Paving a Path in Dental School (and Beyond)


sidewalkThe other day I went on a run for the first time in a long time. When my hands stopped tingling due to a lack of oxygen and I finally caught my breath, I stopped focusing on the simple act of running and, instead, on letting my mind clear. That is my goal with running. I’m not particularly good at it, which is evident by the scar on my knee from falling on dry pavement not once, not twice, but three times. And, unfortunately, I do not have steel-cut abs from it (I like ice cream and beer too much for that). However, in spite of those things I still love to run. It helps me to clear my mind and accomplish new perspectives by seeing past the tunnel vision of dental school. Once I let the thoughts go that were occupying my mind, I took notice of the environment around me. I ran past a house with about 15 feet of sidewalk in front of it, and thought, “What is the point of that?” The sidewalk was not continuous, which basically rendered it useless. The only purpose that sidewalk served was to be stood on when the house owners checked the mail or for a short game of hopscotch for the kids that lived in the house. While those things do serve a small, individualized purpose, they do not serve the purpose for the goal of a sidewalk—to make a continuous path for pedestrians.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw the reflection of my dental school education in that oddly configured sidewalk. My classmates and I establish squares of concrete and temporarily learn as much information as we can about a certain subject. The newfound knowledge is then promptly “brain dumped” after a final. We learn essential details to get us through our most recent assignment in lab, but we fail to understand the big picture. While these segments of sidewalk serve a great and noble purpose for the task at hand, they will not be very useful when it comes to walking around the block.

As we slowly (and I’d like to think gracefully) crawl towards the graduation finish line, we must keep this in mind. Our snippets of knowledge will only get us so far; it is the segments that connect those pieces of knowledge into a contiguous and fluid path that will allow us to smoothly navigate to our endgames. No matter where we are in our dental careers, we need to be sure to construct our sidewalks so the stroll around the block can be as seamless as possible. After all, you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t see the forest through the trees, then that knowledge simply becomes facts rolling around in your head.

My thought process wouldn't be complete without including this popular and all-too-relevant poem from Shel Silverstein(1.):


  1. Silverstein, Shel. Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems & Drawings of Shel Silverstein. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.