From pulling teeth to picking fruit; how COVID-19 affected my first year as an associate

picking fruit

Rosie Thomas shares her experience of how COVID-19 has affected her plans for her first year working as an associate and how she found herself working on a fruit farm.

Having graduated from King’s College London in 2018, and completed my dental foundation (DF) year, I am now in my first year working as a full-time associate in a busy mixed NHS and private practice. I had a brilliant DF year in a friendly practice in south Wales, with two great trainers. Winning the BACD prize for my DF case presentation was the icing on the cake.

I was keen to build on this success as an associate and spend 2020 focused on my career. So, I wrote down some goals for the year ahead. These included courses to complete, exams to sit, purchases to make and conferences to attend. The advice I received by many inspiring dentists was to get as many courses under my belt as possible. So this was what I set out to do.

However, as most of us have discovered, COVID-19 had other ideas.

Working on the fruit farm

Generally a busy person, I like to keep active and always have a plan. Two personality traits not ideally suited to a three-month lockdown. Telephone triaging patients two days a week left me with a lot of spare time on my hands. Along with very little certainty as to when this surreal experience would come to an end. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. Despite ambitions for the year, it felt as though careers in dentistry were on pause.

Long before the toilet roll hoarding and Zoom quiz era, during the annual short summer breaks of dental school, I would return home to south Wales to work at a local fruit farm. Almost 10 summers were spent cycling to the fruit farm, in the Welsh summer (rain), to pick strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries, until my hands and forearms were covered in scratches. I had thought that the summer of 2016 would be my last summer of fruit picking.

However, after around eight weeks of lockdown, with so much free time on my hands, I picked up the phone to find out if any fruit pickers were needed at the farm.

Returning to the strawberry field was somewhat nostalgic, transporting me back to my student days. I thought about all the time I had spent there picking fruit and thinking about my future as a dentist. Initially my sense of frustration increased. My career was not only on pause but it felt as though it was now in reverse. Social media only exacerbated this feeling. I kept seeing a lot of fellow dentists still posting brilliant cases and achieving great results, and there I was, picking fruit.

Taking the positives from lockdown

However, picking fruit is quite therapeutic. On reflection, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the fruit farm this year. It has given me plenty of time to think about the positives of lockdown, and to reflect on what the ‘new normal’ in dentistry will look like.

I was able to indulge in my passion for baking with some of the wonderful fruit that I had picked, and even grew my own strawberries, and other vegetables at home which I otherwise wouldn’t have had time to do.

Fruit picking has allowed me to practise mindfulness, de-stress and escape the constant worry of UDAs. I have started doing yoga as well as enjoying exercising in the sunshine and making the most of the countryside whilst running and cycling.

Reigniting a passion for dentistry

In terms of my career, I have drawn upon a number of positive outcomes from the lockdown. I am channelling my new found free time and energy into networking online. As well as virtually attending a whole host of inspirational lectures and webinars.

I have completed a fantastic course on patient centred sales, run by Jane Lelean at the Institute of Dental Business, which I would highly recommend. I have designed my own logo and am in the process of creating my website and professional Instagram. The BACD has also invited me to join its young membership committee.

Some time away from dentistry has in fact done the opposite to what I had first expected. Just as the poor-quality fruit would not make it into my basket at the farm, I will not accept mediocrity when it comes to my dentistry. My passion for dentistry is reignited and I will return to work with a much clearer and more focused mind.

As young dentists, we need to remember that we have our whole career ahead of us. It is easy for everything to feel overwhelming. Dentistry can be a stressful career; it is important to look after our minds and remember that teeth are not everything in our lives. Neither do you need to have learnt a new skill during the lockdown.

This year is not over yet and there will be plenty of great things to come. For now, staying safe and healthy is our main priority.

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