News + Issues

The impact of COVID-19 on dental schools

It’s December 2019. You just finished a Class I prep and fill on your patient in clinic and hear one of your classmates talking about some new illness in China called “coronavirus.” Sounds interesting but a bit irrelevant now because you have a few more appointments in clinic today, then you have to catch up on lab work this afternoon and study for your pharmacology exam tonight.

It’s now January 2020. You’re in the sim lab practicing a crown preparation for your practical next week. One of your classmates on your row comes up to you and asks if you’ve heard that, apparently, there’s a confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. Coronavirus sounds familiar, but again, it isn’t top of mind right now — it’s just one case, and you’ve got a practical to practice for.

Jump to March 11. You are sitting in class trying to plan your study schedule for the next few weeks when you get a news alert that the World Health Organization just officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. All of a sudden, you are canceling upcoming appointments, preparing for online dental school classes, socially distancing from friends and family, and watching as more and more cities enforce stay-at-home orders in response to the pandemic. Life as we know it has changed, it seems, overnight.

Dental schools across the United States have closed their clinics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with an indefinite date of when schools will reopen, students, faculty and administrations are facing challenges they never have before. Fourth years are unsure if they’ll graduate on time, while other students worry when they will take their licensure and board examinations and how their student loans may be affected by the current, very fluid situation.

Many schools have started online classes using interfaces such as Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams until further notice. “The [online classes] are a great way for us to continue our education while remaining safe and social distancing,” says Andrew Maley, Georgia ’22.

Faith Botana, also a second-year at Georgia, enjoys having time for herself at home and being able to take things at her own pace. She says, “I feel more focused at home with less distractions. It’s been nice.”

Second-year Ian Davis appreciates the convenience of the online classes but misses the personal interactions with classmates and professors. “In the grand scheme of things,” he says, “this situation could be useful for laying the groundwork for having certain courses online in the future.”

Dental student Wendi Clanton, who is a mother of three, says, “The uncertainty of not knowing when we’ll return to school is a little unsettling. I miss my classmates and my patients.” She explains that it has been nice being able to learn and study at her own pace, especially since her children are also doing online school and require supervision, direction (and refereeing) during the day. “I also have appreciated the time to reconnect with my family, and I have time to return to the things I enjoyed before dental school like sleeping!” she says.

Second-year Tara Daniel also is a full-time dental student and mom. She explains that online school has definitely been different and, in some ways, easier because she can go at her own pace. However, she says there are times and classes with scheduled lectures and assessments that are a bit more difficult with two kids at home and her new role as their teacher. Daniel explains that she feels for the D3s and D4s who are more directly affected by this, as they are losing a lot of clinic time, but at the end of the day, it’s the best thing for everyone. “This is us doing our part trying to flatten the curve.”

While students are enjoying the online classes, they also are becoming worried that lab classes are piling up, along with clinic requirements. At the Dental College of Georgia, D2s are looking at having a practical every week once they return to school.

Class President John Morris explains, “Right now, everything is fine, but it may be rough when we get back.” He says that students initially expressed frustration due to the lack of information in those first days, but during the past week, he says he’s seen the work the administration has put in to take care of them.

During this unsure and anxious time, it is important for us to remember we are not alone. Every dental student across the country is experiencing the same frustrations and concerns about their education. ASDA, ADEA and the ADA, along with the deans and faculty at dental schools, are working endlessly, advocating for us and ensuring our concerns are heard.

The best thing we can do during this time is focus on our current classes and our wellness and take some much needed time for ourselves. Stay safe and leave the worrying behind.

~Stephanie Jaipaul, Georgia ’22, Chapter Vice President

Stephanie Jaipaul

Stephanie Jaipaul is a third-year student at the Dental College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia. Originally from Queens, New York, she attended the University of Georgia in undergrad and graduated in 2017. She loves being involved with ASDA on the local, district, and national levels.

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