Staying positive in trying times

For all of us, the past six months have brought adjustment after adjustment. Bad news has littered our TV screens, we’ve experienced stress like never before, and life as we know it has changed — possibly forever. It’s been a lot to handle, and for my classmates and I, the start of clinic as DS3 students was thrown into the middle of all it.

As quarantine wore on and our expected clinic start date passed, I could feel the uncertainty and frustration brewing within my class. We’d worked hard to finally have the opportunity to treat patients, and suddenly we had no idea when or how that was going to happen. Would patients come back? What would the future of dentistry look like? I tried to remind myself that there were more important things; I was fortunate to be healthy and to have my family close by me. But uncertainty breeds negativity, and eventually, it got to me, too.

I remember feeling frustrated, scared and tired. Above all, I felt sorry for myself and negative about the current situation. As the details were ironed out, it became clear that our dental school clinical experience was going to look different from what anyone expected. As the start date loomed closer, I longed for a “normal” clinical experience — one without fear of COVID-19, without extra PPE and without limited appointment time. That reality no longer existed.

It dawned on me that I could walk into my first day letting my grievances get to my head, or I could do everything in my power to turn it around. Ultimately, it was my choice. Things were not normal, they never may be again, but it was up to me to choose how I was going to react. And I chose to be positive, even if I had to fake it. I’ve made it my goal to not only be positive for myself but also to spread that positivity to my classmates to help them out of frustrating situations. Below I have listed three things that I think about daily to keep myself positive, focused and excited about this amazing profession.

1. Don’t make assumptions.

This is a big one, and it’s easy to do. All day we make assumptions about others without realizing it. With some introspection, I found that when I felt most frustrated, I was often mistakenly assuming where another person was coming from. Be understanding with your professors, colleagues and patients. It’s likely their decisions are not made to hurt you but rather to benefit them. Although it sometimes feels as such, the world is not out to get you. By being conscious of the assumptions we make about others, we can take their words and actions less personally.

2. Worry less about requirements and focus on experiences.

It’s easy to get bogged down by the long list of requirements needed to graduate from dental school. It’s especially stressful when those requirements seem harder to obtain in the current climate. But it’s important to remember that not all valuable experiences are requirements, and not all requirements are valuable experiences. Just because you did something that wasn’t a graduation requirement, doesn’t mean you didn’t potentially learn something incredibly valuable.

3. Welcome and value criticism.

I once read that when someone corrects you, it’s because they know you are capable of doing better. While some people are better at delivering criticism than others, always remember that it’s hardly ever meant to be taken personally. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you make a mistake, but remember that you are a student and you are here to learn. Just do better next time.

The decision to remain positive during challenging times is a daily one. It’s not always possible, and it’s hardly ever easy. There are only two short years in clinic to glean as much information as possible. Why spend it being negative? By practicing positive thinking, you open yourself up to possibilities, relationships and an all-around better clinical experience. It sounds cliché, but if we can find gratitude —  sometimes in the far corners of our day — we may be able to find peace in this chaotic world.

~Sydney Kerre, Detroit Mercy ’22, Chapter Predental Chair

Sydney Kerre

Sydney Kerre was born and raised in Michigan. She enjoys hiking, biking, rollerblading, reading, running and spending time with her dog Lucy. Her favorite thing about dentistry is learning about each individual patient.

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