Sunday, February 24, 2008

The D-1 Experience III

The second semester of your first year is probably harder than the first. I know at this school, it is MUCH harder. The biggest difference is that you are sort of used to it though. The shock of studying every day, and a TON on the weekends really is over by this time. I swear I never get together with my friends just to hang out; we always study a bit first – if not the entire time. Of course, sometimes our studying efficiency blows, but we still aren’t just shooting the shit as it were.

I had an older post regarding the ‘phases’ of the semester. Well this second semester is quite different. You don’t ‘ease’ into anything this time around – you are pretty much thrown into the cauldron day one. I will now attempt to break down the schedule although it is a bit confusing because gross anatomy ends tomorrow….FOREVER!!!! I will explain.

First 8 weeks of the semester like so:

*lunch usually goes from noonish-1:30

8-9 Physiology II
9-10 Biochemistry
10-11 Histology II
11-430 Gross Anatomy II

8-1230 Comprehensive Care IB (restorative)
130-5 Occlusion

8-9 Physiology II
9-10 Biochemistry
10-12 Histology II (almost always out early)
130-430 Neuroanatomy

8-10 Biochemistry
10-12 Pathology I
130-430 Comprehensive Care IB (periodontics)

8-9 Physiology II
9-10 Bichemistry
10-12 Histology II
12-1 Comprehensive Care IB (radiology)

Now here is what goes down starting next Monday. Gross anatomy is a ‘shortened’ 1-credit course this semester and our final is TOMORROW (both written and practical…barf). After which, radiology will move to its 11am spot on Mondays and restorative will also take over the afternoon slot (we still meet on double the fun). So Fridays will revert back to last semester status in terms of getting out super early…HELL YEA!

Class breakdown for all you nerdy soon to be D-1s:

Physiology II:
I’m doing better, but only marginally. The exams have even LESS questions than last semester (which was my biggest gripe). 24 questions to test your knowledge on a TON of information is pretty ridiculous. We have gone through renal and GI so far…about 4 lectures into endocrinology. Like with last semester, I can’t complain because I am getting an A, but I feel the A should be much easier to get given my beefy biology resume coming into school. I have had all of this material so many times, it shouldn’t be this difficult. Still, the class fits the nice 50-minute lecture base, and we only meet 3 times a week. I also enjoy the material for the most part. If the tests had better-written questions and more of them – I think getting an A wouldn’t require as much stressful studying. The class is worth a paltry 2 credits.

This class is a beast. I am clinging to my A like grim death. I studied more for the second exam in this class than I did for any of my finals last semester. I still only got an 83% - which is an A in this sadistic class. 80+ is an A and the class average is still a freaking C (lower than 70%). The tests cover far too much material (only 30 questions per test). This class also has FIVE lectures a week which is just freaking overdoing it. The material itself isn’t impossible to wrap your brain around – but given the already packed schedule, this is one of the tougher courses to stay on top of. The material can also get pretty dry. Worth 4 credits.

Histology II:
Love it. Same as last semester – one of the better professors and the class itself is fun (I kinda have a thing for histology though). The tests are all VERY manageable if you just show up and pay attention. Again though, I really enjoy the subject and had taken histo in undergrad so that probably made a difference. I did fine on the first exam, but made a few really dumb mistakes that kept me from essentially getting a perfect – which would really lessen the stress level come finals time. Worth 4 credits again.

Gross Anatomy II:
If you hated anatomy the first semester, you will absolutely loathe it now. We are doing the body cavities…and the relevance all this crap has to dentistry is EXTREMELY difficult to deduce. The workload is much lighter seeing as we only meet once a week…but it is still a TON of information to prepare. This was the one class I couldn’t get a handle on last semester and struggled the most with by far. Fortunately it ends after the first 8 weeks. Unfortunately, we have the practical and written exam on the SAME freaking day (TOMORROW). I just can’t get into a study groove because I am not interested. I am hoping to pull out a ‘B’ tomorrow, but honestly might not even hit that bar. Fortunately this course is only worth 1 credit so my GPA will not get crushed.

