Starting life as a dentist five months after graduating

young dentist starting workSimi Panesar discusses the difficulties of starting in practice, despite not having undertaken any dentistry over the past five months.

Like hundreds across the UK, I am a newly-qualified dentist entering dental foundation training (DFT).

Five years of hard work, dedication and determination has all paid off for those two initials in front of our names that means we are ready to serve the oral health needs of our community.

Yet, since leaving university, I am doubting if I am ready to work in practice. Especially considering the last time I picked up a mirror and probe was in March.

Leaving university and not to return

During the early stages of the COVID pandemic, I honestly believed that it wouldn’t really affect the UK, or my studies. I was too focused on reaching never-ending targets and frantically memorising folders of information for final exams.

But one email on 17 March changed all that: ‘All clinical teaching finishes tonight and we do not expect you to return’.

All students had so many questions. It was difficult for the staff to provide answers as the situation was continuously evolving.

Walking away from dental school, it dawned on me the next time I treat a patient, I will be a qualified dentist. And that thought made me nervous.

In what was the most crucial final months of my degree, the UK went into lockdown. I packed up my belongings, made emotional goodbyes to friends for life and returned to live at home. A familiar setting in an unfamiliar time.

‘Online finals’

COVID-19 was the biggest distraction to many of us fifth-year dental students revising for ‘online finals’.

Usual revision routines flew completely out of the window.

With the worry of the safety of loved ones, job security and living in isolation, at times I felt out of touch with my studies.

I remember constantly thinking: ‘Are others revising more than me? Is there more I can do than reading through monotonous pages of notes?’

Over the course of a few weeks, I could see myself slowing entering into a state of self-doubt and stress as exams drew closer.

A new way of learning

I soon realised lockdown was almost a blessing in disguise. I had much more time to revise now as I didn’t have a jam-packed timetable of clinics.

But in terms of revision techniques this year, it was out with the old and in with the new.

Being at home meant I wasn’t surrounded by my peers or a 10-minute walk to the dental school. So instead, I reconnected with the dental community online.

Remote learning via online webinars set up by the dental school or other dental organisations allowed us to continue to broaden our range of learning in the comfort of our own homes.

Experts in speciality fields were generous enough to offer their free time during the pandemic. They could either discuss case examples or just share knowledge from their chosen field that we can use in practice.

With the closure of university libraries, the British Dental Association made access to key textbooks for exams available for free via its e-library.

The ‘Deciduous – The Young Dental Forum’ Facebook group was set up enabling young dentists and students to learn from each other through anonymous case examples, or just simply posting a question.

Lockdown truly brought out the best in the dental community.

All of us can say we gained support and knowledge from each other in a time like none of us have ever faced.

Entering the real world

‘Congratulations, you passed!’ The three words on an email I’ll never forget opening.

For a day I’d been dreaming of ever since I first stepped into university, it felt underwhelming.

I truly missed my friends whilst opening those famous brown envelopes and celebrating with a glass of champagne in the place where it all started.

But after not sitting exams in the normal manner, it felt like I hadn’t truly put my dental knowledge to the test.

Now, after completing the early stages of DFT, I go back to the question of whether I feel ready to face dentistry in the real world.

During our career, we are pushed out of our comfort zone. But it’s only then that we learn.

Leaving the dental school in March wasn’t something any of us were ready for. But in doing so, it makes us realise that we need to go in search of the information we want. Rather than have it delivered to us in a lecture.

Starting DFT was nerve-wracking. But the only way I could see dealing with it is to face a challenge head on.

In my first few days I was extracting teeth, managing children and adults in pain and writing prescriptions or referrals. This was a far cry from what I thought my first week would look like!

Reflecting and improving

Reflection is an important part of DFT (and indeed life).

So, looking back on my first week, the key thing I took away was self-belief.

Over four and a half years of studying, all that knowledge doesn’t disappear in five months of not practising. It’s always there.

When faced with a difficult case, trust your gut instinct or speak to your supervisor.

Since qualifying, I’ve continued my search for new knowledge. Perhaps on topics I never learnt at university, including webinars on writing a great CV and managing finances. Or keeping up to date with how dentists are stepping up to help with the COVID support.

There are so many resources out there for the dental community to access. Its main purpose is to provide support for young or experienced clinicians alike.

Training at dental school is only the stepping stones to a lifelong career of development.

Knowing I’ve invested time into my learning over the summer and will continue to do so, reassures me that I am ready to enter the real world.

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