Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The D-1 Experience II

A lot of people have been asking what my daily routine is so here goes. The semester seems to have had four major phases: The initial (lag) phase, the first whippings, the calm before the storm, and the clout of doom (finals).

The initial (lag) phase:

Seriously, it is like jet lag, read my post on orientation week and you will get the idea. Since all classes are just beginning and it is the very first semester – things begin at a reasonable pace. Our first three weeks or so were test free.

Wake up: 7am
Class: 8-12pm
Lunch: Usually would go home
Class: 1:30-4:30
The end time was quite variable actually, on Fridays we had no class after noon, and other days we would often get out early. However on more than one occasion, I found myself in the anatomy lab or stuck in the pre-clinic till 5 or 6pm.
Relaxing, 1-2 hours studying: 5-11pm
Sleep – 11-7

As you can see, life is quite manageable during the lag portion of the D1 semester. This is also a great time to participate in class-wide events and social activities. Ultimately, you make friends through these experiences coupled with small group work at school. I have already made more ‘good’ friends at this school than I did in 4 years of undergrad. Partially because we are all subjected to the same torturous lifestyle, and partially because we have no other options (yea I know that sounds bad, but it isn’t meant to be).

Use this lag phase to be social, find your class niche.. I can’t imagine doing this by myself (although I usually do study solo). You need people to vent with, people to drink with, people to just shoot the breeze with, and really, you need people that understand WHY you are so busy. The public has NO idea that dental school is actually difficult and explaining things is impossible; you need to live it, or be close friends/spouse with someone who is living it.

A note about the lag phase – DON’T get behind. Read ahead if you can, go to class, pay attention, the shit is about to hit the fan.

Also note all dental schools are not created equal and neither are the students. The gunners will already be living in the library; you will rarely see them out with the class on weekends. This doesn’t make them assholes; it just makes them gunners (always exceptions). However, you will find that the most intelligent kids in the class usually are quite sociable as well because they are aware that networking pulls some serious weight in getting residencies or just a decent a job straight out of school.

Generally the entire class gets along during this phase as well; everyone is helping each other out.

The first whippings:

Here comes the first wave of tests. We were pretty fortunate to have only 1-2 tests a week as the classes managed to spread them out. Everyone is nervous before the first exam, but you start getting used to it right away. My schedule remains the same except I am spending closer to 3-4 hours a night studying. Obviously this fluctuates with test proximity…but I generally begin reviewing lecture material a week in advance during the first whippings because there still is time to do so.

I was chugging along just fine until that first anatomy practical..whew, go to lab a LOT people, and try to orient your cadaver in many views because those instructors will try to confuse the hell out of you by simply orienting the cadaver or random appendage in a really strange way.

During the first whippings, you will see the class going out after big tests, but smaller groups are now beginning to form and little niches are developing ala highschool. There are jocks, class clowns, cheerleaders, band nerds, strangebees, cool kids (like me), and total slackers/moochers.

Of course since we are ‘adults’ there is a lot more intermingling between castes, but don’t get me wrong, it still feels highschooly. You may also notice during the first whippings that people are starting to get on each other’s nerves. There is also an abhorrent amount of gossip flying around, about who is sleeping with who, and who is the most annoying, and on and on and on – like a soap opera, except in real time and minus commercials. I did a pretty good job distancing myself from rumor mongering, and I am relatively under the radar in terms of class talk. This is good.

The stress comes and goes in waves, much like your intestinal tract after eating white castle sliders. Generally, there will be at least one test of some sort every week during the first whippings. Weekends are still spent doing whatever with some light studying (unless there is a Monday test). The end of this phase usually cumulates with a massive week of tests, followed by a nice 1-2 week break from tests.

The calm before the storm:

This title is misleading, only because it makes one believe that there is nothing really going on. Trust me, there is plenty – but there still are a few breaks intermingled. We had a week of no tests somewhere in mid-October which almost felt like summer vacation. There still are tests, but they feel even more spread out.

