how to study in dental school

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how to study in dental school

5 Tips for a Successful First Year in Dental School

1. Balance Work and Personal Time

Throughout your dental school program – and especially in the first year – your time management and study strategies will be put to test. You may feel tempted to bury your head in your books to keep up. However, you’ll have several opportunities to network, volunteer, engage with the local community, and participate in student organizations to develop your leadership skills.

Balancing studying with a social life will be challenging during your D1 year. As a high achiever adjusting to a greater workload, it is easy to become so immersed in your studies that you begin to sacrifice personal and social time — even sleep and exercise.

Dedicating some time to yourself and your social life each week will help you recharge and refocus so that you are efficient when you get back to the classroom.

There is a balance, and it will take some practice and time to determine what that is without feeling like you are sacrificing anything in the classroom. Be patient with yourself throughout this learning process.  

2. Develop a Study Strategy

Many dental students recognize that it’s more important to focus on discovering your own unique study strategy instead of comparing yourself to your peers. You’ve already developed an effective study strategy in undergrad that you will continue to hone and rely on throughout dental school.

Maximize the time you spend studying by continuing to use the techniques that work best for you. This process will help free up your schedule for more personal time. “Everyone discovers their own strategies that work for them, and you have to give yourself time to find your own study habits,” says Connie Woo, DMD Candidate, Class of 2020.

What works for others won’t necessarily work for you. So, experiment with new ideas and suggestions, and continue to develop an effective technique that will help you get the most out of every study hour.

3. Get Involved

Volunteering, participating in student organizations, and exploring research programs make dental school much more fulfilling.

Serve the community

Starting in the D1 year, the UIC College of Dentistry provides its students with multiple opportunities to become socially engaged and make a positive impact on the local and global community. First year students can participate in early education programs at local health centers and schools. 

There are many ways our students get involved and enhance their training through Community Health programs. Students can:

  • Participate in running a dental clinic at Goldie’s Place.
  • Volunteer at neighborhood community health events.
  • Join dental student organizations and support a cause.

Many outreach programs provide medical and dental relief where it is needed most and focus on populations that continue to be undeserved, such as those living in rural and low-income areas, patients with special needs, and geriatric patients.

Join a student organization

Students at UIC College of Dentistry are very active in dental student organizations. With several Chicago area chapters of national organizations to choose from, dental students can easily find an organization that matches their passion.

Here are a few of the many student organizations UIC dental students may participate in. A full list of student organizations can be found here.

  • The UIC chapter of American Dental Education Association (ADEA), represents the student voice of dental education at UIC. The goal of ADEA is building an interconnected community, altering education to develop the best possible future dentists, and  striving for scientific and public policy improvements in healthcare.
  • The UIC chapter of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) is the largest student organization in the college. ASDA works to protect the rights and interests of dental students while providing a way to be active in the dental community and become a leader among your peers. The ASDA chapter of the UIC College of Dentistry is very active in  philanthropy, research and oral health education. It’s a chance to continue to develop your skills, travel to new places, and take part in something larger, exciting and influential.
  • The Association of Muslim Dental Students is an organization serving Muslim dental students and anyone interested in learning about the Islamic faith and culture within the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
  • The Hispanic Student Dental Association at UIC is an organization that aims to create a unified voice for dental students and faculty, and seeks to promote and advocate the oral health issues of the Hispanic community in Illinois.
  • The Pride Alliance (UIC COD PA) provides COD students, staff workers, and faculty members with a safe space that affirms all gender expressions, identities, and sexualities. Additionally, the UIC CODPA intends to serve the Lesbian Gay Trans Queer/Questioning Ally (LGBTQA) Chicagoland community through oral health-oriented volunteerism.
  • The Student National Dental Association is an organization that is all about the “inclusive we.” We accept members of all races, creeds, colors, and religions. Our goal is to improve the oral health care within our communities and abroad. 
  • The Pan-Asian Student Dental Association (PASDA) strives to educate and provide oral care to under-served and/or immigrant populations throughout the Chicago area, as well as to create a platform for dental students to engage in inter-professional care with other health discuss.

Become a student researcher

The UIC College of Dentistry is also the only research-oriented dental school in the state of Illinois. Cutting-edge research programs explore fascinating themes such as regenerative science, craniofacial pathobiology, and clinical, translational and community research. The Multidisciplinary Oral Science Training (MOST) Program offers multiple tracks and options for graduate/post-graduate researchers.

There are many ways to get involved with research as a dental student. 

The Student Research Group at UIC College of Dentistry is a great place to start. The SRG is dedicated to increasing and enhancing student research opportunities at the College. The group hosts activities such as the Summer Research Symposium to promote and support student research in dentistry as well as encourage and facilitate opportunities for students to share and further their research.

