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Navigating Dental School With A Family

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           Professional school is no joke. The workload is tremendously burdensome, and at times, downright dull (no offense to those who really like ethics lectures). Many programs have the students taking several classes at once, all to culminate in a flurry of finals at semester’s end. Other programs, like mine, do one class at a time, but each class—a semester’s worth of material—is packed into five to seven days, with two to four exams in that timeframe. Undergrad cram sessions seem wimpy after just a few weeks in dental school.

            I forgot to mention doing other important things, like extracurricular clubs and activities, service, exercise, food shopping, cooking…the list goes on. Much of one’s time outside of lecture or lab is dedicated to studying; and, if you’re thinking about specializing, you’ve got to put in extra time and effort to prepare for that too (research, shadowing, extra clinical time, etc.).

 

            One of the challenges that I face in dental school is how to carry the dental school load while balancing a family. While I’m not alone in this, I’ve found that it’s totally doable! Many put off dental school, or getting married, or having children because they believe dental school is too rigorous to bear with a family and/or a spouse. While everyone’s personal situation is different, I write to offer my perspective and advice on how to succeed in dental school with a family.

 

Tip #1: Gain The Support Of Your Spouse/Family

            By far, I owe my personal success to my supportive wife and children. If your husband or wife understands your goals in life, and is willing to complement you in your efforts, dental school will go more smoothly. Some days that means I won’t be home for 14 hours and will miss bedtime with the kids. Other times that means I’ll be out of town for a week at a conference. Other days I’m free to help around the house, mow the lawn, play with the kids, etc. When your spouse understands that dental school is tough, and agrees to be your support and anchor through your schooling, then you’ll have more success in school and at home.

 

Tip #2: Compliment Your Spouse/Family For All They Do For You

            They deserve your gratitude, 100%. Make sure you show appreciation for their sacrifices by showing your love for them, whether by spending quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, acts of service, or just listening to them (see The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). While you may have had a tough day at school, your spouse has probably had a tough day with the kids or at work. Take the time to listen to them and validate their personal struggles. They’re doing it for you because you’re doing it for them.

 

Tips #3: Kids Are Worth It

            Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a brilliant way to bringing levity, introspection, and sobriety to a parenting situation (all within the same quip). “People treat having a kid as somehow retiring from success. Quitting. Have you seen a baby? They’re pretty cute. Loving them is pretty easy. Smiling babies should actually be categorized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful antidepressant. Being happy is really the definition of success, isn’t it?”1

We had our second child, another boy, in December of my first semester in dental school. One classmate’s wife had their second child a day later. Another classmate’s wife had twins a year ago. Another, a second child two months ago. I know pregnant residents —in their 3rd trimesters!— still working in clinic and preparing for their board exams. Yes, having children means less sleep, more work, less “me time”, more “them time”, but it also means more snuggles, hugs, kisses, smiles, and admiration, even when you fail. But you won’t ultimately fail, because they need you to succeed. And we need them, because through them we become more driven, gentle, caring, stable, loving, selfless human beings. And what patient wouldn’t want a dentist like that? 

 

1. Wood, Drew. “Everything You Need To Know About Parenting In 12 Jim Gaffigan Quotes.” Fatherly, Fatherly, 29 June 2015, www.fatherly.com/parenting-and-relationships/everything-you-need-to-know-about-parenting-in-12-jim-gaffigan-quotes/