I might be branding myself as a super-nerd here, but I love school. So much so that I switched paths in dentistry to be in academia full-time, fulfilling my dream of staying in school forever. For those students currently in dental school, class and clinic probably never stopped, but for our D1s, their journey is just beginning and it’s going to be one heck of a ride. As I reflect on my time in dental school, there are some things I certainly don’t miss (I’m looking at you all-nighters) but there are definitely parts that make me nostalgic and I wonder — what would I do if I could do it all over again?
As a new dentist switching to an academic role, and helping start a dental school from the ground-up, has certainly been a humbling experience. I never fully appreciated the time and effort it takes to map out a comprehensive curriculum and make sure students are learning up-to-date, evidenced-based dentistry, while still trying to keep things interesting.
I keep saying to our team as we embark on this project “I just don’t want to make students feel afraid to fail.” This is such an important piece for me, because for a very long time I had an intense fear of failure, and focused on trying to attain “perfection” rather than truly learning, and that prevented me from absorbing all that I could from extraneous sources outside of didactic or clinical information. I believe there is much to be learned from your surroundings and not only what you will be tested on.
A beautiful piece of our curriculum mapping has been the opportunity to integrate all different disciplines into our courses, and plan very intentionally how to teach that dental medicine involves a whole team of professionals — it’s not, nor should it be — segregated by discipline. Having input from psychology programs, biomedical sciences, and even behavioral science has been incredibly helpful to hear how other programs can influence our holistic curriculum to develop students into the best overall practitioners they can be.
Additionally, planning very intentionally for the future of dentistry has been a goal of ours. Whether it be in physical clinical design, equipment selection, or assessment techniques, we are trying to make our systems as seamless as possible throughout the four years of dental school, and also looking toward where dentistry will be in 10 years. I would have loved to have relevant courses on digital dentistry and design as well as more business-focused courses so that when I got out of school I wouldn’t have been so shell-shocked. Behavioral management is such a big piece of practice after graduation and it’s something I was never taught, and I am eager to help instill techniques in our students on how to adapt their leadership styles to those of others.
Outside of the crazy intensity of a dental curriculum, what I miss most about school is the camaraderie amongst my peers and the time we spent together all working towards a common goal. It’s strange when you leave school and the people you had seen every day for four years become somewhat of an afterthought. I would love if initiatives could be made in all schools to continue to meet and update each other on our work/life struggles and triumphs so that we don’t feel so alone in our pursuits. I know that I wasn’t the only one who felt burnout after a few years in practice. Being able to lean on and learn from others who are having similar experiences would be so beneficial. I actively try to seek out mentors and continuing education groups that fuel my passion, but there is something about your dental family that is truly hard to duplicate.
I wish nothing but the best for the incoming classes into our profession, and I hope that the eagerness they enter with can be sustained throughout their four short years in school. My advice would be to always keep an open mind, absorb everything around you, and never be afraid to try something, even if you “fail” at first.
I believe strongly that we learn by doing, and failures are simply stepping stones to success. Focus on yourself and what fulfills you in your personal and professional life, and don’t become overly concerned with what others around you are doing. Everyone is on their own individual path in dentistry, and what you think it is today may not be what it will be tomorrow. We can shape our paths any way we want, and that malleability is a wonderful gift, so enjoy the journey.
Dr. Katie Champion is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up around dentistry her whole life, working in her mother’s dental practice until she went to college. She graduated from Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine in 2018. Katie is now the Director of Clinical Operations at Kansas City University College of Dental Medicine after having transitioned from a clinical career in Florida. She is passionate about all things dentistry, and enjoys spending time with her husband and three dogs now exploring their new home state of Missouri.