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.

“Change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools.”

I can’t believe I’ve already been in class here for three weeks. Exactly one month ago Mom and I were driving through Tennessee and Virginia on my move north. As much of a change that it’s been, I’m quickly settling into the new normal of life in dental school and living in Philadelphia.

IMG_0056School is definitely picking up pace, and we’ve already had one big quiz and our first official exam in Intro to Oral Medicine (with appropriate celebrating afterwards of course). We are pretty much starting our one exam per week grind now with our next one being over Biological Systems next Monday – mostly embryology/development, with emphasis on the head and neck region. At first this class seemed overwhelming, but to me it’s so fascinating. The fact that the face starts forming as early as weeks four and five is unbelievable. Before a woman probably even knows she’s pregnant, that baby is already forming its unique tiny face and all of the major organs are developing. That is one reason I will never understand how so many scientists/biologists aren’t pro-life when they understand the intricate (and EARLY) details of human development. I really don’t want to start a side rant on that…

I had my first rotation in our advanced simulation lab this week where we practice using a handpiece (aka dental drill) through using a virtual/3D software – Penn is actually the first school in the country to utilize this specific cutting edge program, so that’s pretty cool. You’re basically drilling into thin air while looking through a 3D viewer, but it actually provides resistance that mimics (so the course director says, we wouldn’t know) the way hard enamel, softer infected tissue, and even the inner pulp or nerve feel if you unfortunately go too deep. There are different shapes and depths that we have to drill and the guidelines for grading are things like the percentage of the bad portion that we remove while minimizing the error (to the micron) of damaging the surrounding healthy portion. Long story short, it was actually really fun and reassuring that I was actually fairly good at it my first time, so maybe I have naturally good hand skills after all! I know it’s nothing like the real thing with a real live person and limited light, access, etc, but still, it was a nice small confidence boost that I’m hopefully actually cut out for this whole dentist thing. We also got a dental study model set of permanent and primary teeth in dental anatomy, so yeah, you could say things are getting real. IMG_0047

I’m slowly finding which friends that I seem to be drawing closer to, but I really have never liked how fast cliques can form in any smaller environment like this. I’m still in that “I want to be friends with everyone” stage, but I know it will be harder as time goes by and especially when we start things like lab and clinic rotation when we’ll be with the same smaller group for longer amounts of time. I am still hungry for smaller, authentic community, especially spiritually, though. Not having weekly LifeGroups and leading worship, us praying for each other, and just encouraging one another has been hard this first month, I’m not gonna lie. I know I’ll eventually find a new church home, but we’ve gone somewhere different each week so I obviously haven’t settled in anywhere yet to start attending a small group of some sorts.

That being said, I’m learning that my relationship with God could actually use some time away from the comforts of living in such a strong Christian community daily. It’s definitely harder to have the motivation to have my time with Jesus in the morning when I don’t have my best friends asking me about what He’s teaching me lately, but at the same time, I’m more desperate for it. The professional school grind is certainly draining, monotonous, and at times discouraging, so I know without setting aside time in the morning to rest in His presence and let Him strengthen and fill me, I would be simply wandering on my own, exhausted and longing for refreshment. I do need to play my guitar more though for sure, and I miss my times driving in my car (side note, it’s sold!!) singing at the top of my lungs to the latest Bethel worship jam.

As much as I love all my classmates here, I can’t help but miss my “home team” daily. Every now and then, I also wish so badly that I could just talk to Dad and tell him how everything’s going and what pub I’d want to take him to whenever he could come visit. He was so excited and proud of me for taking this big leap of faith. The sadness can come from nowhere and hit me all at once, but I’m still so amazed at how God is carrying me and my family through daily. Every so often I receive a letter in the mail from a friend, and honestly it does so much more for me than they’ll ever know. To stay truly connected to my friends from college was seriously one of my biggest priorities in this new stage, and I really hope that I will continue to invest in their lives and them in mine. It takes work, but I know it’s so worth it. In less than two short weeks, I’ll get to hug lots of their necks because I’m GOING TO TEXAS for a long weekend to go to a Baylor game! Sic ’em and praise the Lord. All thanks to the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia canceling an entire Friday of class at Penn. I knew I liked that guy. I’m just not Catholic, so I will definitely take advantage of our one precious three day weekend (other than Labor day).

I’m also discovering more local West Philly gems like Honest Tom’s Tacos and the Lil’ Pop Shop. As much as I crave a Common Grounds No Bull or Shorty’s Pizza on the daily, I’m learning to fall more in love with this place and its food culture every day.

