Man! They said professional school was going to be tough, but when I say I had NO idea. To date, it’s been the toughest thing I’ve ever done (and still doing). At the same time though, it’s been rewarding thus far.
Surviving this whirlwind we call professional school, more specifically dental school, requires a different mindset. Going back, I know that if I tried to survive dental school with the same techniques, habits and mindset that I had in undergrad, I probably would have failed out within the first few months. Thankfully, I started school knowing that it would be a rough ride so I was willing to adapt and try new things.
They say the first year of any professional school is probably one of the hardest, mainly because you don’t know what to expect. Well, I’ve combined a few lessons that I learned my first year that I feel sum up my experience. I hope they can help someone out there, whether you are about to start, already started, or contemplating applying for professional school:
1. Stay Grounded.
There’s a reason why this point is first. There were so many times in my first year that I felt I was running on empty. So many things were coming at me that I felt I couldn’t really control. Course work was difficult, but on top of that, relationships inside and outside of school drained me. I felt exhausted, all the time. I realized though, that what I was going through was temporary. There are so many bible verses that I encountered my first year that helped me hang on. One of my favorite ones is 2 Corinthians 12:9, which assured me that and more specifically
In my weakness…
God used my many weaknesses, (some that I didn’t even know I had until dental school) to demonstrate His sovereign nature. I quickly learned to rely solely on him and surround myself with a network of people that encouraged me.This led me to do a series of things. I joined my first small group of fellow dental male students, which was led by a Dentist. Weekly meetings were held to ensure that we were growing both academically and spiritually. I also joined the Christian Medical Ministry of Alabama (CMMA), which led me to take one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had to date; a dental mission trip to the Honduras (more on that later). Staying grounded and growing in my faith kept me sane this semester. It’s a lifelong project that I must continue to work on.
2. Stay healthy.
It is extremely easy to let yourself go in professional school.
My schedule was not conducive to working-out and did not encourage eating healthy. During my first year, we were in class from 8-5 everyday. It’s not like undergrad where you have the opportunity to move from building to building and get exercise. Your classes are typically in the same building. Thus, you end up sitting on your butt for the majority of the day. It’s very easy to slip into a sedentary lifestyle with this kind of schedule.
Eating healthy and remaining active requires you to be intentional. You have to intentionally schedule workout time and intentionally select healthier meals if you want to avoid the almost inevitable tighter fit of your clothes (scrubs) at the end of the semester. There were so many times during the semester that I wanted to skip my workouts to study. However, I realized that my workouts were stress relievers and helped me keep my immune system strong. Looking back now, I got sick only once over the semester (minor cold) and I feel strongly that it was a combination of the grace of God and a decent workout schedule/diet.
3. Stay busy.
I found things that I loved to do to occupy my time so that I wasn’t studying all day everyday. It’s almost impossible to study 24/7 and remain sane. For me, I love photography, learning languages, working out, and music. So, can you guess what I was doing in my limited amount of free time? You could find me either at the gym, taking or editing pics, or watching something in Spanish. Balance is necessary to stay healthy. I’ve read so many articles and instances about people that fall sick mentally in professional school and you do NOT want that to happen. Prevention is better than cure, and that goes for this situation as well.
4. Stay open.
Most likely if you are pursuing education in the graduate realm, you’ll have to face change. While not the most comfortable, it facilitates growth. Coming straight from undergrad to dental school, I realized that it was completely different. My classmates ranged from my age, to ten or more years above. My schedule was different. The curriculum was different. Everything was just, different. With all the change that went around me, naturally I wanted to keep to myself. I was in a different state, knew absolutely nobody and was uncomfortable. I had to remind myself why I chose the school in the first place; I wanted to take a leap out of my comfort zone and allow God to mold me into the man he wants me to become, without the distraction of familiarity. Just as I was open to moving for school, I have to keep an open mindset during this 4 year process.Naturally the friends you make will not compare to the ones in undergrad. But be open! Be open to different activities, types of people and backgrounds. When you are, you’ll be exposed to things that you never thought you liked. You may even discover a new hobby that can help you relieve stress. For example, I love food. Often times after a week of tests and or practicals, I would go out with a few of my classmates and try different restaurants. Birmingham, Alabama is blessed copiously with original diners scattered around the city.
5. Stay disciplined.
Professional school is all about discipline. You learn to be cautious with how you spend money. You learn to be disciplined with your study time. You learn to be accountable (by means of group projects and assignments). There’s just so many things that require discipline. And there’s really no one to check you except yourself.Staying organized goes under this category too. Everything becomes a lot easier when you realize that you’ll only have yourself to blame if things go awry. No one enjoys scrambling for money at the end of the semester- so create a budget. No one enjoys late night studying because you didn’t know you had an exam – so create a calendar.No one likes bad grades – so study.The solutions seem extremely easy, but its a lot harder when you’re actually facing the problem. Wrapping this up, I learned a great deal my first year in dental school (obviously), and I know I have even more to learn. I’ll just leave you guys with a verse that encourages me not to give up; each new day is a day to redeem yourself.
“Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16