so what are you even learning anyways?

Dental school I think is sometimes very misunderstood by the general public and even other health professional students. People really wonder what could we possibly be learning and doing for four whole years just to “fix teeth.” You guys take anatomy? AND do cadaver dissection? Why do you have to know biochemistry (still currently wrestling with figuring that one out but I know it’s important somehow)? What does embryology have to do with cavities? Also, the confusion between us and hygiene school is common, especially for people who have generally healthy teeth and only see their dentist when they go for a cleaning anyways. So it makes sense that those folks don’t really understand what we’re actually trained to do, which is just a tiny bit more than clean teeth.

That being said, I thought I’d give you guys a look into the courses we’re taking currently and what a typical “course load” or “week in the life” looks life for dental students. Courses (or more generally, subjects – it’s easier to explain that way) that we’ve already finished up include an intro to oral medicine, embryology (development) and some histology (study of tissues, introduction of some pathology) of epithelium. For instance, our exam today (they have a weird thing for Monday exams here that’s just unfortunate) covered all topics of bone biology: histology, formation, endocrinology, some physiology, and an overview of radiological anatomy. The next chunk of this course that starts tomorrow will go more explicitly into anatomy of bone. Our “Foundational Sciences” course is currently going through biochemistry and metabolism, and will later reach topics like immunology and an intro to pharmacology I think. We started a new course today that is basically microbiology and it’s relation to dental science. So for these “Biological Systems” and “Foundational Sciences” courses, we typically have each of these lectures three to four times per week depending on the schedule.

We also have our Dental Development/Anatomy course which correlates to our lab time spent waxing all the different types of teeth. We’ve finally made it to the molar (five cusps and a insanely intricate occlusal table definitely make for some fun…) to finish up this first lab course, ending with the lovely written final next week. This one’s pass/fail PTL. The lectures for that course are typically only once a week and our four hour lab time is also only on Wednesdays. Wednesdays are also when we have our four our block of time in clinic assisting 3rd and 4th years. We’ve really just started this part of our curriculum, but it’s already such a nice change from sitting our butts in a lecture hall 8-5. Actually getting to interact with patients and see the flow of how things run in clinic is a nice look into the far off but fast approaching futures we have as [student] doctors.

The last portion of our curriculum currently would be occasional small group seminars (usually one per module) and our rotations through the advanced sim lab that I talked about a while ago. Typically, we have very lecture-heavy Mondays and Tuesdays 10-5 usually (also start at 8 sometimes), Lab/Clinic Wednesday 8-5, one or two lectures Thursday or Friday with most of the rotation times fit in later in the week as well.

I hope that helps give you guys an idea of what we actually do here in dental school, and especially gives you something to look forward to (?) for any of my pre-dental readers out there. Obviously more than teeth. Dental-specific things actually make up a very small percentage of our course-load in first year. We do start a new lab course, Occlusion, soon and next semester will get into the trenches of Operative (i.e. drilling, restorations, etc).

fallExams are roughly once a week, give or take. They cover a LOT of material, though. Every week in itself pretty much mentally feels like the roller coaster of finals hell/post-finals heaven of undergrad. The test today was over 14 separate lectures (our lectures are two hours mostly…). So when everyone thinks my new life in Philly is the glamorous colorful display you only see on Instagram, think again. Most days are hard, long, and monotonous, but I just make it a point to stop and smell the roses. Or stop and see the trees you could say. Or stop and buy the donuts. I want to constantly live in a place of gratitude. It is so easy to quickly forget how hard we worked our butts off for four years in undergrad and even longer for others to get to this point. I really strive to keep at the forefront of my mind the faithfulness of God to have carried me this far, and that I really am only here by his grace and goodness. When people only complain all the time about school – any kind but especially grad school – I just want to look at them and say, “But you wanted this remember? Thousands of people would give anything to be in our place right now.” Try to remember how you felt this time last year desperately awaiting that December 1st acceptance day, friends. Education is a GIFT, y’all. A gift that we’re paying hundreds of K for, but still 🙂

