Before I started dental school, I asked one of my dentistry mentors what she thought my biggest challenge would be. “Time,” she answered. But I wasn’t worried. I had a busy husband, three kids involved in sports and community groups, and a small business. I was the leader of our community’s Cub Scout pack, leading 150 boys and 30 adults. I was active in our church, teaching teenage girls every Sunday. And I was taking two to three prerequisite classes each semester at my local university. I knew how to manage time! What I did not realize was that Dr. Shaw wasn’t talking about time management — she knew better than I could at that time that there would not be enough hours in the day for all of the things I need to do as a wife, mom and full-time dental student.
My day typically consists of a 5 a.m. wake-up time. I get dressed and do a little studying before the rest of my family wakes up because the 6 o’clock hour is the most hectic 60 minutes of my day. Cajoling, prodding, reminding, rushing, nagging my kids to get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their hair and teeth is exhausting!
At 7 o’clock, I kiss my husband and two of my three kids goodbye, then head out the door to drop my 12-year-old son off at the carpool. I get to school a little early so I can study or do a little lab work before the school day starts at 8 a.m. (or sometimes I just sit in my car to mentally prepare for the day with a little motivational music from Lizzo.)
The morning is spent in the sim lab or in a classroom, so I am happy for the lunch hour to chat with friends, call patients or catch up on my class secretary duties. Afternoons are filled with another four-hour block of lab, clinic or class. At 5 p.m., I’ve been awake for 12 hours and I’m ready for a nap, but as the saying goes, “No rest for the weary.” I have a full evening of dinner, extracurricular activities and bedtime routines before I can even think about sitting down. Once my kids are asleep, I study for two or three hours. And then around 11 p.m., I set my alarm for another day.
I’m often asked how I manage everything. I half-jokingly answer, “Not very well.” Wearing three hats has not been easy, but I have discovered that compartmentalizing my life has been the most helpful time management skill. When I’m at school, I focus on school and try to be as productive as I can. When I’m at home, I try to be present and in the moment. (Although my kids will tell you I usually have Quizlet open on my phone or notes in my hand.)
Most importantly, I have a supportive family at home who pulls together to make it work. My husband works full-time as an elementary school physical education teacher, yet he has taken over almost all of the household duties. He chauffeurs our kids to their sports and church activities, makes dinner, puts the kids to bed when I have a late night of studying and keeps the house clean. I have an 18-year-old daughter who picks up grocery orders, makes dinner, watches her younger brothers when asked and is my cheerleader when I’m having a rough day. (My other two kids are 13 and 9, and they are as helpful as can be expected.) I absolutely could not do this without my family.
It’s also been helpful to have great classmates. If I am absent, someone will inevitably send a text to check on me and then several people will send me notes from the lecture(s) I missed. And even though I’m almost old enough to be their mother, my classmates have always been incredibly inclusive by inviting me to get-togethers, texting me funny memes and helping me feel I belong in dental school.
As we all know, dental school is hard for everyone. Added responsibilities can make it even more difficult. But those same responsibilities can be a driving force. My family wants me to succeed, and I want to succeed for them. I get to come home every evening to people who love me and are doing everything to support me. Dental school might have been easier 20 years ago, but those 20 years and the family that has come with them have made me a better student and will make me a better dentist.
~ Wendi Clanton, Georgia ’22