Getting into dental school isn’t the end but the beginning to an exciting, challenging and yet rewarding journey – and it’s important for you to continue working hard to master all the skills required to become a dentist.
Although it’s been a while since I was a student I do remember it fondly, and so I thought I’d write this blog post to share my personal top tips to help you survive your first year of dental school:
1. Time Management
Time management is the most important lesson I learned during my first year of dental school. It’s something we all know is important yet we struggle to do it properly. For me, dental school began with relatively easy lectures, but it soon picks up and I can tell you that by November things get very, very, serious indeed.
Make sure you have your own personal system in place and manage your time properly right from the start. This is crucial to stay on top of your studies so you can enjoy the social life aspect of university whilst achieving good grades.
2. Be Organised
Being organised is a huge component of life and success. It’s crucial for you to have an effective strategy, plan ahead and be aware of your schedule for the following week. Make sure to write down all the key dates such as assignments, homework and group presentations on your calendar and set reminders for these so you know they’re coming up soon.
3. Know your anatomy!
Anatomy is probably going to be your biggest challenge in first year because there are so many terms that you need to remember. It’s like learning a foreign language so break the words down to help you understand the word rather than just memorising. Consistency is key for remembering all of your anatomy. For your anatomy revision, there are lots of 3D apps you can download and use to help you get a realistic feel for the topic and revise the content.
5. Do something other than dentistry
During the candidate selection process, most dental schools look at whether a person does any extracurricular activities. This is taken quite seriously as dentistry comes with a lot of challenges and you would need to have an interest in something other than dentistry so you can balance your time between dentistry and your extracurricular. Whether you enjoy playing sports, painting, drawing or doing photography, it’s important you spend a little of your day doing something that is not dentistry.
6. Get to know your peers & years above!
Dental school is tough but you’re not alone. If something is quite difficult for you, it’s probably difficult for others too. There are lots of ways to make dealing with tough times a little easier and one of them is by getting to know your peers and doing things together. This could be going to the library to catch up with notes, revising your anatomy, preparing for your OSCE (objective structured clinical examination) and many more. Since you’ll be in first year and probably used to a different style of teaching or curriculum, it’s very likely that at some point you’ll think “do I really need to know all of this stuff?”. Well, the answer is, you probably need to know them at some point in dental school, but it could be that you’re being introduced to the topic briefly and don’t need to know absolutely everything. This is where having a few friends from the years above will help! Remember that the years above have been through what you’re currently going through so speak to them to find out about their strategy and experience with exams.
7. Keep healthy
Healthy body, healthy mind! Studying dentistry can often be stressful and it’s important to have healthy habits to improve mood and reduce stress. There’s tons of studies proving the link between exercising and how you feel mentally. And whilst joining a gym or exercise club is sometimes not feasible on a student budget, it might not cost you a thing nowadays. You can even hit two birds with one stone by joining a sports club at university. This will help you get your mind off dentistry and enjoy something else whilst also keeping you physically and mentally fit. Keeping healthy is particularly important around exam times as it helps you recharge your mind and stay productive during your revision sessions and with the right strategy, you’ll ace those exams like they’re nothing.
8. Always be professional
Professionalism is one of the biggest things most dental schools emphasise on. Studying dentistry is not like any other degree as it’s a professional qualification and you’re expected to act like a professional, especially around patients. As a future healthcare provider, your professional network starts right from your first day of dental school and you never really know how important the connections you make will become later on down the line. With this in mind, always strive to make a good impression.
If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask for help and clarification – this doesn’t just apply to academic work but on general wellbeing, if you feel like things are getting a little bit too much. Every dental school has a designated councillor or adviser of studies who can discuss your concerns and get help. You can also get help from your peers or family depending on what it is that you need help with.