My schedule still remains the same, although I am going out to eat lunch with classmates rather than home – partly because there are a TON of food options out here, and partly because I don’t have time to grocery shop.

The main difference is that I am now devoting a lot more weekend time to studying. This is still a calm though because I am now used to sacrificing weekends for the glory of arbitrary grades. You also begin to realize how your grades might shape up. This serves as both moral-breaking, and boosting at the same time. Knowing you are still in ‘A’ range is nice…but knowing you have so much more to study and perform on is still mentally draining. You may notice many of your classmates no longer attending lectures, a strategy I would not recommend – although it works out fine for many of them. People are beginning to ‘freak’ out a little bit more often because the threat of finals is looming nearer and nearer. This stage of the semester ended with a beautiful 2 weeks of no tests including thanksgiving break.

The Clout of Doom (Finals)

As far as I’m concerned, finals lasted for four weeks, straight after thanksgiving. A total of 13 tests - 10 of which are in the final 2 weeks.

Now that number is rather subjective, because some of those tests did not involve much studying. They ALL do have an impact on your grade though, and they all still involve showing up, and performing. Taking this many tests is physically and mentally draining. You just get tired…and instead of being able to unwind, you have to get ready for the next test. I cleaned off my kitchen table last weekend and spread out all the anatomy notes for the final…the table is COVERED in crap.

As soon as I got home from the THREE HOUR written anatomy final, I just threw all the papers off the table (literally) and piled up my micro notes because that test is next.

Another problem now that I didn’t have until this phase is keeping your studying straight. It is very difficult to only study ONE subject because there are too many exams. I can’t pull 14 days of all-nighters…hell I can’t even pull one. Different strokes for different folks of course, but I will not retain anything if I only have one day to prepare. This however, makes finals really challenging because I am juggling all these courses and trying to divide my time effectively.

Oh and schedule wise, it is essentially school/study/sleep every day. I don’t have time to do much else. I only have time for this post because I have been slowly typing it up over the last week and I’ve been using this post as a ‘break’ in between bouts with anatomy and BHD. I haven’t even touched the histo pile yet. Can’t leave out micro either…bleh.

You may notice that many of your classmates (including yourself) are looking quite disheveled, even zombie-like. I love looking at our class composite, when we were all fresh and eager..then going to school and looking at how worn down everyone looks. Physical appearance is no longer really a concern at this point. AND THIS IS ONLY ONE SEMESTER!!

My apartment looks so shitty too it is depressing me. I just have papers and dust balls and garbage piled up everywhere. I simply haven't found the time to tidy up. Luckily, come Friday, I will have 2 full weeks to get this place looking spit-spot.

As you get closer to the end, things just get harder. The anatomy final literally felt like it sucked my soul from my body. I am having trouble focusing on anything. We have no class this last week which means I can’t use time as an excuse. I just find myself looking at the pages and blurring out. Yea I’m bitching a lot, but this is probably the most difficult challenge I have ever faced in terms of sheer work and mental fortitude. I’m GOING to make it, as many before me have, and many more to follow – but you cannot imagine how insane this much school feels.

This just forces me to reiterate a very important value since this is a post geared towards pre-dents. Once you get that first acceptance, for the love of god, do NOT start asking me what books you should be reading to ‘get a head start.’ I will reach through my monitor and throttle you. If I could redo one thing from last dec 1st – present day; it would have been how I spent that time. I would have gone out more, celebrated more, read more books (of the non-science persuasion), and LIVED more. Once you start school, your life will change – and change fast. Before you know it, you will be passing on sagely advice to the next batch of pre-dents while thinking…wow, has it already been a year?

I could go on, but I must return to the table of knowledge and continue to memorize random factoids. Hopefully I won’t just start watching TV or sneak off to the 3 minute-walk-from-here bar.

Almost 1/11 of the way done!