This is the one class I started out poorly in. We had a couple quizzes that I just made careless mistakes on. The material is not difficult – although I sometimes feel as if I am trying to learn a foreign language. The lab portion of this course takes a lot of time, but we haven’t really gotten into any waxing yet – so who knows how much harder it will get. So far we have learned lots of theory, and we mounted our diagnostic casts from last semester onto our articulators in centric relation (although most of us failed in the accuracy department – we weren’t graded…YAY!) I pulled out a great grade on the midterm despite being super-distracted and not studying much. WOO! This class is worth 3 credits.

This is by far the worst class of the semester. If I fail anything in my life, this will be it. The instruction is terrible and haphazard, the lab portion is just as bad (at least we only have to deal with models and not cadavers). The quiz questions have been so frustrating as well. They are of the “which of the following is/are correct?” persuasion. Which essentially means you can have more than one answer to circle – which sucks. I wouldn’t be bitching if I had a better idea of WHAT to study…because most of the powerpoint slides just show some diagram with a TON of anatomy and nothing else. Or it will be a big slide full of text describing something I really need visuals for. The professor thinks we are all idiots but we just don’t know HOW to study because the instruction is terrible. It isn’t just me; this feeling is quite universal amongst the entire class. Once gross anatomy finishes, I am going to buckle down and really attempt to figure this course out – because in its defense, I really haven’t studied much for it. But when the class is worth 2 credits in a hectic semester, I can’t devote the 3 hours a night that it would require to learn well enough to get a decent grade. My goal is to get a B, but if I just pass - I probably won’t care.

Pathology I:
I have mixed feelings about this course so far. We have weekly quizzes, and 4 are dropped at the end of the semester. These quizzes are worth 40% of the final grade which is quite a bit. I actually like it though, because it forces you to study – this is NOT a class you can cram for. I got my first bad quiz grade last week, but otherwise have been on fire. The material is basic – but there is TONS of it. My biggest trouble is making it through the lecture. We have 2 hours of biochem just before going to this class…and another 2 hour lecture is just excruciating. Not to mention the instructor blazes through around 100 slides per lecture…so studying for those weekly quizzes can take up a LOT of your time. Overall however, I do enjoy this course more than most. It is worth 3 credits.

Comprehensive Care IB:
Ah, meat and potatoes dentistry. Again, this class is what dental school is all about. You actually are in dental school when you set foot into the pre-clinics. This course, like last semester is broken down into separate modules – everything must be passed to get through:

Restorative dentistry (50%)
Periodontics (40%)
Radiology (10%)
Community-Based Education (P/F)
Evidence-Based Dentistry (P/F)

This is what you spend most of your time on in the pre-clinics. This semester they are beginning to grade us on actual skill as opposed to self-appraisal. Our first performance exam will be in a week – if you get 2 ‘standard not met’ on the criteria sheet – you fail. It is kinda intimidating. Granted, the only reason I ever get a standard not met on these preps is because I am trying to make the walls PERFECT and end up blowing out my isthmus or undermining the marginal ridge. So if I just accept a few rough spots here and there, I will get a decent grade. I still need to work on my amalgam skills though – because I am definitely not fast enough yet. However, amalgams are pretty hard to completely butcher – especially on these basic preps.
Another thing they are trying for the first time this year is having a TON of stupid quizzes during the morning lecture section. This is obviously an attempt to force attendance – but it also makes us read a bunch of research articles which is the direction this school wants to take the curriculum. I think it is a terrible idea – but who am I? Assuming I don’t fail any of the performance exams, I should be all right in this portion of the course grade-wise.

Honestly, this class is pretty boring. The lectures are too long, then we have to ‘huddle’ with our groups before starting in the pre-clinic (which essentially reviews the lecture again). We also have to post-huddle and review everything again. We only have 3 hours a week for this class and we work in pairs. So both students need to complete the exercise. Given all the lecture/huddling – we each get around 20-40 minutes to run through everything. This makes us rush and definitely not get the feel for the instruments that I am looking for. Some of the exercises are sooo very boring and unnecessary. It feels like they are just filling time. However, I do like the instructors a lot, and I am learning – perhaps perio just isn’t my cup o’ tea.

The instructor is at least 300 years old and wears the old-school blue lab-coat. He has AWESOME stories and does a decent job explaining the basics of radiology to us. However, I kinda wish we actually TOOK some x-rays rather than talk about taking them. I feel like this stuff is very experience-based. But we do read a lot of x-rays on the projector which is helping. I haven’t had any testing yet, so I’m not sure what to say in terms of difficulty. I feel like the test is either going to be impossible, or really easy.

