Most of us would agree that beginning dental school is challenging. I’d liken it to being in the passenger seat of a muscle car during a drag race. You’re excited to get going but largely unprepared for the change of pace that you’re about to experience. How we adapt during this time is instrumental to our future success.
The beginning of my dental school career was much more jarring than I ever imagined it would be. A week before orientation, my life was irreversibly changed. I had just returned home from a summer abroad and was preparing to move from Washington to Colorado. Just days before my departure, my family and I received tragic news that my sister had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I considered deferring admission. I told myself it would be valuable to work for a year before going to school. If I went to Washington instead of Colorado I would be closer to my parents. I almost did it. Ultimately, I decided that I needed to continue to pursue my dreams. On a Sunday, I boarded the plane to Colorado and began my dental school journey.
I spent much of my first semester outside of Colorado, flying back often to be with family. At times, school was a healthy distraction from reality. Sometimes it was overwhelming. Often I felt that being so busy prevented me from working through and processing my loss appropriately. I needed change. Over the next year, I set my sights on living intentionally in a way that was balanced and sustainable. With the help of good friends, wise counselors and a healthy understanding of my own limitations, I was able to make progress towards my goal. I’d like to share a few of the principles that I think are important in finding balance as a dental student.
1.Focus on WHY.
The sheer number of classes, exams and requirements that make up dental school can be terrifying. I found that when I focused only on WHAT I needed to do I would become frustrated and overwhelmed. However, when I reflected on WHY I was in dental school and WHY I was taking a specific course or learning a particular procedure, I became more interested and the work became easier. Our core values and aspirations can be an incredibly refreshing and healthy source of intrinsic motivation.
2.Be something other than a dentist.
Dentistry is a demanding enterprise. It’s essential to dedicate a lot of time to school, but don’t let it consume your life. In my case, that meant pursuing my other passions in life with equal fervor. Skiing, playing guitar, reading and hiking became my go-to weekend activities. Nothing will fill you with positivity and motivate you like doing the things you love.
3.Be kind, especially to yourself.
Many of us are predisposed towards obsessive personalities. At times it can be difficult to let go if something doesn’t go as planned. Maybe a patient cancelled at the last minute. Maybe an exam didn’t go as well as planned. You can fume over your patients’ incompetence and disrespect. You can beat yourself up for not focusing enough on a specific subject matter. It won’t help you, but it sure will make you unhappy. The quicker you can learn to practice forgiveness and understanding, the happier you will be.
With a busy school schedule, it can be hard to take some time for yourself. But it’s necessary not only to maintain your mental well-being but also to be a more effective provider for your patients. Every day, we have the opportunity to encourage and empower those around us to pursue health and happiness. Centering myself on my passions makes me happier, so I’m a better student. And even when I’m not, I’ve learned to accept that too. Finding the balance in my life has been a journey, but it’s been well worth it.
~ John Luke Andrew, Colorado ‘18, District 9 trustee