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THE NEXTDDS Student Ambassador Blogs

Navigating Dental School With A Family

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           Professional school is no joke. The workload is tremendously burdensome, and at times, downright dull (no offense to those who really like ethics lectures). Many programs have the students taking several classes at once, all to culminate in a flurry of finals at semester’s end. Other programs, like mine, do one class at a time, but each class—a semester’s worth of material—is packed into five to seven days, with two to four exams in that timeframe. Undergrad cram sessions seem wimpy after just a few weeks in dental school.

            I forgot to mention doing other important things, like extracurricular clubs and activities, service, exercise, food shopping, cooking…the list goes on. Much of one’s time outside of lecture or lab is dedicated to studying; and, if you’re thinking about specializing, you’ve got to put in extra time and effort to prepare for that too (research, shadowing, extra clinical time, etc.).


            One of the challenges that I face in dental school is how to carry the dental school load while balancing a family. While I’m not alone in this, I’ve found that it’s totally doable! Many put off dental school, or getting married, or having children because they believe dental school is too rigorous to bear with a family and/or a spouse. While everyone’s personal situation is different, I write to offer my perspective and advice on how to succeed in dental school with a family.


Tip #1: Gain The Support Of Your Spouse/Family

            By far, I owe my personal success to my supportive wife and children. If your husband or wife understands your goals in life, and is willing to complement you in your efforts, dental school will go more smoothly. Some days that means I won’t be home for 14 hours and will miss bedtime with the kids. Other times that means I’ll be out of town for a week at a conference. Other days I’m free to help around the house, mow the lawn, play with the kids, etc. When your spouse understands that dental school is tough, and agrees to be your support and anchor through your schooling, then you’ll have more success in school and at home.


Tip #2: Compliment Your Spouse/Family For All They Do For You

            They deserve your gratitude, 100%. Make sure you show appreciation for their sacrifices by showing your love for them, whether by spending quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, gifts, acts of service, or just listening to them (see The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). While you may have had a tough day at school, your spouse has probably had a tough day with the kids or at work. Take the time to listen to them and validate their personal struggles. They’re doing it for you because you’re doing it for them.


Tips #3: Kids Are Worth It

            Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a brilliant way to bringing levity, introspection, and sobriety to a parenting situation (all within the same quip). “People treat having a kid as somehow retiring from success. Quitting. Have you seen a baby? They’re pretty cute. Loving them is pretty easy. Smiling babies should actually be categorized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful antidepressant. Being happy is really the definition of success, isn’t it?”1

We had our second child, another boy, in December of my first semester in dental school. One classmate’s wife had their second child a day later. Another classmate’s wife had twins a year ago. Another, a second child two months ago. I know pregnant residents —in their 3rd trimesters!— still working in clinic and preparing for their board exams. Yes, having children means less sleep, more work, less “me time”, more “them time”, but it also means more snuggles, hugs, kisses, smiles, and admiration, even when you fail. But you won’t ultimately fail, because they need you to succeed. And we need them, because through them we become more driven, gentle, caring, stable, loving, selfless human beings. And what patient wouldn’t want a dentist like that? 


1. Wood, Drew. “Everything You Need To Know About Parenting In 12 Jim Gaffigan Quotes.” Fatherly, Fatherly, 29 June 2015, www.fatherly.com/parenting-and-relationships/everything-you-need-to-know-about-parenting-in-12-jim-gaffigan-quotes/

Preparing for The NBDE Part 1 Exam

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There are excessive amounts of NBDE Part 1 review materials available to students. The most common materials are online review courses, digital flash cards, and the Dental Board Mastery App. Other resources include the NBDE Part 1 Secrets, Mosby’s NBDE Part 1, Dental Essentials by Kaplan, and previous copies of the exam from the ASDA website.

This is just a short list of what is available to us. You must determine how you want to learn the extensive amounts of material and what style of learning is best for you. It is also important to ask around and see what has worked for other students.

How Did I Pick Which Resource to Use?

The first thing that drew me in was how successful the materials are with my peers. Online review courses have had amazing success rates for WVU students. Many of my peers had no issues with the exam, so I knew online review courses will help me dominate the NBDE Part I.

The two principle materials I will be using are online review courses and digital flash cards. If you want an “all around” great resource for studying and guiding you through your preparation, online review courses are, in my experience, the best material.

For example, courses developed by B&B Dental have a “trifecta” overlay that has all the content we need: all released board questions incorporated and flash cards to make studying easy. The course is developed to study at your own pace within four weeks, but can be completed in as little as one week. I chose B&B because they have the most concise and comprehensive material available.

