boston, hundreds of miles away from home, I was excited to make my own decisions.
Jab! Cross! Hook! Uppercut!
I am no Muhammad Ali, but you can typically find me at a local boxing gym after a long day of clinic and classes pounding away at a heavy bag with my hot pink Everest ® gloves.
At a towering 5 foot 2 inches, I am not your typical image of an Ultimate Fighting Champion. Not to mention with pieces of plaster and alginate stuck in my hair from doing lab work, I certainly do not look the part. However, looks are deceiving. I pack a mean uppercut and one-two punch.
When a computer becomes overrun with more information than its processor can handle, it crashes. The human brain responds much the same. Take me, for example. I recently wrapped up an ordinary day in the life of a third-year dental student. I had lectures in the morning and treated patients in the afternoon. On the ride home, something felt off. Everything I needed to get done was passing through my mind. I needed to study, finish lab work and prepare a treatment plan for tomorrow’s patient. Aside from school responsibilities, my wife needed me to get groceries. I got home, dropped my bag and knelt on the floor. All at once, those thoughts flooded my brain and I could not move. I just sat there, emotional and frozen.
Chronic musculoskeletal pain is also one of the leading causes for dentists to retire prematurely. Dentists have reported increased prevalence rates of chronic neck pain, shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain. It is vital to avoid these problems from the beginning of our careers to avoid its ill effects later. As dental students, we concentrate on improving on our clinical work. Seldom do we concentrate on our work posture. So how can we do it?
We all want to feel accepted, included and a part of something bigger. For most of us, becoming a dentist was once just a dream. Now we have the opportunity to learn, grow and develop skills to achieve our dream. Dentistry is a social, collaborative and interactive profession that requires empathy, compassion and respect. We work hard so that, one day, we can take care of our patients. However, the environment of dental school can exacerbate existing insecurities. As a consequence, we sometimes forget how to take care of ourselves and our peers.