4. Learn More by Networking

Many dental students find success by branching out and networking with upperclassmen and professors, as soon as they get started. Having been in your shoes, they understand the challenges you are going through quite well. They all want you to succeed, so reach out to them for tips and advice.

“Get to know your upperclassmen. They are a great resource for tips, tricks, and at UIC everyone is super eager to share their experiences and make yours better,” says Jasmine Liu, DMD Candidate, Class of 2020.

Seek volunteer and research opportunities and join clubs where you will get the chance to meet them. Attend any available office hours for the classes you’re struggling with. Keep in touch with those who you connect with throughout the program, even if it’s a quick email.

Don’t assume that you need to wait until you have been in dental school for a while to start networking. The sooner you start the better! You never know when you might need a recommendation or a referral in the future.

And, find ways to return the favor if you can. Giving back in kind will only make your professional network even stronge.

5. Be Open Minded

Many incoming students have preconceived ideas about dental specialties. As Alex Rozgony mentions, perhaps the thought of treating “difficult” kids makes pediatric dentistry unappealing, or some students may be laser focused on getting into a particular specialty like oral surgery or endodontics.

Your ideas can change once you’ve had the chance to take part in shadowing, volunteer opportunities and rotations. You’ll get plenty of hands on experience during your four years and the chance to be exposed to multiple specialties to learn what they are really all about.

Be ready to explore as much of the world of dentistry as you can, you never know what experience might ignite a new passion.

Above All, Enjoy Yourself Along the Way

ADEA-Spring2018-1.jpgYour first year of dental school will be full of challenges and new experiences with a greater workload than you are used to. There will be an adjustment period, and you might feel overwhelmed at times.

Trust in your abilities, be confident and take steps to maintain an active and balanced life. Reach out to your peers and faculty for advice at any time – especially if you start to feel burned out.

Although many things will be new, the same work ethic, dedication and passion for dentistry that got you this far will be your foundation and strength as you move forward in your career.

“Be a sponge! Absorb as much as you can but also enjoy yourself, says Jasmine Liu, DMD Candidate, Class of 2020. The four years fly by, but you can’t put all life aside from dental school on hold as you work towards your future career.”

We hope these tips will help ease your transition into dental school and prepare you for a very rewarding, fulfilling and successful first year!

how to prepare for dental school

10 Tips for Surviving the 1st Year of Dental School

1. Time Management

Time management is the most important lesson I learned during my first year of dental school. It’s something we all know is important yet we struggle to do it properly. For me, dental school began with relatively easy lectures, some of which I wouldn’t even consider proper lectures as they were based on things such as social media but things quickly picked up and by November, I had over ten lectures to catch up with! Not good, right? The worst part was that I had my semester 1 exams in the first and second week of December and we still had new content being taught a week before exams.

In dental school, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and get to a point where you may feel like you’re drowning in a sea of work. This can easily take away all the joy of dental school and turn your university life into hell – well not literally, but you can easily get stressed out if you don’t manage your time properly and balance studies with personal life. With this in mind, make sure you have your own personal system in place and manage your time properly right from the start. This is crucial to stay on top of your studies so you can enjoy the social life aspect of university whilst achieving good grades.

2. Be Organised

Being organised is a huge component of life and success. It’s crucial for you to have an effective strategy, plan ahead and be aware of your schedule for the following week. As part of the 4D curriculum at Dundee Dental School, you’ll have access to a module guidance document which breaks down the aim and objectives of every lecture and clinical activity, so be sure to download this document from the start of the year and use it to plan things ahead. You’ll also find key dates such as assignment deadlines on this document to help you plan and stay organised. This also applies to other universities, but you would need to double check with your own dental school. As a general rule of thumb, by being organised, you’d know exactly what lecture has been taught and whether you have your notes completed for that specific lecture. If you revise with flashcards like me, you’d also know which lectures you need to make flashcards for and which ones are still outstanding.

Top Tip: Make sure to write down all the key dates such as assignments, homework and group presentations on your calendar and set reminders for these so you know they’re coming up soon.

3. Know your anatomy!

Anatomy is probably going to be your biggest challenge in first year because there are so many terms that you need to remember. It’s like learning a foreign language so break the words down to help you understand the word rather than just memorising. Consistency is key for remembering all of your anatomy. I’d say speak to a couple of your friends to form an “anatomy revision group” and get together at least once a week to go over selected topics together. For your anatomy revision, there are lots of 3D apps you can download and use to help you get a realistic feel for the topic and revise the content.

