Monday, May 12, 2008

The D-1 Experience V

With the D-1 year officially completed, I figured I would provide one last post as a sort of summary of what the first year is like. Mental stamina is probably the most important skill one must possess to be successful. You need to grind out studying night after night once the semesters get rolling. There really are few ‘breaks’ during semesters. It is emotionally draining to spend 9 hours away from home, only to return to books and power point lectures. Nothing we learned this year was what I would call ‘hard.’ It essentially is a chalk-full bag of basic science. BASIC being the key word. We are simply expected to cram a bunch of minutia, pass the classes, and then remember enough to pass the boards. Once we get beyond the boards, we will proceed to forget 95% of the things we studied so hard for – a testament to the gross inefficiency of professional education (it ain’t just dental schools).

HOWEVER, the relevant information we did learn WILL stand on its own. The actual dentistry related courses were sparse this year, but useful and relevant to the career we all have chosen. However, I often felt isolated from dentistry in general as I was stuck in a lecture hall memorizing how fatty acids are synthesized or what a cross section of the spleen looks like. Don’t get my negativity wrong either, some basic science is essential for you to be a functioning individual in the world of human health. However, it felt like a smorgasbord of random facts as opposed to concise and relevant information. Most of the courses overlapped as well and course directors definitely do not communicate with one another. I don’t know how many times I was forced to sit through a lecture about respiration in different classes…the same information rehashed by a different professor.

We are going to apparently get some clinical experience the first semester of our D-2 year, which is frightening and exciting at the same time. I am not prepared at all to deal with live patients, but I would gather most of my peers feel the same. You can talk about treating patients until you are blue in the face, but it isn’t until you get in there and work with them that you will actually develop and learn. I will delve into this as the D-2 year gets going.
Many upperclassmen say the first year sucks the worst, while others argue that second is harder. However, it seems to be the general consensus that third and fourth years are MUCH better.
So for all the type A’s out there…I know most of you reading this fall into that category:
D-1 Summary:

First Semester –

Straight-forward and fairly easy; the only challenge is gross anatomy and this class probably is most important as well once you get into head and neck. Micro, physio, and histo are all manageable for anyone willing to put in a bit of time. If you have taken these courses in undergrad, things will be a bit smoother (but don’t expect free A’s).

Human dentition is a very important course and you will probably learn a LOT more than you expect (even without noticing right away). Wax-ups WILL eat up a big chunk of your time. If your school provides you with a torch, take them home to do work occasionally, it helps.

Any other dentistry related classes will be introductory at best. We were only cutting class I preps on the mandibular 1st molars by the end of the semester. The only real challenge is reminding yourself that it is OK to not be perfect right away.

Even more important than class itself is not alienating yourself from your peers. You will be spending a LOT of time with these people over the coming years. You aren’t all going to be best friends, but it isn’t that difficult to be courteous and friendly to everyone. School = stress, which often turns people into cranky, paranoid, and delusional douchebags – so don’t become one of those. You will be surprised how many close friends you make and even more surprised at how fast you make them.

Adjustment is also a key point. This semester is much lighter than the second, so getting into a ‘groove’ or study pattern NOW will save you a lot of trouble in the future. Finals are a royal pain the ass – but get through them you will.

Second Semester –

Much tougher in comparison to the first semester. More classes, more pre-clinical activities, plenty of useless requirements with mandatory attendance. I was disappointed in that much of our pre-clinical restorative classes seemed wasted on procedures we were not equipped to do (composites without any tools meant for them for example). We also did sealants and liners and other things we won’t be doing again for a year or so. I would have rather spent this time cutting and filling preps. I would rather learn a few skills really well than many skills poorly.

Which brings me to something different this semester, you will be coming into the school a lot more to work on pre-clinical activities like restorative. I came in quite often on weekends to practice and I’m not amazing yet, but I am happy with my work at this point. Learning the hand skills part of dentistry is the same as studying for an exam, you have to go over the motions again and again. What makes this hard is finding time. It is easy to lose sight of why you are in dental school when you are swimming through piles of biochem handouts. MAKE time for your pre-clinical work.