You all know how much of a proponent of self-therapy I am (shout out to Yesle and JJ, you two constantly remind me that it’s ok and good to make me and health a priority some days), and today was chock full of it. On top of the immediate post-exam Federal Donuts run to share sweet warm goodness with some of my classmates, Sarah and I went out and about after class ended at an earlier three o clock today. By the way, I miss those days when getting out at three felt so late. I indulged and bought my favorite magazine (how could I NOT with that cover title that is basically my life motto?) and purchased some new business-y digs for ASDA’s NLC THIS weekend! I hate that retail therapy is such a real thing, even when it’s something as simple as a pencil skirt. To top it all off we won these adorable and sassy Sweetgreen totes. magPost-exam nights are my favorite. I had to laugh when I asked Sarah if she wanted to look in Urban Outfitters, too, while we were walking around. I told her I didn’t need to spend anymore money and she said, “Yeah me neither, but I love just going in places and not feeling like a student for a little bit.” Preach, sister, preach. The epitome of dental school feels like just that. One night you’re cramming until 2 am, hyped up on double shot espressos, locked away in the Sky lounge, and questioning your decision to choose this long and narrow road (and maybe when you last washed your hair). Fast forward to the next day, when things as simple as trying on cozy scarves, dipping hearty bread in a hot bowl of chili, and reading the covers of all the glorious books in the bookstore you want to read make you feel a little more human.

[brought to you by post-exam jello brain]

We are definitely reaching the thick of the semester, and time for blogging sadly got put on the back burner this past week. Today we had a monstrous Foundational Sciences exam. I won’t dare tell you how many pages my typed study guide ended up being or how many Spotify playlists I burned through in the past 5 days. Oh joy, we’ve got another one coming right back at us for Biological Systems on Monday. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just seeing the mundane of studying and going to lecture and lab day in and day out, and I’m still really trying to maintain healthy balance and perspective constantly.

scrubs

We finally got our classy navy scrubs in (am I a chief surgical resident on Grey’s yet??), so that’s at least one step closer in the “Dr. Price” direction. Let’s be real, I’m so glad I chose a career where professional pjs are the norm everyday. GRD lab is also off and running at a quick pace and we’ve already finished our central incisor and canine wax-ups, and now we’re working on the premolar. For those of you that don’t know what that means, it’s basically where we build an entire tooth out of nothing but wax and have to create all the details of the anatomy of that specific tooth. It’s feels very archaic with our Bunsen burners flaming as we heat our waxing instruments, melt and pick up a drop of wax, and try oh try to place and “flow” it where we want to build that marginal ridge or distal contact point before it solidifies. Fun? Surprisingly, sort of. Frustrating at times? Definitely. Hilarious b/c of the people I sit around and what we talk about for four hours? You know it, Novin, Ash, and Marisa 🙂 The faculty are pretty helpful with constructive criticism along the way, but when it comes time for grading our finished product, a non-dental person wouldn’t believe how many details go into what makes a #12 a #12 aesthetically, how it articulates in occlusion, where the height of contour is placed, how it’s aligned in the arch, and every other thing they can take off points for. wax

The morning temps are dropping (glory glory #fallelujah), the Bean boots have made their debut, and I’m getting more and more excited to experience my first real fall living on the East Coast. Jenna, one of my BEST friends from Baylor got to come visit last Thursday through Sunday and we had an absolute blast together. Even though it was dreary, windy, and rainy all weekend due to the hurricane, we loved it and enjoyed adventuring around Philly with plenty of studying and coffee shops thrown in, just like old times together. She’s at Boston U for a Master’s in Public Health, so she definitely understands the grad school grind and how weekends unfortunately can’t always be all play and no work. The main reason she came was to go see our boy Ben Rector in concert with me, and we later realized when we saw him in Waco last was an exact year ago so of course we had to take another pic with yet another Ben T shirt together. It was such a refreshing time getting to catch up on East Coast life that we’re both new to, church, school, family, and relationships with Jenna. jennaben

I definitely wish sometimes that I had more time in the day for things like my latest Don Miller read, Scary Close, experimenting with seasonal dishes in the kitchen, lifting more weights, writing more letters (the stack for correspondence in my metal envelope hung on the wall is growing quickly…), but at the same time I’m learning to cherish the small moments here and there, even if it’s in the midst of the business. Things like lunchtime Bible study with classmates, walks through the gorgeous Penn campus, solid heart to heart text novels/convos (during collagen synthesis lecture oops) with friends back home, a conversation with the barista, attending a local “black church” last Sunday with my church-hopping buds and having a sweet time of worship, and the never-ending Spotify music sharing and discovery with friends here and home. philly

Sometimes I walk down the street or through campus, and I think to myself, “Do I really live here? Am I actually in grad/dental school?” Oftentimes we get so caught up in the negative – i.e. “all of the above except” exam questions, if we got an 8 or a 9 on our tooth waxing, how many hours of sleep we’ll get tonight – when there is so so much around us to be grateful for. I pray that I never take for granted the opportunity I’ve been given to be here and to be learning so much every day to one day be able to use these gifts and this knowledge to really make a difference in peoples’ lives.