The digital flash cards are good for “passive” studying. You can pick flash cards from a set of more than 1,000 and go through them at your leisure.

How I Handle Classes and Studying for The NBDE Part I

Currently, I am in the most hectic semester in dental school, preparing to take the NBDE Part 1 in the summer. The best habit I have used to study is preparation. I set aside about two to three hours per day to prepare and review for exams.

I attempt to rank classes by priority. For example, a Pathology exam with new material takes a higher focus versus an Ortho exam that mostly requires review. I will give the Pathology exam the greatest priority. The greatest part about this method for the NBDE Part 1 is that the online review courses have in some ways already done this. They did the research and came up with the “Big 5” and the high-yield questions so that students know what subjects they should study first.

Scheduling Is Key

I highly recommend setting up a schedule to tackle the hours of studying. I will be setting aside three weeks to prepare for the exam. The first two weeks, for about four hours per day, I will go through the online review courses, videos, and flash cards. The third week is set aside to finish any material I did not get through and review.

I recommend also putting yourself around a good group of people to help you with studying and get you through dental school as a whole. I have a close group of friends that get along great, and I am fortunate to have them by my side throughout all the stresses of dental school.

Lastly, do not forget to have some fun! Set aside time for yourself to enjoy what you love. For example, I signed up for a golf scramble right in the middle of the three weeks I will be studying for the NBDE Part 1 in order to relieve some stress.

That’s how I am preparing for the NBDE Part I. How are you preparing?


Further Reading

Preparing for the NDBE Part I

Beating the NBDE with This New Mobile App

Board Studying Strategies


Dental Specialties

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Recently at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, we had a panel of guest speakers come to talk to us about the different specialty options out there that we can pursue after we graduate. Currently, there are nine recognized dental specialties, including dental public health, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral and maxillofacial radiology, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, and prosthodontics. Each guest represented a different specialty, and they each gave us the pros and cons of going into one specialty or another. The lecture was very interesting. I’ve always been open to the idea of specializing, but I never really took into account all of the different aspects of it! Some factors that I would want to take into consideration before choosing to pursue a specialty is location…are there programs in my specialty of interest in the state/area that I want to be in? You can find out where certain programs are by going to this link: http://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program/search-dental-programs#t=us&sort=%40codastatecitysort%20ascending. Also, I would want to consider whether the program charges tuition or pays a stipend. I find it odd that some choose to have the student pay whereas others pay the student, but considering the amount of debt I will be in after dental school, getting paid a stipend, even if it is far less than my expected salary, would be great! Also, and most importantly, if I were to specialize, I would want to make sure that that specialty is something I am truly interested in. Since I am still a second-year dental student, I haven’t been exposed to all of the specialties yet. And even when I am exposed to those specialties during my third-year clerkships, I do not think that will be enough time for me to truly decide whether a certain specialty is right for me. I would advise dental students to volunteer in a specialty clinic that they are interested in during their free times and breaks from school or to take an elective course in that specialty if available. There are a lot of options to choose from when deciding what to do after graduation. I look forward to exploring these specialties further and hopefully finding my niche!

Reflection on the First Two Years of Dental School

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Last week we had our white coat fitting for our upcoming ceremony in June. As I stood in line with my classmates preparing to try on my coat and deciding how I wanted my name to appear on it (to include my middle name or not to include my middle name), I began to reflect on my last two years in dental school. It seems like just yesterday when I received my acceptance letter and made the biggest decision of my life to move half-way across the country, away from all my friends and family, to attend the University of Washington School of Dentistry. In that time, I have been through a lot…Countless long lectures in freezing cold classrooms, waxing, drilling my first tooth (and then many, many more), studying for the NBDE I, passing the NBDE I, long nights in the lab working on Fixed Prosth projects, working on my very first patient, and much more. I remember so many times doubting myself and wondering whether this is really the right profession for me. I remember doubting my abilities when I became frustrated in lab. However, I also look back and remember how terrible my first wax up was and how sloppy my first composite insertion was. Now, I can proudly say that with each challenge I may have experienced along my dental school journey, I have overcome each of them and have even surprised myself along the way. Every student in dental school experiences challenges, but with time and constant practice (even if it does mean staying in lab after class and on the weekends), those challenges will become easy things that you can do quickly and easily every day. They may even start becoming fun!! I always feel a little intimidated starting a new class or doing a new procedure for the first time, but in these last two years, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and skill that I didn’t have walking in. With the end of second year in sight and our white coat ceremony in just a few months, I am very excited to put all of my hard work to good use and treating actual patients! I know that there will be more challenges as I transition into the clinic, but I hope to learn a lot in my last half of dental school and to move on to private practice as a competent and confident dentist.