Having a Life in Dental School


DSC02067 You know that dream where you’re cutting a crown prep on those dorky little plastic teeth, and all the faculty are gathered around saying, “Wow, that’s amazing!” and, “You were born to be a dentist!”…?

No? Well then I’m sure you’re familiar with the dream where you’re cutting a crown prep on those dorky plastic teeth and you slip and destroy your prep, and can’t quite remember what you were supposed to be prepping anyway, and it just happens to be a practical and Dr. Wollum is standing right by you in stone silence.

I can no longer recall how many of my dental student peers have shown up one morning and related one of these dreams to the rest of us. While this can be a sign that we are losing our minds, I think it is also indicative that we care a lot about our work here in school.

Dental school is an immersive experience; we live it, dream it, and spend most every waking moment thinking about how to become better at it. We become so focused on it, that I often hear or read statements about how we can find balance in our lives while we are in school. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past year and a half since beginning dental school, and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: we will not live a balanced life in dental school. In fact, we will probably never have an equal balance of time between work and leisure until we are nearing retirement. The key to feeling well-balanced, I believe, is to recognize that our situation is a good one, and to commit whole-heartedly to the work before us.

I had intended to write this article about family life while in dental school, and while there are a few additional responsibilities that go along with having a family, everyone still has to find a way to have a life while in dental school.

The first step in having fun while in school, is to actually do well in school. This means that we need to schedule and commit to a significant amount of time studying, practicing in the Sim Lab, or treatment planning for our patients. I have found that two to three late nights each week, along with a couple Saturdays each month work great for me. It gives me ample time to cover lecture material and to practice my drilling. You may need less time, or maybe even more.

This means that I should have two free evenings during the workweek, those nights I have committed to being with my family. My son, Rivers, knows that I will be home to put him to bed every Tuesday and Thursday night as well as the weekends. He knows that I will do nothing else on Sunday but spend time with him. That consistency means a lot to him, and it means a lot to me as well.

If you don’t have a kid, then schedule a couple evenings to spend time with friends.  If you don’t have friends, then spend some time with your dog. And if you don’t have a dog, maybe go workout or something.  Basically, what I am saying is that it is important to find something to do with yourself that is socially enriching.

I’ve found that when my family and friends know the schedule I’ve committed to, I get a lot of support from them. My wife and son are totally okay on the nights I stay at school until 8:00 or 10:00pm, because they expect it. It makes it so much easier for me to remain committed to my work because I get used to the consistency of my schedule.

I could continue to talk about this subject for quite some time, but I’ll sum it up here. Making a consistent routine out of your time commitments makes everything in dental school go so much smoother for you and for those who care about you and need to spend time with you. This may require you to say no to things that no longer fit into your routine, but that necessity to simplify will more than likely enrich your own personal dental school experience.

We are all so fortunate to be where we are right now. Stay committed to your work, and allow yourself consistent time to fulfill the responsibilities you have to your friends and family.