The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging times I have faced. Being isolated and joining classes that were 100% virtual was a big challenge for me. I started my first year of dental school entirely online without knowing any of my classmates or anything about the school. One year before I was accepted into the dental program, I went on a brief tour of the campus, which was the only insight I had about the school. That day, I was excited, and I told myself that I would make the most of my dental school experience the following year.
But everything changed. How was my first year of dental school? It wasn’t what I expected. My days were complete monotony: eight hours of classes, conference after conference, in front of a computer the whole day. Of course, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. The faculty tried to do their best under the circumstances. But from my point of view, I consider myself a sociable and outgoing person, and it was too hard for me to be alone, studying in my room the whole day. It was a drastic change for me since the year before, I was in my last year of my bachelor’s degree at UPR Colegio de Mayaguez. At that time, I was a track and field team member, and I was an active member of different student associations. I was always in contact with many people, and I was doing many things simultaneously.
From my experience in the first year of dental school, I realized how meaningful one-on-one relationships are with the professors, classmates, and patients (in the near future). I chose dental school because I desire to help other people with their needs. I’m passionate about science because, with this career, I believe I can use my skills and knowledge to help those in need. As a future dentist, I want to see my patients happy, and I want them to show me their happiness through a beautiful smile. That is why people’s interactions are so vital for me.
Everything changes, and when it does, sometimes it’s just a matter of trusting the process. For example, I’m now in my second year of dental school, and no matter how strong it has been, how few hours of sleep I have had, I can say that being in person working in the simulation lab and learning all the procedures I will be doing next year with actual patients is much better than I was expecting. So yes, everything changes, and for me, it has changed for the best.
This year, I have learned to be open to changes and adapt to them in the best way possible. With my desire to inspire others, I created an Instagram profile known as dentistinprocess24. Through this page, I show my day-to-day in pursuing a career in dental medicine. In addition, I educate and give tips on applying to graduate school. I show that not everything in life is about studying. I demonstrate how I make time for exercise and extracurricular activities because I want to advise that with balance and organization, everything is possible. Those little moments in which we clear our minds are the ones that encourage us to be better every day.
If I compared my first two years of dental school, it’s easy to see how the COVID-19 pandemic affected our courses and extracurricular activities. Since all our classes were online, we could not have the same amount of laboratory hours as in previous years. It was frustrating since dentistry is focused on manual skills, and not being able to be exposed to these practices with the faculty made the essential manual dexterity quite challenging to develop. Even more, when COVID outbreaks continued to increase, there was no other option than switching lab hours for online videos such as the dissections in Gross Anatomy class. Everything was out of our control, not only for my classmates and me but also for second-, third- and fourth-year students. The dental clinic and patients’ appointments had to be canceled, and only emergency cases were covered but with extreme caution. Nowadays, a negative COVID test must be presented by each patient to be attended in the school. From this, I learned to be more rigorous with aseptic techniques and to serve a controlled limit of people at the dental offices.
As human beings, we need interaction, not to be isolated, because we need each other to survive. I believe that the more we are determined and dedicate ourselves to helping each other, the more we can achieve. I decided to become a member of the ASDA family this year because I am confident that we can reach every goal we want as a group. This is an association that develops leaders and engages them to work hand in hand with other colleagues by enhancing their interprofessional skills. I’m proud I have chosen ASDA, and I am motivated by all the good things to come.
~Joycemar Ramos Carmona, Puerto Rico ’24