fall forward | Learning opportunities and growth as a new dentist

Through: Mohammed Hammoud

There’s only one way to know if your goal aligns with your career, and that’s by pursuing it. I often doubted beforehand whether I had made the right choice to do dentistry. I shadowed for hundreds of hours, volunteering my time to make sure I made the right decision.

I will say that I was never the same after I sat in the chair for the first time and did my first cleaning. It’s almost surreal to be the caregiver, respecting my opinion and knowledge. I had many self-doubts during my freshman year, and even to this day I continue to wonder what kind of clinician my patients experience.

My first year in dentistry

I made the decision to move to Florida and attend Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Dental Medicine (LECOM) primarily for their clinical experience and emphasis on patient care. LECOM prides itself on providing quality care at an affordable price. In addition, in our fourth year, we will go to one of two outreach locations and provide a service in areas where there is a dental shortage.

I’ve always dreamed of becoming a general dentist, but more importantly, I’ve always dreamed of giving back to communities in need, because that’s what I’ve been taught. I had the opportunity to travel abroad and work first hand with a dentist in poverty and struggle. I know that through my work I can always give back and LECOM will be part of this mission. Through my studies, travels and clinical experience to date, I know that people from all walks of life will enter the office, allowing me to learn more about dentistry, myself and most importantly, my patients.

My first year in dentistry was not typical compared to the years before that. Because the COVID pandemic was relatively new, all our courses were online and we kept our distance in the lab. I noticed that during class I had some trouble concentrating (I think we can all relate to this). I found myself making scrambled eggs or making a gourmet cereal bowl instead of paying attention. It was really hard to concentrate, living alone and not going out much. I would wake up minutes before class and zoom in.

I felt like I wasn’t getting the dental experience I had envisioned prior to the pandemic, but I didn’t bother. As a result, the first half semester exam scores were not as high as I would have liked. I began to question my motivation, reevaluate my purpose, and think deeply about what to do. I woke up earlier, had breakfast before class, took off my pajamas and concentrated. It would be difficult at times, but I managed my time better and created a more school-like atmosphere. In the second half of my first semester, I saw improved scores.

Learning to fall forward

In the second semester of D1 year we follow surgical dentistry, the basics of dentistry. Then I knew one thing: I was not born with golden hands. I remembered reading that it would take me 10,000 hours to master a new skill in this case surgical dentistry. It was quite frightening to think how long it would take me. I got even more discouraged when we started with indirect vision.

After weeks of butchering my plastic teeth and failing my practical exam, I took another look at a short conversation with Josh Kauffman. The highlight of his lecture is that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, but only 20 hours to get pretty good at something. I asked myself, “did I even bother to get good at it?” I wrote down the main points of the talk again and recorded them in my memory.

Fall forward

Step one was to deconstruct the skill; the second is to learn to correct yourself; the third is to remove barriers to practice and the fourth is to practice for at least 20 hours. The hard part is that dentistry is multifaceted and each part needs its own 20 hours. So I’ve broken down my long-term goal of mastering dentistry into more achievable short-term goals.

Now that I only have a few months to walk to the clinic, I feel more confident knowing that I have achieved several short-term goals rather than failing to achieve one long-term goal. I still have a lot of work to do, but this was an effective way to overcome this temporary obstacle.

Finally, I realized that I’m bad at trying new things. I tried to avoid aspects of dentistry that ruined my confidence, especially when it came to indirect vision. I found that I can’t learn anything new unless I try. As a result, I failed and repeated much of my work, whether it was graded or not. I may have failed more practice attempts than succeeded, come to think of it. Maybe I felt like a fool turning in my work, but then again, I was closer to my 20s to get good at something.

When it came to my mindset, I owed it to myself, but more importantly to my future patients, to be the best version of myself at every stage of my dental journey. I’m constantly reviewing my goals, hitting my goals and not even meeting my goals, but it’s all a learning moment.

As always, fall forward. Until next time!

photo by Cedric Fauntleroy

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