Recently, I had my very first patient. There is no avoiding
the nerves and self-doubt that are associated with that looming first
appointment. In the weeks leading up to this day, many thoughts ran through my mind.
Would I be able to rise to the challenge? Would my first patient like me? Would
they know that they were my first patient? Who would my row instructor be?
Could I keep my composure if something went wrong? My anxious thoughts were
exacerbated by our instructors words, “If you slacked off during your first two
years, you are going to have no clue what you are doing and you will be
As dental students, we all strive to be the best we can be. Even
if we worked our tails off for two years, we always feel like we could have
done more. This is one of the main reasons why we are all so anxious. It turned
out that my first appointment went pretty well, and I am now a few more weeks
into my journey as a student-dentist. I have compiled three major tips to
consider before anyone sees their first patient.
Tip #1: Don’t delay,
Anytime we have an exam or practical we always wish we had
more time to prepare. The same goes for our first patients. Since you still
have classes going on, it can be tempting to schedule patients in a month
rather than right away. Realize that no amount of preparation can prepare you
for what is going to happen on your first day. You need to trust that your
first two years have taught you what you need to know. The instructors are
there to help you with anything that comes up and takes you by surprise. You
can do it!
Tip #2: Your first
patient should be someone you know, preferably a classmate.
I won’t say it was a mistake having my first patient be
someone I didn’t know, since it’s all about getting started. However, I will
say that having my friends and classmates be my next three patients really
helped me learn on the fly. My friends and classmates already knew that I was
new to the clinic, so the pressure was totally off. I was also able to ask for
their feedback on all the aspects of care they were receiving during or after
If you have a patient you don’t know, asking them about your
technique doesn’t give the patient much confidence in the operator. Even if
there was something I didn’t know how to do from all the preparation, I was
able to ask them. It was certainly a mutually beneficial practice. Make a deal
with a classmate to be their patient if they’ll be yours. Ask your other
classmates to assist you. Have fun!
Tip #3: Come in with
a positive attitude.
You will never know everything or be prepared to handle
every situation. Not every instructor is going to be kind when they help you.
They may even be rude to you in front of the patient. Similarly, not every
patient is going to like you. All you can do is your best! At the end of the
day, you put everything you can into helping your patient. Remembering that is
The most successful people are people that don’t
dwell on failure. Instead, they focus on avoiding them in the future. Do this
by coming prepared to every appointment. You can ask questions to classmates,
instructors, staff members, and especially seniors. Seniors were in your place
just a year ago, so they can give you advice and even assist you if they don’t
have a patient. Every day is a learning opportunity. Take advantage of it!