How are dental degrees changing for students?

How dentistry degrees are changing for students

We hear from two dental students about the changes they have seen over the course of their degrees and where they think the profession is headed. 

Umair Afzal

Umair is a fourth year dental student at the University of Leeds.

Since I first joined the University of Leeds as a naïve 18-year-old college student, my dental degree has continuously nurtured me into a young dental professional. Despite the course’s intensity, there have been many events and social gatherings along the way to keep me engaged.

However, I know that one day, I will become fully responsible for my patient’s health without tutor supervision. Hence, a stable foundation will ensure I can always provide the best quality care for everyone.

After years of completing written assessments, I found it tough to sit practical examinations. Our recent OSCE has been the most challenging so far. Nonetheless, the support provided by the faculty has assisted this learning transition, providing the tools we needed to feel thoroughly prepared.

I have also collaborated with staff members to promote forward-thinking initiatives, like championing culture change. Leeds has delivered thought-provoking events which have strengthened local community partnerships. Beyond the walls of our clinical cubicles, Leeds regularly drives me to become a ‘better me’ in everything I do.

Looking more broadly at the changes I have seen, social media has brought the dental industry closer, particularly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dentists often collaborate and celebrate each other’s successes online; they set an example for students like me to support each other.

Specialists frequently share clinical guidance, and implementing the tricks they communicate on Instagram with my patients at University is effortless. Sometimes, what is obvious to them may not be evident to the rest of us, and the guidance they share is invaluable.

Focusing on the future, I can see dentistry becoming even more patient-focused. Decades ago, guidance issued to patients primarily focused on dentist recommendations for their treatment.

Nowadays, shared decision making for our patients enhances how the public perceives our profession. Patients now have access to lots of information about their care at their fingertips, empowering them to make better-informed decisions about treatment options.

Dentistry has always been my biggest hobby, and I genuinely enjoy seeing my patients. I know I do not yet have the foresight other dentists may have, and I still have much to learn about dentistry.

Hence, once I reach a ‘safe beginner’ status, I aim to improve my clinical skills and absorb as much as possible to provide excellent patient care. Lifelong learning and reflection are paramount in any career, especially in our industry.

The course has ignited my passion for the profession I will eventually join. Maintaining the enthusiasm I have now might be difficult once I graduate.

Nevertheless, I feel assured knowing good people, such as my family and colleagues, will support me regardless of the challenges I may encounter. I am optimistic about dental life after university ends, and students like myself are just starting to make a difference.

Given the daily advances in dentistry, positive changes for the industry are inevitable. There is so much to look forward to. I cannot wait to see the future of the dental profession beyond completing my degree.

Gaurav Bhardwaj

Gaurav is a fourth year dental student at the University of Leeds and the president of Leeds Dental Society 2022-23.

Being a fourth year dental student, I’ve really enjoyed my dentistry journey so far! In Leeds, I’m currently seeing patients every day (either assisting or operating) and this year has introduced us to carrying out paediatric dentistry, acute dental care (mainly extractions), denture making and extra coronal restorations (crown preps for me)!

The highlights for me have been seeing the dental school community become stronger over the year and seeing a range of dental years on clinics and dentistry society events, as well as really feeling like I’m maturing when seeing my patients.

I’ve been on clinics since Febuary 2022, but it feels like only recently that my competency and confidence have grown. I also think that my competency will only grow from here, which is really exciting, since one of my main visions is to be the best version of my myself, so that I can give the best to my patients.

Being the Leeds University Dental Society president (Big Up Leeds Dent Soc!), it’s been challenging to manage a committee of 23 people, evolve the society to new levels, manage my clinical and learning times and also have some time for myself, my friends and family.

I was also part of the National Hindu Students’ Forum (NHSF (UK)), an organisation that helps run events for Hindu students across the UK as well as support the University Hindu societies and community, so you can imagine that my free time has been close to none!

It’s no surprise that my social time has taken a massive hit and I’ve not seen people I’m close to more times than I would have liked, but I’m fortunate that my friends are all understanding and I’m looking forward to having some more free time when I hand over to the new committee in the summer.

It’s no surprise the pandemic has shifted how dentistry is being taught and as students, we’ve seen a shift to using online platforms to deliver lectures and have meetings.

While we still have some content delivered in person, there’s no shock that this hybrid approach is here to stay. Clinically, we’ve typically started later than scheduled (but this will most likely be fixed for future years) and its only recently we’re seeing the return of AGP instruments, like the ultrasonic scalers.

For me, I can’t give a definitive answer as to where dentistry is heading. I know a lot of content being promoted is patient and anxiety management and an emphasis on personal reflection and awareness, a welcome change that aligns with my personal interest in self-development. I know there will always be advancements in technology and materials, and all I can comment on is my interest in learning about these when they come.

I’m somewhat nervous about life after dental school (DFT, careers pathways etc), I know it will be somewhat challenging getting used to the working world.

However, after speaking to my friends who are now working clinicians, my tutors and other dental practitioners, I am excited to see what the future has in store for me. I’m a strong believer that life will test you before it’ll bless you and I know whatever path I take, I’ll work hard to do my best.

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