4. Find your personal studying strategy quickly

Study smart, not hard! As a biomedical science graduate, it took me two years to finally find the right strategy. Before finding this strategy, there were days that I would spend 14 hours studying and there was one thing that kept me going – ‘the fear of not getting into dental school’. In the first and second year of my biomedical science degree, I spent so much time studying and then forgetting things which didn’t help at all. The worst thing as a student is to revise something so much and then forget them when you need to know them for your exam – this can easily happen when the content you need to learn is vast i.e. in dental school. The strategy I use is ‘active recall, spaced repetition’ which works really well for me and helps me stay on top of things and remember things without having to study as much as I used to! So my advice is to find your own strategy quickly, ideally in the first year of dental school as second year will get more difficult (at least from what I have heard from the years above).

There is often a lot of overlap between lectures so try and consolidate the content and relate them to clinical practice as final exams usually challenge you to apply the knowledge you have gathered from lectures into clinical practice. Remember that what works for others may not necessarily work for you, so focus on a strategy that works best for you.

5. Do something other than dentistry

During the candidate selection process, most dental schools look at whether a person does any extracurricular activities. This is taken quite seriously as dentistry comes with a lot of challenges and you would need to have an interest in something other than dentistry so you can balance your time between dentistry and your extracurricular. Whether you enjoy playing sports, painting, drawing or doing photography, it’s important you spend a little of your day doing something that is not dentistry. This is something pretty much everyone in the dental field emphasises on as it keeps your interests for dentistry going and helps you alleviate stress. Dental students face a variety of challenges during their training i.e. practicing dentistry through indirect vision and you can easily get disheartened and put off if you are continuously challenged without taking any time off doing something else that you enjoy. Personally, I almost always took Friday evenings and Saturdays to enjoy activities outside of dentistry such as going to the gym, playing sports with friends, going out for dinner with friends or doing photography. This helped me recharge and left me ready to take on the next week with a fresh mindset.

6. Get to know your peers & years above!

Dental school is tough but you’re not alone. If something is quite difficult for you, it’s probably difficult for others too. There are lots of ways to make dealing with tough times a little easier and one of them is by getting to know your peers and doing things together. This could be going to the library to catch up with notes, revising your anatomy, preparing for your OSCE (objective structured clinical examination) and many more. Since you’ll be in first year and probably used to a different style of teaching or curriculum, it’s very likely that at some point you’ll think “do I really need to know all of this stuff?”. Well, the answer is, you probably need to know them at some point in dental school, but it could be that you’re being introduced to the topic briefly and don’t need to know absolutely everything. This is where having a few friends from the years above will help! Remember that the years above have been through what you’re currently going through so speak to them to find out about their strategy and experience with exams.

7. Keep healthy

Healthy body, healthy mind! Studying dentistry can often be stressful and it’s important to have healthy habits to improve mood and reduce stress. There’s tons of studies proving the link between exercising and how you feel mentally. And whilst joining a gym or exercise club is sometimes not feasible on a student budget, it might not cost you a thing nowadays. You can even hit two birds with one stone by joining a sports club at university. This will help you get your mind off dentistry and enjoy something else whilst also keeping you physically and mentally fit. Keeping healthy is particularly important around exam times as it helps you recharge your mind and stay productive during your revision sessions and with the right strategy, you’ll ace those exams like they’re nothing.

8. Always be professional

Professionalism is one of the biggest things most dental schools emphasise on. Studying dentistry is not like any other degree as it’s a professional qualification and you’re expected to act like a professional, especially around patients. As a future healthcare provider, your professional network starts right from your first day of dental school and you never really know how important the connections you make will become later on down the line. With this in mind, always strive to make a good impression.

There are several characteristics expected of a professional person, and more specifically, a dentist. As a professional, you’ll need to be honest, fair, trustworthy, law-binding and of a good character – and being professional right from the start will give you a head start in your dental training and career. This will not only help you survive dental school but become a successful and caring dentist.

9. Use your time effectively

The Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80-20 rule suggests that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort we put in. This principle is all about how to spend less time studying but be more productive.

We all know how it feels to be inefficient. Spending many hours “studying” without getting much productive work done can be incredibly frustrating, and is a drain on time and energy. The key to successfully applying the Pareto Principle is by making the most of the 20% of your time that will produce 80% of your results – and there are a few things that you can do to maximise your productivity:

  • Use the Pomodoro Technique
  • Minimise distractions
  • Choose the right space
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve (i.e. when setting your Pomodoro time)

10. Ask for help early

If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask for help and clarification – this doesn’t just apply to academic work but on general wellbeing, if you feel like things are getting a little bit too much. Every dental school has a designated councillor or adviser of studies who can discuss your concerns and get help. You can also get help from your peers or family depending on what it is that you need help with.

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