I may be branding myself as a super geek here, but I love school. So much so that I switched paths in dentistry to go full-time in academia and fulfill my dream of staying in school forever. For those students currently in dental school, classroom and clinic probably never stopped, but for our D1s their journey is just beginning and it’s going to be an amazing ride. When I think back to my time in dental school, there are some things I definitely don’t miss (I’ll be watching you through the night), but there are definitely parts that make me nostalgic and wonder – what would I do if I could do it all again?
As a new dentist transitioning into an academic role and helping start a dental school from scratch, it has certainly been a humbling experience. I’ve never fully appreciated the time and effort it takes to map out a comprehensive curriculum and ensure students learn up-to-date, evidence-based dentistry, while still trying to keep things interesting.
I keep saying to our team as we begin this project, “I don’t want to scare students into failing.” This is such an important piece to me because for a very long time I had an intense fear of failure and focused on trying to achieve “perfection” rather than really learning, and that kept me from taking in everything I could from external sources outside of didactic or clinical information. I believe there is a lot to learn from your environment and not just what you are being tested on.
A nice part of our curriculum is the ability to integrate all the different disciplines into our courses and very consciously plan how we learn that dental medicine involves a whole team of professionals – it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be – separated by discipline. Having input from psychology programs, biomedical sciences, and even behavioral science has been incredibly helpful in hearing how other programs can influence our holistic curriculum to develop students into the best general practitioners they can be.
In addition, consciously planning the future of dentistry has been a goal of ours. Whether it’s physical clinical design, equipment selection or assessment techniques, we try to make our systems as seamless as possible over the four years of dental training and also look at where dentistry will be in 10 years. I would have liked relevant courses on digital dentistry and design, as well as more business-oriented courses, so that I wouldn’t have been so shocked when I got home from school. Behavioral management is such a big piece of practice after graduation and it’s something I never learned, and I can’t wait to teach our students techniques on how to adapt their leadership styles to those of others.
Outside of the frenzied intensity of a dental curriculum, what I miss most about school is the camaraderie between my peers and the time we spent together working toward a common goal. It’s strange when you drop out of school and the people you’ve seen every day for four years become a bit of an afterthought. I would love it if initiatives were taken in all schools to continue to meet and be informed about our struggles and victories in work and life, so that we don’t feel so alone in our pursuits. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt a burnout after a few years of practice. It would be so helpful to be able to lean on others and learn from others who have similar experiences. I’m actively trying to find mentors and continuing education groups that fuel my passion, but there’s something about your dental family that’s really hard to duplicate.
I wish nothing but the best for the new classes in our profession, and hope that the eagerness with which they come in can be sustained throughout their four short school years. My advice would be to always have an open mind, take in everything around you and never be afraid to try something, even if you “fail” at the beginning.
I strongly believe that we learn by doing, and failures are just steps to success. Focus on yourself and on what satisfies you in your personal and professional life, and don’t worry too much about 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 however we want, and that malleability is a wonderful gift, so enjoy the journey.
dr. Katie Champion is a guest blogger for New Dentist Now. She grew up in dentistry all her life and worked in her mother’s dental office until 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 transitioning from a clinical career in Florida. Passionate about all things dentistry, she enjoys spending time with her husband and three dogs who are now exploring their new home state of Missouri.