Student Spotlight

Surviving an injury in dental school

At the sound of three bones breaking in perfect sequence as my ski-boot-covered foot slammed onto the ground, my adventure day at Squaw Valley turned disastrous. I was never the student to break the “no skiing, no snowboarding” rule of dental school. Now, one surgery later, I found myself in excruciating pain and unable to walk.

Major injuries can pose many challenges, but the additional pressure of dental school makes balancing everything seem impossible. While my injury put me out of commission for months, I found five ways to survive an accident while in dental school. 

1. Work with your administration early.

In the time I had to miss school, I missed nine finals and three practicals. I wanted to downplay the injury as much as possible, but I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of work I needed to finish.

The best thing you can do is have your doctor write a letter to the administration at school detailing the extensiveness of your injury, the typical recovery time, pain levels and what will be within your ability during recovery. Work with the administration on your individual needs.

You may feel tempted to rush and finish the work, but remember that you are in school to learn. Take your time and honestly communicate to faculty where you are. After all, you are paying to be there. My biggest mistake was trying to wing my schedule. I regret not making a schedule early and then studying accordingly. Schedule early and prevent the looming sense of panic when navigating your personal and academic life.

2. Lean on your colleagues.

I did not want to be that person who kept asking for help. It was hard to remember that no one wanted me to do this alone. Almost two years out from my injury, I still remember the classmates that were there for me during a difficult time. Those are the people I know to count on and hope to someday refer patients to!

Remember that the people in dental school are studying to become health care providers. Most of your classmates will offer to help in some way, and it is OK to take them up on their offers. From grabbing extra medicine to helping carry your stuff, this will strengthen your bond with your peers.

3. Manage your pain.

Proper pain management is essential to recovery. The first thing that may come to your mind post-injury is mobility, but I found that pain is much harder to manage. Factor in your need to ween off pain medications if prescribed them, factor in how you will carry your medications around and plan what regimen you will stick to. Put yourself back in the doctor’s shoes: What would you want your ideal patient to do?

Pain can be debilitating. It will make it hard to focus, and it is downright exhausting. Often it’s not just the injury, but how your body is adjusting to new methods of mobility that will be one of the biggest challenges. Plan plenty of time for rest and recovery from the pain of each day.

Try not to be discouraged by the pain because it eventually helps with patient management. I found that the medications I was prescribed mirrored my own patients’ regimens. Patients feel relieved when their doctors understand what they are going through.

4.  Find someone going through the same thing.

While it was unfortunate that I and another ASDA member had similar injuries, it was nice having someone to commiserate with. We both shared our frustration with not being able to attend lobby day or even sharing our day-to-day struggles. It was always fun to swap tips on managing clinic one-legged, too! There is a reason peer groups are so effective, and an injury should never preclude you from one.

5. Redefine your purpose.

The ups and downs of dental school will always challenge your “why.” An injury will rock that “why” to its core. If that injury prevents you from doing dentistry, it can make it even harder to get through the recovery process. Maybe you went into dentistry to help people, maybe you went into dentistry to fix problems. Whatever the reason is, examine it from many angles to reshape your new life to your values.

If you are having trouble remembering, read your personal statement, talk to a faculty mentor or ask your family and friends. All of these insights are important to remember your “why” and finishing off this injury better than you started.

~Alysia Mascolo, Pacific ’20

Alysia Mascolo

Alysia Mascolo is a third-year student at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in San Francisco. She served as the legislative liaison for the UOP ASDA chapter and hopes to use those skills to work on health policy in the future.

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