Yours truly overseeing clinic operations during a Husky Health Bridge outreach event for Tent City 3, a city-sanctioned homeless encampment in Seattle, Washington.
Dental school requires a great deal of time, energy, and money, so it's adventageous to make the most out of your investment. In my opinion, there are at least two ways to go through dental school: 1) show up, take what you're given, and go home; or 2) rise above the monotony and seek opportunities beyond the curriculum. Both offer the same end result: everyone graduates a fully functional oral healthcare professional. But if you really want make the most of your four years, you've got to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that arise during your time in school. In doing so, you'll build invaluable relationships within the dental community, gain access to a wealth of free professional resources and advanced training, and develop exceptional skills that will set you apart from your colleagues both during and after graduate school.
It's All About Mindset
Let's face it, dental school is challenging for even the most disciplined students. Days are long, professors can be intimidating, and learning the material necessary to safely and successfully conduct surgery on a live patient is like drinking water from a firehose. But excuses only get you so far, and constantly whining about a choice you willingly made for yourself is no way to achieve greatness. I'm routinely asked how I have so much time to explore the outdoors with my friends and family, participate regularly in community outreach, and attend continuing education (CE) courses hosted by our profession's top experts. My answer is always the same. I stay engaged in class, manage my time wisely, and avoid any distractions that take my focus away from my end goal. It's all about mindset. Graduate school is not a place for the "college experience." That's what undergrad is for. Graduate school sets the stage for a long and prosperous career, so long as you pursue it with foresight and intent.
Seek Meaningful Relationships
Midway through my first year, I applied to the Washington State Dental Association's (WSDA) mentorship program. I was paired with a local dentist who owns two dental practices, plays a major role in dentistry advocacy throughout Washington, leads a beautiful family of six, and serves in the Air Force Reserves. While many of my friends were impressed that he treated my wife and I to a soccer game during our initial meeting, I remain fascinated by my mentor's ability to take on and manage a myriad of personal and professional pursuits with seemingly little to no effort. I strongly believe our pairing was not a coincidence, but a recognition of the similarities in our work ethics and lifestyles. It's a direct representation of what Dr. Wayne Dyer coined the "Power of Intention." Dr. Dyer believed that no one attracts what they want, but rather what they are. So if average suits you, do the bare minimum. But if you want to be great, go above and beyond. You'll find that greatness will soon surround you.
Associate With Professional Organizations
Don't underestimate the value of joining and associating with professional organizations. They offer significantly reduced or free membership to dental students while in school, giving student members complete access to the same membership benefits provided to practicing dentists. Unfortunately, too many students fall into the heirarchy of dental school thinking professional events or CE courses are beyond their current capabilities, and that's nonsense. If you want to be great, you absolutely must challenge yourself! Plus, dental students bring new, fresh information to these events and their attendees. It's a win-win for everyone. Whether your interests include advocacy, networking, or supplemental training/continuing education (CE), organizations like the WSDA, Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), and Spear Education all offer a plethora of opportunities to grow among the dental community, and they're always seeking dental students to join their ranks! Of course, it's highly likely one (or all) of these organizations are well-integrated within your dental school, so seek out their representatives and never miss an opportunity to reach your full potential again.