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The Transition to Becoming an Upperclassman

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Looking back at when I was a D1, all I ever hoped and strived for was the day I would start clinic. That day for me occurred a few months ago, back in June, and let’s just say it was an adjustment that I had not anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, I love clinic and I love working on actual patients instead of typodonts, but the transition was a bit difficult.

One of the biggest parts of this transition was contacting my patients and discussing different options for treatment plans. At our school, you get assigned a handful of patients whom you are responsible to contact and you must schedule your own appointments. Being the sole correspondent, I developed a new set of communication skills. These included speaking in a more professional manner on the phone, along with being very direct in what was expected with each upcoming appointment. Many patients are unaware of the longer appointments and that certain procedures will take multiple appointments, and thus being direct about this process is extremely crucial to keep any and all patients happy. I also learned to be empathetic when my patients would cancel due to unforeseen circumstances, but also to make it a priority to reschedule at the earliest convenience for both parties involved.

Another item I learned through this transition is that not everyone makes dental work a priority. This was a little bit of a shock for me because I have gone to the dentist all my life, twice a year as suggested, and it never truly occurred to me that not everyone values the need to visit a dentist. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with one of my classmates about our frustrations with patients cancelling on us that he said, “Well, it’s like going to the doctor—you don’t really go unless you’re sick.” The same can be said about dentistry, that people only come in when they are in pain or when something just doesn’t feel right with their teeth. The more I interact with patients, the more I learn that not everyone knows how important oral health is, and thus educating my patients has become one of my main concerns. I feel that my patients appreciate how adamant I am about the importance of better oral hygiene habits and I have seen a drastic change in these patients’ overall oral health.

Working with real humans who have saliva and blood and nerves was definitely overwhelming and intimidating at first. However, I had to remind myself that the first two years of pre-clinical work had prepared me enough to tackle on the real world challenges of dentistry. Having confidence in your work will take you further than you could have imagined and although I am far from being a master of this profession, each day is a new opportunity to learn more about the growing field of dentistry.