A verse that I’ve always hung onto for a long time and especially in times of transition is Habakkuk 1:5 – “…be utterly amazed. For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” God always has some crazy exciting things up his sleeve, and I am constantly asking for an increase in patience and trust that His ways are higher than mine. Let us be filled with expectancy and hope, always. Those things you’re believing for? Keep believing.

Until next time, I’m studying epithelium and the thrills of saliva, adding pumpkin pie spice to my coffee grounds, biking and running more in the cool of the day, and falling more in love with my favorite season.

On seeking balance and fleeing comparison

These days I’m learning more and more about myself as I aim to master balancing schoolwork with everything else, and I’m also in the process of figuring what all exactly I want to be involved with at Penn Dental when it comes to organizations, leadership roles, frats (yes, frats), clubs, etc. I know I can’t say yes to everything, but I also don’t want to just sit on the sidelines and float through these four years simply to leave with a degree. I want to leave with experiences and memories of things other than studying for hours on end like today (and all week) for our Biological Systems exam Monday. I want to be a voice for my class, get my hands into projects that I can take on, and utilize my unique passions.

We have different interest meetings literally every day for another group (usually with free food so duh we’re going), and lately we’ve had a few events for the dental fraternities (that’s another story – I’m sure all my undergrad friends are cracking up that I’m even thinking of joining one). I applied for our ASDA board as either a D1 Rep or Contributing Editor (aka writing blogs/articles for newsletter, website), and would really love to have a chance to play a bigger role in ASDA already in my first year. I’m also on the class council ballot for both Curriculum/Academic Chair and Ethics Chair. I think either one of those would be a really cool way to serve the ridiculously cool Class of 2019 Penntists (and the classes to come as far as making our curriculum as effective as it can be), strive to maintain our awesome class dynamic and get through any specific struggles, and get to know faculty throughout the school. This is my campaign plug, classmates – you know you want to vote for me 🙂 There’s also talk about having just for fun secondary elections for things like Class Chef, Class Baby, or PR/Social Media Chair aka me. One of our professors in lecture the other day, (sort of weirdly) anonymously called me out basically about my blog, and everyone automatically knew it was me. Long story short, somehow some faculty know about me and that I blog about dental school and just wanted to check it out or wondered what I was saying I guess. So yeah, I’m pretty much here to be a billboard for how awesome Penn Dental is now and can’t talk bad about my profs (even though Dr. M assured me I was free to rant about how awful her tests are b/c it was my perogitave to write about whatever I want). But seriously, though. Apply here. I’ll come say hi on your interview day like I’ve already done for the first 2 rounds of new interviewees! And maybe get some free coffee while I’m there…

it's always sunny in Philadelphia - Rittenhouse Square

it’s always sunny in Philadelphia – Rittenhouse Square

A lot of people probably think professional school (med, dental, law, etc) is a boring and dull grind of absolutely nothing but studying your brains out 24/7. Well, news flash, that’s actually not accurate. Maybe more like 10/6 but whatever. I often tell my friends and family back home that to me, dental school is certainly one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done while also being hands down one of the funnest times in my life so far. Sure, you can lock yourself away in a library cubby and never see the sun for days on end, and I’m sure you’ll get that 98 on the exam and keep your dreams of specializing at your top choice program one day (side note – yes I’m still interested in specializing at the moment, but I also refuse to be miserable). However, I am such a HUGE advocate of taking time for mental, spiritual, physical, emotional, and social health and remembering that while we are a student, we are still a person. A person that needs to do things like go get popsicles just because, take a long break for a sunset run, bike to Rittenhouse for La Colombe coffee simply because we finished class at 1, sleep that extra hour or two, make a beautiful meal, skip a lecture this coming Thursday b/c TEXAS, or take the entire Sunday off from studying last week because your border collie back home you’ve had for 17 years passed away. There are times when school will simply come second to things like that. When mom told me that Jody died, I immediately couldn’t even think about studying anything. I went home to pretty much cry in bed the rest of the day, watched Eat Pray Love (one of my faves), and had therapeutic pizza (what else?) with some friends to get my mind off of it.

