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.
Today, when I look around at my class filled with intelligent, hardworking, focused, meticulous individuals, I am inspired. But it wasn’t always this way. When I began dental school, I didn’t focus on the positives of being surrounded by determined individuals. I used to view everyone as competition. I’d compare myself. I’d judge others by their actions, rather than taking the time to listen and learn. My internal monolog was like a scene in “Mean Girls.” Remember when Cady views her schoolmates in the lunchroom as animals in the wild? Rather than being vulnerable and authentic, I’d repress stress, displace it, or destructively deal with it. Sound familiar?
During my first year of school, I found out I had a tumor that needed to be removed. After my surgery, the recovery proved difficult. As I was healing and attempting to make up coursework, my classmates pitched in. When I was behind on lab work, my classmates stayed late to tutor me. When I felt stressed about making up exams, my classmates sat with me and helped me understand the concepts. And most of all, when I was overwhelmed, they listened to me without judgment and allowed me to open up. The support of my classmates was there when I needed it most.
In my classmates, and in ASDA, I found a community. I found a supportive and encouraging network. In many ways, it is reassuring to be able to talk to students from across the country. It helps me realize that everyone is going through something. Many of the problems we experience at our own schools are not unique. Everyone has parts of their story that are difficult to share. Everyone deals with stresses in personal ways, but no one is truly alone.
It is easy to focus on the negatives, our anxieties and to bring others down with us. Instead, take the time to talk to your peers and genuinely listen. You never know what you’ll bond over.
I know dental school will end just as quickly as it began. We will all walk across that graduation stage. But it’s up to you to earn more than just a degree in dental school.
~Roopali Kulkarni, Pennsylvania ’19, District 3 Trustee