Biochem was the biggest bitch of a class I have ever taken. It was not the hardest at all – but it was so so very difficult to focus on. It requires a LARGE sum of time to do well and the material is absolutely dull and irrelevant (for the most part). We had 5 lectures a week and 7 exams (including a cumulative final). I just remember the mental agony of trying to study for these exams and wanting to jump off my roof each and every time.

Physio and histo were about the same as last semester. Gross anatomy was short for us and finished in February (it still was tough..but not nearly as bad as last semester). Neuroanatomy was another class I struggled to study for.. outside of the relevant cranial nerve and pain management info..most of the class felt too detailed for me to care about. This class could probably have been merged into gross anatomy because I have heard it isn’t hammered very hard on the boards in the first place and there is no way the questions will be as detailed (I of course can retract this uninformed guess after I take the boards).

Occlusion was interesting, but a bit confusing at times. The lab work also required too much free time while struggling with all the other courses at the same time. The first half of the semester was much more organized lecture-wise. I was lost after the midterm. The wax-ups were quite possibly the most frustrating experience of the entire D-1 year. Getting those perfect tri-pod contacts while maintaining an esthetically pleasing wax-up is an exercise in futility unless you have done it MANY MANY times.

Pathology started out being the best course of the semester but quickly faded into a cram-fest with lectures that were just too damn long. I would rather meet 3 times a week for 50 minutes than once a week for 2 hours. Next semester we meet twice a week for 2 hours each…ugh. At the least the tests themselves were quite manageable and geared up like board questions.

Radiology was great for the most part. I actually enjoyed the material and wish we could have made this course worth more than 10% of comprehensive care Ib. Given how important this topic is, I am surprised we don’t get more training. I haven’t looked at the schedule beyond this summer maybe we will get more.

This semester is just a marathon of studying. However, you can do just fine if you are good at managing your time and are an efficient studier. It is also VERY nice to get a spring break tossed into the semester to recharge the batteries.

Finals…oh where do I begin? This was the greatest academic challenge I have faced in my entire life. We had 12 total exams in 2 weeks (3 of them being performance exams). It is VERY difficult to juggle multiple topics at once but I had no other choice.

Honestly, I am not going to try to put this into words. It is an experience that I would rather not remember when looking back on these posts years from now. Unless you actually go through it, you won’t be able to relate anyways. You don’t WANT to relate to this either, so we will leave it at that.

They sucked. But I got through it, and many have done it before me, and many will do it after me. Well done to all that have. Have a beer or 10 because you’ve earned it.

2nd semester test count!
Practicals – 2
Quizzes – 32
Bullshit Papers – 3
Performance Exams – 4
Written Exams - 26


The first year is mentally exhausting. You are constantly struggling to cram for the next random test and equally struggling to motivate yourself. Finding motivation to study for something as irrelevant as biochem is more challenging than you might expect – especially after sixty-some lectures.

The first year is also frustrating because you are ‘new’ to the school and a freshman all-over…for the THIRD TIME…bleh. You are pretty much viewed as an ignorant idiot by everyone at the school..which is somewhat fair..because well.. you are.

Another unique aspect is that you are getting used to the community of dental school. You are stuck with the same people day in, day out, for everything…EVERYTHING. They say it is a lot like high school, and I disagree. In high school, you had different classes with different people. In dental school, you have the same classes with the same people 8 hours a day, and no summer vacation.

It is like lord of the flies with hand pieces.

All right, this sentimental rambling has gone on long enough. Seeing as I haven’t had any second year experience, I will save difficulty comparisons and stress levels for the future.

As shitty as things get, you will have your good moments as well – and the time goes by REAL fast. I still feel like I started this blog a few months ago and it’s already been about 1.5 years. My, my, I will be graduating before I know it.

Apologies for late email replies, I am just finally getting back into a normal circadian rhythm.

D-1 year = Fin

And so begins my life as a D-2…crap.