Community-Based Education:
Same deal as last semester. Waste a ton of time talking about education and why people don’t know this and that. Waste more time ‘reflecting’ on yourself and your peers. The only decent thing we do is go out to the classes and talk to the kids about oral health. However, this component of the course seems so small and insignificant compared with all the other waste-of-time business we are subjected to.

Evidence-Based Dentistry:
Did I ever mention how glad I am to be at this school NOW as opposed to the next year..or especially the year after that? This course is where the curriculum is going. Basically forcing you to teach yourself everything you need to know to pass the boards. Good luck future! We learn about research articles and how to assess good information. It is almost as if we are all expected to get PhDs after this. I understand the validity of research evaluation – but I don’t really need a class to tell me how to do it. Thank god it is pass/fail.

SO there you have it. The semester of hell. It is much worse than it sounds. I can’t even put into words how much studying I have done. Again though, it is manageable. Hell, my grades are holding out even better than last semester so I can’t gripe.

Ugh, my board review decks and books arrived in the mail last I realize how much fun I am going to have this spring/summer.

Whew..can’t wait till I’m done with all this basic science crap. I’m sure I will still be worked like a dog, but it will at least be a different kind of work. I’m ready for a change of complaining scenery!

This semseter feels like I started standing on some train tracks. There is a train about 10 miles down the tracks. On day one, the train starts to move and I start running away. Eventually, that train is going to catch me, but the harder I run - the longer I can stay alive. If I make it through before the train hits me - awesome...not sure if I can run that fast though. We will see.

Take care all, I must return to the anatomy table of knowledge lest I fail.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I don’t recall really getting into the idea of inter-class relationships but it may have been briefly touched upon in some random post. Regardless, I see many a debate on the subject and various points of view. The general consensus is NOT to do it.

If things go sour, you will see this person a LOT more than you probably would want to. Not to mention other classmates will take sides and you may end up with a divorce-like split of your friends. Simply another stress not needed during dental school. Now I have been a proponent of this opinion since well before starting school, being a person of practicality, reason, and general pessimism – I can’t help myself.

HOWEVER, there is a little hypocrite in all of us and despite all the reason in the world – I have gone ahead and gotten involved with one of my classmates. There are so many factors that nobody understands that I hope to elaborate on why instinct outweighed mind.

Point A: You are in Dental school, you are in dental school A LOT. I live in Chicago. Perhaps you have heard of it…kinda big city ya know? Well I have met and actually talked with a total of around 10 people that aren’t affiliated with the medical campus in some way. WHY? Because I simply don’t have tons of time to go out, and when I do – it is with my classmates or friends from home.

Point B: People that aren’t in dental school don’t get that it takes a lot of time. Most people don’t even know that it’s four years. Good luck getting some random pick-up to understand that you have to get up at 7am on a Saturday to study for 3 exams you have the following week.

Point C: Most of your social interactions directly involve your classmates – you may eventually just click with somebody whether you are really trying to or not. No point in putting your life on hold or snuffing out a potentially great match just because you think things might go bad.

The major negative I see in this whole decision is the amount of gossip I will now be involved in. I have flown under the gossip radar ALL year so far, but now it is like some new celebrity couple getting together and you have all these people talking…I just don’t like the idea of it.

Again, all the negatives in the world don’t change the simple instinctual feelings of pure attraction, both of mind and body. No amount of pessimistic logic can change that.

I was pretty happy already, and now I am actually ELATED..dare I say dental school is not crushing my spirit so much as of late? Well..maybe not..but things seem brighter.

A major concern is the likely plummet in grades. I haven’t been able to focus, mainly because I am excited about this change of events and occlusion and anatomy are the last things I want to think about. However, press on I must. The fact that I am also suffering a mid-semester burn-out doesn’t help either….I just feel like all my energy to study is gone. Of course, I have started off really well, so I will try my damndest not to blow up…but I honestly don’t care enough about how your GI tract develops to study it all weekend. I have time to type this post because I’m not studying when I should be…whoops.

I of course am well aware of the inherit risks. But much like the pack-a-day smoker that never develops cancer; I hope to be in the percentile that works out for the best – because it happens. And again, I may end up kicking myself in the future but I don’t really care right now. Hell, even if things do blow up in my face, I probably would still have made the same decision given the choice again.