my boy

my boy

Another thing I’ve already realized is how easily my classmates and I get trapped into comparison even though I wouldn’t say Penn is “competitive” like it’s reputation sometimes. While I took the day off Sunday b/c I honestly could not focus on school for one second, I couldn’t help but think about how “behind” I would get on studying for our next exam. People are constantly talking and asking each other about how much they are (or aren’t) studying, and as much as I seriously love the collaboration of our Facebook group page when it comes to study materials, I think sometimes it contributes to this unspoken comparison of who’s doing what and how early. When professors announce the average or grade distributions of how many As, Bs, etc, you can’t help but think about where you fall in that spectrum, and we forget that we are 120 people that are used to being the best. That’s how we got here. I remember at my interview someone saying that coming to dental school (and maybe more so at a place like Penn that is just more competitive for acceptance), you have to prepare yourself to be average. We have all been above average academically our entire lives, and now there has to be 50% of the class that is “below average.” It’s truly a crazy concept for us type-A overachievers. They also said, though, that it doesn’t even matter at all, because when we graduate and are then in the real world as practicing dentists, we would be above average again (there’s more of that Penn pride…). A friend from Baylor who’s a first year med student actually just started a blog and wrote tonight on this very thing. Check it out to read basically what I’m trying to say here. We often forget that everyone comes from different educational/personal backgrounds and that what works for me may be completely different from what works for someone who’s been out of school for five years or who is married and has kids. While I always will strive for excellence in everything, I am not striving for perfection. I have to remind myself DAILY of a truth I learned throughout college and in my personal journey. That is that my grades or anything I DO will never be my identity. I am a unique and loved child of God, and THAT is my identity.

Speaking of that balance, after studying for way too many hours today, I’m now going to grab a Blue Moon harvest pumpkin ale and watch an episode of Grey’s before calling it a night. Happy weekend, friends.

P.S. 5 DAYS TIL TEXAS

We won’t be distracted by comparison if we’re captivated with purpose. – Bob Goff

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Here I am sitting on the other side of my first week as a grad student feeling full (in heart and mind), thankful, and challenged – just the way it should be.

class

I am not going to say that it’s been a breeze of a week by any means, and the days have honestly dragged by. There is definitely an already noticeable difference from college. For instance, lecturers referring to us each individually as “Dr. ______” when we ask or answer a question. Also, two hour lectures are a straight up struggle compared to 50 or 75 minute college classes. It is sort of fun being all together all day long, almost like high school AP classes with your same 20 friends. It’s at least been nice starting at 10 am for a few days this week with ample time for my morning rituals of Chemex pour over, worship jams, and reading, but soon we will move into more of a demanding 8-5 schedule, depending on our lab or clinic rotation times. I have this idea that I’m going to become a morning workout person, but we’ll see how that really goes.

The "free" iPad that we definitely paid for in our tech fee

The “free” iPad that we definitely paid for in our tech fee

With Penn’s new curriculum, the way our courses are set up is a little hard to explain. Basically, their goal is to have our classes much more integrated across subjects with a more seamless didactic/clinical flow and minimize the chance of us learning about the same topic multiple different times throughout the first or second year. For instance, instead of taking separate anatomy, biochemistry, or histology courses, those topics might all be included in our “Biological Systems” or “Foundational Sciences” courses. When we begin our hard tissue module (i.e. bone), that will cover bone histo/physio/biochem/anatomy, etc. In theory I’m a fan, and it makes a lot of sense. Each course is split into two or three modules, and each module has its own comprehensive exam (no pressure right). Once we really get going, we will average about an exam per week but they’ll be split across the courses (allowing you to really focus on each exam for that week when it comes), and there will be a few weeks here and there that are exam-free. The only bad thing is that we’re the guinea pigs so we’ll just have to have an open line of communication between us and the faculty to make sure it’s as effective as we’re all hoping. We also are starting the clinical science portion of our curriculum much earlier than last year’s class, so we start our advanced simulation, general restorative dentistry lab, and assisting upperclassmen in the clinic as soon as September!