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Exams Exams Oh My

So while our finals week technically begins NEXT week, we are really getting hit. Basically since Thanksgiving break, it has been non-stop.

Had a micro exam after thanksgiving, then a Tooth ID, and physio exam the next week (the final physio exam actually). So now I get to at least sleep in a little without physio. So yea, 3 tests in two weeks isn't all that bad - but there is plenty on the horizon. There was a bit of extra pressure on the physio exam because I was quite on the borderlands of 'B' and 'A' so I naturally put in a lot of effort in hopes to squeeze the tops.

So with physio done and in the art of procratination, I will explain why I despise multiple choice exams. Physiology should be a breeze for a biology major right? I mean, I took so many courses that dealt with the material..it should have been easy. This semester we did basics on action potentials, muscle, heart/circulation, and respiration - ALL REVIEW for me. Yet, I still am floundering between B/A. I also studied a good deal for the exams too - despite already having a firm grasp of the material. Yet every test, there would be some question convoluted in such a way as to test my knowledge of minutia rather than concepts. In undergrad, I would take tests with an MC component, but there would be fill in the blanks, and short answer/essay.

Here you live and die by questions that were created for the sole purpose of tricking the student, not helping them learn.

Le example:
I KNOW that type II alveolar epithelial cells are responsible for producing surfactant - it was covered in lecture, it was covered in my previous coursework, I know it. Yet I still get twisted up on a test question. (not exactly how it appeared cuz I can't remember)

What cell secretes surfactant?
A. Alveolar cells
B. Type II epithelial cells
C. Type I pnemocytes
D. Macrophage
E. None of the Above

I circled none of the above. Why? Because it is called Type II ALVEOLAR epithelial cell..yet I think I got this question wrong because apparently you can be lazy and leave out the alveolar. I also stuck with this choice because the VERY next question used the term type II alveolar epithelial cell. If there was no 'none of the above' option, I would have simply eliminated the others - but because of this horrible excuse for a test option - I am already 1/3 of the way out of 'A' range.

Regardless, these are the types of questions that drive me insane. I know the answer, but because I can't write it myself - I can get it wrong. It wouldn't be a huge deal if there were more questions though...but when your test is only 30 MC long, you need to be on the ball to get an 'A.'

I had my first performance exam today. We had to cut an occlusal prep on #19 and evaluate our work based on UIC's critique sheet. Be prepared for things to go wrong folks. The light at my station had a bad fuse and all the other spots were taken by classmates. Not a huge setback beacuse we are graded on our self-evaluation and not the actual product (only this semester). So it ended up looking fairly crappy, but I knew WHAT was crappy about it - so I should end up doing allright. It was kinda funny when the maintenance guy showed up as I was cleaning up - and fixed the light in 30 seconds....man, where were you an hour ago?

The instructor told me to write NO LIGHT on top of my sheet - so maybe I will get a pity point!! The pre-clinic is really my only hardcore gripe with the school so far..it is just too crowded and awkwardly set up. As I have said millions of times though, it isn't KEEPING me from learning. I really did enjoy the instructors in our restorative/perio classes. They were easy-going, patient, and helpful.

Tomorrow we have our final anatomy practical of the semester!!! Thursday we have a combined perio/general dentistry final exam in the morning, and a final wax-up on #13 in the afternoon.

Next week we have an anatomy final monday, micro final wedneday, tooth ID final and biology human dentiton written final thursday, and histo final friday.

It really isn't THAT bad given the sheer number of exams..but it is mentally draining. Like I should be studying for anatomy...but I have been looking over all this crap since friday afternoon and I just can't mentally go through it again. This is my problem - I hit a wall, and while I still manage to do fairly well on most tests - I could be having an easier time if I could just put in a few more solid hours - which I am going to attempt after this post goes up.

