How to stay motivated during dental school

Dental school comes with a lot of wonderful experiences, but it also presents some challenges. As a first-year dental student, you are responsible for staying on top of classes and completing all clinical assignments, in addition to balancing sleep and relationships with family and friends. This can be overwhelming. When I’m overwhelmed, one of the biggest challenges is staying motivated.

If you ever start to feel unmotivated during dental school, you’re not alone. I’ve included some strategies below on how to stay motivated that my classmates, other dental students and myself use. I hope they’ll help you, too!

1. Think about why you chose dental school. Always keep your goals in mind. Why do you want to be a dentist? How do you want to challenge yourself with leadership and research opportunities during dental school? After dental school, what kind of impact do you want to make? Answering these questions will help you remember why you’re on this path. This is the best source of motivation.

2. Establish a solid support system. Support from family, friends, a significant other, classmates, etc., can help you stay focused and remind you why you work so hard. Also, knowing that someone realizes the amount of work you’re putting in and appreciates you for it can be motivating in itself.

3. Don’t compare yourself to your classmates or students at other dental schools. Your dental school journey is your own. This is challenging but so important. It’s so easy for us to compare our paths to the people around us, but each of us have different goals. Motivation comes with working toward the goals you set for yourself, not those of the people around you.

4. Make time for yourself each day. A short break every day can help you feel refreshed and motivated to keep going. Do something you enjoy, whether that be working out, taking a walk, FaceTiming a friend or taking a nap.

5. Try to maintain a daily routine. Routine helps us to stay focused on a day’s task, be productive, efficient and feel accomplished throughout the day.

6. Make checklists/task lists. Using a checklist to keep your day on track is helpful. In addition, it is motivating to see how many tasks you have checked off your list by the end of each day.

7. Get enough sleep. We often hear about stress and lack of sleep being associated with success. I don’t find this to be true at all. In dental school, it is so important to get enough sleep to stay in a productive and motivated mindset. When our brains aren’t tired, it’s easier to feel more motivated and less discouraged when school gets challenging.

Consider some of these strategies the next time you start to feel unmotivated. Dental school is an exciting time of your life, and you will enjoy it to the fullest when you find ways to stay driven. We always strive to be our best selves, and in order to keep it up, we have to continue to stay motivated throughout our journey.

~Joan Daniel, New England ’22

Joan Daniel

A Massachusetts native, Joan Daniel is currently a student at the University of New England (UNE) in Portland, Maine. She's an active member of her chapter and loves photography, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and trying new coffee shops.

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