I really love this campus

I really love this campus

This first week we’ve covered things like embryology, molecular cell bio/genetics, dental development, and a general intro to oral medicine. “Intro to Patient Evaluation/Oral Medicine” was our very first class, and it’s honestly probably everyone’s favorite so far just because the doctor who teaches it is passionate, engaging, inspiring, and full of stories of his own experience in practicing. Multiple times, he’s explained to us that we can in fact save lives by being a dentist when we find things like oral cancer or a mass in someone’s thyroid or salivary gland. Penn does a really good job of teaching us that we are not just here to fix peoples’ teeth, we are ultimately health care providers in charge of our patients’ well being as a whole. A lot of people don’t realize why I have to take things like gross anatomy of the entire body or master the details of DNA alpha helix binding and gene transcription, but it really is to give us a broad understanding of medicine, not just learning to drill, fill, and bill. Penn also likes to brag that they do that better than anyone (a little school pride never hurt anyone), while still highlighting the dentistry-specific aspects as opposed to some schools where the dental students take their first two years with medical students and might miss some of those dental emphases. This class I guess is also considered “easier” or more straight forward than something like our lightning fast embryo lecture that only maybe three people have taken in undergrad. The first day we all walked out feeling about like this. You’d be surprised how much they can teach in two hours, and now I understand the drinking from a fire hydrant analogy of dental/med school difficulty.

bike

post-overwhelming-first-day bike ride was a must

It’s also cool knowing that our lecturers are some of the world’s leading researchers on their area of expertise. We have multiple lecturers for a given course, so they really are bringing in the authorities for each given lecture topic. The doctor who taught us about dentin and pulp formation as well as dental pulp stem cells is seriously like THE boss of dental stem cell research. He’s done all kinds of really cool trials here and in China and worked for the NIH as well. Even when he’s really hard to understand or so cutely says “tooths” instead of teeth, it’s definitely a privilege to be here at Penn taught by the best of the best. 

Our first quiz is this week over genes (how many times do we really have to learn protein synthesis), and people are definitely starting to get anxious since nobody really knows what to expect. I am really striving to maintain the balance of school with everything else that I don’t want to let fall to the wayside – something that honestly took me until senior year to master. For example, taking the time to check out a different church with friends this morning and hit up another local fave food spot for breakfast tacos afterward. Not to mention putting down the studies for the night to cook a good meal, write a few letters to my friends far away, and write this post.

dinner

In other unrelated news, Ben Rector’s album Brand New came out on Friday, and I am already obsessed. I think my favorite track might be More Like Love, and it really captures my heart for how I want to impact my new community and classmates here at Penn. When all is said and done, simply loving people is really what matters.

I used to think I wanted to be famous

I’d be recognized out in a crowd

But the funny thing is every time I’ve gotten what I want it lets me down

I used to think I needed all the answers

I used to need to know that I was right 

I used to be afraid of things I couldn’t cover up in black and white

I find the farther that I climb there’s always another line 

A mountain top, it’s never gonna stop

And the more of anything I do, the thing that always ends up true

is getting what I want will never be enough 

Now I just wanna look more like love

I just wanna look more like love

This whole world is spinning crazy and I can’t quite keep up

It’s the one thing around here that we don’t have quite enough of

So I just wanna look a little more like love

Recovering perfectionists unite

perfectMy dear friend Jordan posted this on her blog (seriously, go follow it to get an ample dose of lovely words from her heart about Truth, Life, and the occasional rant about school). I immediately told her I would reblog it because it is something that so many of my friends need to hear, with me at the top of the list. We talked about this very thing last week when I visited. We ate a quick dinner, drank Shiner, and discussed for hours things that really matter in the world: our thoughts on same-sex marriage and how to really love our friends, realizing wonder and big questions about the Bible are welcomed, and memories of Dad. She told me she made her first B ever last semester in nursing school, and I enthusiastically high-fived her and said, “YES, me too!” We know we both share this insanely strong inner drive to do all things with nothing but EXCELLENCE. But since when did that ONLY mean receiving a certain letter grade our entire lives on our transcript, getting inducted into the country’s oldest honor society, or shuddering at the thought of not graduating with honors?

I am not dissing the desire to succeed and achieve in hopes of utilizing the gifts God has given us for His glory (even though if we’re honest how many times do we do it for our own glory?), but there is a BIG danger in placing SO much of our energy into some of these things that will simply FADE with time. As I’m starting dental school in ONE MONTH (I’ve seriously got to get my brain to start thinking about that rude awakening) I desperately want to hold on to my (recently found) balance of school, social life, and spiritual life. Do I want to be an academic boss at Penn Dental and show my first year what’s up? Um YEAH, do you know who you’re talking to? But along the way do I want to sacrifice things that help me be the best version of myself amidst the daily grind: authentic friendship/community, ample sleep, quality food, consistent exercise, intimacy with God? Never.

I could go on, but she basically says everything I want to and probably more articulately and honestly than I could.