Here’s to risk-taking!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Baby Steps

Dental school is all about baby steps - at least for your average joe who has never held a real tool in his/her entire life. That first prep you cut will probably resemble a bombed out crater. The next one you cut will probably look like crap as well. I wanna say I have cut around 30 preps so far and they STILL look like crap for the most part. Now crap being a relative term...they WOULD hold an amalgam - but the perfectionist pre-clinic instructors demand scrutiny.

GET LOUPES - especially if you are super-tall (like me). They have made an ENORMOUS difference in the quality of my work. I got 3.0x and am considering getting a head lamp because I can't stand the lamps in the clinics here.

Again, baby steps. Today we cut our first class I OB on #19; despite being the first time - this turned out to be the best prep I have ever made. After celebrating mentally, I quickly realized that I still need to practice amalgam placement because a beautiful prep means jack shit if you can't properly place the amalgam.

Next, we tried an OL prep on #3 - my prep resembled a giant abyss with craggy outcroppings. Using the mirror is truly a getting-used-to experience.

Again, baby steps. The key is to get better..the problem is that many people expect to become dental gods insantly - we are here 4 years for a reason. Your hands might be shaky..that isn't a unique problem - it has to do with finger rests and getting comfortable with the handpiece. You need to develop certain muscles in your hand that you have never really used.

This takes time, again - BABY STEPS.

The greatest frustration though is when you suddenly FALL backwards in progress. You have just made a killer prep and suddenly your next one looks completely terrible. Don't cry, just do it again. I have started coming in on weekends to get some extra practice; this helps ten-fold. The place is dead, all the material is just sitting around for you, and silence is bliss. It is nice to not have someone bump into you while you are drilling away.

I can also get my rubber dam on in about 5 minutes now instead of 10...BABY STEPS!

Don't expect to be a pro at everything you do the first time. You learn as you go, you learn as you repeat. If you feel uncomfortable after several repeats, get extra practice. A lot of people say hand skills are either had or not..this is bullshit. It is just like any other skill; some people just need more time to develop said skills.

The real difficulty lies in balancing didactic coursework with clinic practice...because a grade is a grade regardless of how useless the class seems (neuroanatomy).

However, the most important thing..and I'll probably make an entire post about this later is NOT to compare yourself to your peers. There will be a few people in your class that are just naturally awesome at the clinic stuff - do NOT get intimidated by them. In fact, get advice if you can, most of them will be happy to help and they often have cool tricks that other professors told them. You guys are a class - work together.

Whenever I compare my crap prep to someone who is nailing them, it just drives me nuts. Everyone advances at different paces - focus on YOU. When I actually do that, I calm up a ton because I realize that I am getting loads better each and every prep. The occasional positive reinforcement from a professor always helps as well. The fact that I was able to do a great job on the OB on #19 on the first shot was a pretty cool experience. Now if only I could get the maxillary thing down... well..maybe I'll just have to refer those out...DENTIST (mandibles only).

Tomorrow is the famed 'Clinic and Research Day' here at UIC. Remember how I did that summer research deal? Yea, well now I am forced to present a poster on my research tomorrow. The problem is...I haven't really looked at this stuff very much since August and I'm going to be getting judged and have to present to research elitists. UGH.

So I realized that there is no way I am going to re-learn every little detail on wound-healing and mast cells in the next hour or so...I figure I may as well just wing it.

The research really isn't complete, so why I am doing a presentation is beyond me. Oh well, 2 hours of embarrasment is worth the 500 bucks I am getting (still owed from the summer deal).

It really isn't THAT bad...I actually made a poster so that refreshed my memory enough to answer the basics. It made me nostalgic for the days of summer when I could wake up a 9am and be home by 2...with an entire day of lazing around ahead of me.


On our first neuro quiz, only 4 out of 67 got all the questions right. I should mention that there were only THREE questions and they were MULTIPLE CHOICE. The professor insists that if 4 people can get perfects, then we all just need to study more. Yeap...worst class ever. I smell a remediation....well I'm sure 62 others do as well.

Ah but I'll save that for my next D-1 experience post. Hopefully I'll find time once gross anatomy finishes up in 2 weeks.

Now I better go over my poster again so I don't look as stupid tomorrow.