IMG_9785IMG_0051Until next time, I’m exploring more off campus study spots, getting my butt to the gym more, dreaming of fall and all things pumpkin, and studying the beauties of palatal fusion and neural crest cell differentiation.

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

And then it was here

Since I’ve last posted, so much has happened. Okay, understatement of the year. The majority of my summer was entirely low-key and uneventful while I longed for that moving day that seemed impossibly far away.  August hit fast, and life is flashing by like it does all too well.

On July 30th, I became an aunt again to the newest, most perfect, chunk of a ginger nephew, Grayson Lee, and then quickly had to say a tearful “See you later” to him and his older brother. My sis let me be in the room this time for the birth, and I will never forget that incredible moment our family shared. This summer has been the epitome of bittersweet and overwhelming change with Dad being gone, and that day was no exception. IMG_8108

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I packed up my entire life in TX and drove (I really should say rode) across the country with my mom, who I’m convinced is the best road trip partner on the planet – not to mention a beast at driving that massive truck that I hated driving after a good five miles. I was much better qualified for playlist DJ-ing, local restaurant Yelp-ing, map navigating, and updating our progress via social media and ample photo uploads.IMG_8893

We enjoyed our day pit stop in Nashville seeing some great music sites including the historic Ryman Auditorium and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The best part for sure, though, was meeting up with my old roomie Chels for local drinks and eats and one last hug goodbye. After 4 days total and 3 days on the road, we finally parked and unloaded our U-Haul with the help of old family friends (who are local!), Ian and Susan, in front of my new home (which I LOVE and pics will come soon) for at least the next year and hopefully longer.

apartment on the right, dental school in the back!

apartment on the right, dental school in the back!

All last weekend, Mom and I set up my place and had ample time for all the touristy must-do’s in Philly. Falling in love with this place is so easy. The incredibly rich history combined with the modern and diverse vibe makes for such a cool melting pot of people and cultures, not to mention food and art. I’ll have plenty of time to write about all that over the next four years, though – like mastering Septa so much that my classmates think I’m from the area or successfully grocery shopping without a car. I still can’t believe I’m actually here. Now when I think about that entire decision process I wrestled with for weeks, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. I already have such a peace and confidence that I am exactly where I need to be, and have hope that that will only continue to be stronger as the weeks and months go by.

#tourist

#tourist

At Penn Dental, our orientation lasts an entire week and is full of riveting informational lectures, presentations (read: librarians putting us to sleep and Penn Police scaring the you know what out of us about the realities of West Philly), and of course abundant opportunities for “social activities” (pretty much all night happy hours) getting to know the people that we’ll live life with for the next challenging four years. Every night we’ve gone out as a class to fun local bars/restaurants with our orientation leaders and some of the D2s and had a few scavenger hunts along the way to get to know our new city and ultimately each other. Basically that means living it up before reality hits and our lives are consumed with things like microbiology, embryology, and dental morphology all too soon.
IMG_9533        IMG_9637                                                                 Monday we had our white coat ceremony, which is a really cool milestone in any future doc’s life that marks the induction into the profession. Penn Dental faculty has definitely made it clear that we are no longer students, but we are professionals, student dentists, and ultimately their colleagues. I already feel such a tremendous pride and honor from being at such world-class institution surrounded by so many driven and diverse people that all share the passion for dentistry. Each day I’ve gotten to know my classmates better, and I just can’t believe how well the admissions committee does at just picking 120 straight up COOL people from thousands of applicants. We’ve made it past the first couple of awkward small talks, and I’m slowly starting to know most faces and names and have definitely started to have realer and deeper conversations with some. This morning I even church-hopped with a few friends, and I can’t thank God enough for already showing me that he’s providing me with a new spiritual community even if it might take awhile to find a new church home.

IMG_9644There’s just such a camaraderie between us that can’t be compared to high school or college classmates. Then it was always about being friends with people who you grew up with for 18 years, look or act just like you, or happen to be involved in the same extracurriculars as you. Here I feel like everyone genuinely wants to get to know and be friends with everyone, and nobody cares if we maybe never would’ve been friends in undergrad. Nobody wants to be competitive or cutthroat (which Penn sometimes gets that reputation – very hard to believe now that I’m here), and at the end of the day we all just want to be kick-a** dentists and we’re going to support each other in getting there.

IMG_9502Tomorrow’s my first day of 17th grade (WHATTT?), and I couldn’t be more pumped to start this journey with my 119 new friends and future fellow docs. Penntists 2019, LET’S DO THIS.

“You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural. You are more than dust and bones. You are spirit and power and image of God. And you have been given Today.” – SN