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It’s a jungle out there [or reflections on clinic]

It’s 8:30am on an otherwise lovely Tuesday morning in Birmingham, AL. I carefully peak my head around the corner . . . It seems so peaceful. So innocent. The calm before the storm.

For in a mere 30 minutes, what I see before me will transform into something quite terrifying. A black hole where chaos reigns and confidence and tranquility go to die.

Papers will be flying. Students will be running. Patients will be grunting. Ohhh the horror.

“What could this place be?” you may ask. And I would tell you that it’s a place meant to inspire a Salvador Dali painting.

Via Tony Hisgett on Flickr
Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” Via Tony Hisigett on Flickr

A place where calm, confident students are mutated into this:

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" via Ian Burt on Flickr
Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” via Ian Burt on Flickr

A place where you look fear in the face and put your nerves to the test day in and day out. You’ve probably figured it out by now. We call it . . .clinic.

I’m recently finished up my first semester in clinic and I . . . I survived. But not without labor.

Clinic Consciousness and the three clinic laws

As a now experienced 3rd year student, I have developed what I like to call Clinic Consciousness. Among many of the things that I am now aware of, I share these:

  1. Never ever ever underestimate the procedure at hand. Without even the slightest of warnings, an expected 20 minute Class II filling can suddenly turn into a 4 surface complex bonded amalgam complete with pins, cusp replacements, and a margin 2.5mm below gum level.
  2. The money’s worth of alginate and microstone that I have wasted could probably have bought me a new car.
  3. Sometimes (okay, many times) I haven’t the slightest clue as to what I am doing.


A term that I am convinced is a long-ago-physician’s poor attempt at humor. “How much longer is this going to take?” “This is your first time isn’t it?” “Why does it take so long here?”

Every student probably has a similar patient base, but my rainbow spans from ‘the bleeder’ and the ‘sweet old man’ all the way down to the dreaded ‘ole grumpy.’

The law of sympathy, the first of my Three Clinic Laws, encourages students to show sympathy at all times to all patients. It’s rare to find a patient that isn’t currently in some type of crisis or just generally having a bad day. You must always be on your toes. My holsters are permanently unbuckled and my “oh-im-sorry’s” and “bless-your-heart’s” are locked, loaded and ready to go.

The law of improvisation, the second Clinic Law, is quite possibly the most important. It’s inevitable. You will be told to do something of which you haven’t a clue where to even begin. But fear not!

The Faculty, whose eyes are heavy and minds wearied by years out in the field, do their best to pilot us through the storm. Often times my professor will ask me to go to the supply station and get an item that, coming from their mouths, sounds like a made-up string of syllables that somehow forms a dental word. Like sheep being sent to the slaughter, I walk up to the supply window. “Umm, I need an ah-tra-bait?”

The assistant hands me an Optragate . . .  “ohhhhhh.” I walk off in amazement of the alien object I am now holding in my hands, all the while trying to decide what I’m going to do with it once I arrive back to my patient’s chair.

The law of fickleness. This final law is one to live by. Planning is smart, but always expect things to change. Patients will cancel. Your lab work will be rejected. You will spend hours working up a beautiful treatment plan only to have the patient change their mind and never show up again. Stay strong and carry on!

Let’s wrap this up. All jokes aside, clinic is quite the experience. Yes it’s tough. Yes, many of the things above are true. But it’s not that bad. I love my faculty, I enjoy the dentistry, and I can tolerate the everyday annoyances of clinic. Am I still happy with the path I have chosen for myself? You betcha.

But it doesn’t change the one reality that none of us 3rd years can ignore:

It’s a jungle out there.

~Joe Vaughn, Alabama ’15


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Joe Vaughn

Joe is a fourth year at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He is also a contributing editor for ASDA's 2014-15 Editorial Board.

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  1. Great post Joe Vaughn! You’re right by saying that most of things are true about what you wrote because we have all lived them. Great job!

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  3. I’m not in clinic yet but I really enjoyed the creative post with your Clinic Consciousness and three clinic laws!

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