Being a dental student during COVID-19

covid-19 dental studentNikita Maini reveals what it’s been like being a dental student during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With graduation looming in just over a year, I cannot help but feel anxious about my capability as a dentist; instead of treating patients, I spent the best part of 2020 wondering if Carol really fed her husband to the tigers!

Before COVID-19, in my third year of dental school, I felt like I had grown immensely. I became more confident and comfortable in my dental career and was treating patients nearly every day. I had extracted my first tooth and finally managed to produce a crown prep that did not resemble the Shard!

However, just a couple of weeks after we celebrated our halfway point to BDS, we went into lockdown. 

Change of pace

For months, much like most students across the country, all of my teaching was limited to online seminars. The major benefit was the ability to ‘attend’ tutorials in pyjamas from the comfort of my own bed. However, I found communication with my tutors and peers more difficult as we often all had our cameras switched off. 

With in-person tutorials, I was able to get to know my tutors and peers by chatting to them before and after tutorials. Online learning felt a lot less personal and I also developed trust issues with the Microsoft Teams mute button.  

Then, in September, we were able to come into university once a week to practise clinical skills (endo, crown preps and fillings) on phantom heads and plastic teeth. The university also introduced haptic machines – using them felt like doing virtual reality dentistry.  

It was a relief to be able to do something practical. I hadn’t picked up a bur in months and the issue with dentistry is that it is not easy to refine your clinical skills at home. 

I tried to spend my time consolidating the theoretical aspects of the course to fully harness my return to clinic and treating patients. There is a stark difference in the practical experience we were getting compared to the previous fourth years.

I understand, however, that this is a challenging time for everyone. The university is trying its best to ensure that we get as much clinical exposure as possible. 

Faith and fortitude

There is still a cloud of uncertainty hovering over electives and our DFT year due to COVID-19. The guidance on electives is still a work in progress; I am unsure of when it will be and have accepted that I may not be able to go abroad as my friends and I had planned. 

Regarding our DFT year, the general concern is whether we will be skilled enough to treat patients by ourselves. We have been told that we will graduate as normal. 

All we can do, I suppose, is make the most out of the current situation and remain optimistic for the future. Not all is doom and gloom; we have been reintroduced to treating patients and are regaining a sense of normality. 

The answer to the question of when we will compensate for the practical experience lost is unknown. However, I trust that the university will ensure that each and every one of us will be safe to practise when we embark upon a new and exciting chapter of our dental careers.

This article was first published in Young Dentist magazine. Read the latest issue of Young Dentist magazine here.

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