Once I finish the anatomy practical tomorrow afternoon...I pretty much have to lock down and go through an entire semester worth of general dentistry/perio info for thursday's final. It is tough because they just keep coming..but again - I haven't lost my mind yet. I've heard the exam should be fairly straightforward though because we really haven't learned anything beyond the realms of common sense.

As frustrating as Anatomy is, it is truly a cool feeling to have that epiphany moment when a ton of random information suddenly just 'CLICKS.' Knowing how the facial nerve somehow gets some autonomic fibers into the lingual nerve of the V3 branch of trigeminal is just interesting. But it really is a good feeling when you finally go 'AH-HAH!' The skull is absolutely amazing based on its complexity alone. This class was definitely the most difficult and involved. I will probably get the worst grade compared to my other classes - but I actually enjoyed it for the most part. Not saying I want to take it again - but if you know what I mean.

Speaking of anatomy...I really need to go back to the books - I CAN see the end of the tunnel...1/2 way done with the first year!!!!

Ps. Chorda Tympani is the bee's knees

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Final Stretch

About three weeks remain until the successful completion of my first semester of dental school. I can safely say successful because I truly doubt I will fail any classes..unless I completely f-bomb the finals. I think my grades will end up being well above-average, although below what my 4.0 type personality originally wanted. Although at this point, I still could get straight apples, I would REALLY have to annihilate the anatomy final (which is rumored to be the most difficult test of the semester). Of course I will try, but I’m not planning on any miracles.
I’m beginning to feel that grades aren’t AS important to me as originally thought. Sure I want to do my best, but my current aspirations don't revolve around ortho or oral surgery. However, I am well aware that things change, so I’m simply trying not to burn the bridge.

I also came to the realization last night that I am actually more social than I was in college which sounds outrageous, but is oddly true. I think this turn in events is correlated to how little free time I have and the fact that all my classmates are on pretty much the same schedule. So when I actually do have some free time, I want to embrace and enjoy it. In the same vein, being social feels almost necessary to help bear the rigors of non-stop exams and lab work. In undergrad, I had too much time on my hands and the actual social opportunities were limited to binges and bro gatherings. Living in a huge city clearly offers a new brand of entertainment. Or at least offers options beyond your run-of-the-mill college party.

Another interesting development is that pretty much all of my d-school friends are 25+. I remember making a post many months ago relating my concerns of feeling too young, now I figured it out. I’m not THAT much younger (23), but I feel like most of my classmates didn’t jump straight from undergrad. The younger kids in my class feel all too much like the rabble I tended to avoid in undergrad. Of course I am generalizing, and I honestly think most of my classmates are pretty cool in general. There are exceptions as always, but this blog is not meant to spiral in teenage directions, and it won’t.

So how are finals shaping out? Well I just had a micro test last week, this week we have a tooth ID test, and our final physio exam. I am excited that we finish physio so early. We have a couple papers due for epi and ethics but I have pretty much finished them. Next week we have our performance exam in restorative, a final written exam for restorative/perio, a final tooth wax up practical, and an anatomy practical…(this week will blow). The final week we have the beastly anatomy lecture final, micro final, BHD final, and histo final. This week is not as bad as it appears because there is NO class..which will be amazing – especially because I feel like this last histo test is going to be much more difficult than the others and I’m gonna need lots of time to study.

So yea this post is rather scattered..but that is kinda how my life is right now. My apartment is horribly messy. I just can’t keep things clean and organized. I am just holding out till break..then I will be exorcizing the dirty demons.

School has been tough, but not horrible. It is about what you might expect. I have only recently come to realize just how much I have learned without even thinking about it. When I look at a non-dental friend and say “you some broccoli stuck between nine and ten,” they look at me like I’m some sort of psychopath. I don’t blame them, but it is still cool. The fun part is that I never sat down and learned the teeth numbering, it just happened amongst all the other activities.

There are other examples, but I really gotta hit the bed.
I will try my best to put up one more post before the next semester begins celebrating the half-way point through my D-1 year.