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).
Exams 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. Post-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.