By: Mohammed Hammoud
There is only one way to know if your purpose aligns with your career, and that is to pursue it. I often pondered beforehand if I was making the right decision in pursuing dentistry. I shadowed hundreds of hours and volunteered my time to be positive I was making the right decision.
I will say I was never the same after I sat in the chair for the first time and performed my first cleaning. It is almost surreal being the care provider, respected for my opinion and knowledge. I doubted myself many times during my first year, and even until now, I continue to wonder about the type of clinician my patients experience.
My First Year in Dentistry
I made the decision to move to Florida and attend Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Dental Medicine (LECOM) mainly because of their clinical experience and emphasis on patient care. LECOM prides itself in providing high-quality care at an affordable cost. In addition, in our fourth year, we go to one of two outreach locations and provide a service in areas where there is a dental shortage.
I always dreamt of becoming a general dentist but more importantly, I always dreamt of giving back to communities in need because that is what I was taught. I had the opportunity to travel abroad and work firsthand with a dentist in areas of poverty and struggle. I know my work will allow me to always give back and LECOM will be part of this mission. Through my studies, travels, and clinical experience thus far, I know that people from all walks of life will enter the office allowing me to learn more about dentistry, myself, and most importantly, my patients.
My first year in dental school was not typical compared to the years prior. With the COVID pandemic being relatively new, all our courses were online and in-person we were social distancing in the lab. I found myself struggling a bit to focus during class (I think we can all relate to this a little bit). I found myself making scrambled eggs or making a gourmet cereal bowl, instead of paying attention. It was really hard to focus, living alone and not going out much. I would wake up minutes before class and zoom in.
I felt like I was not getting the dental experience that I had imagined prior to the pandemic, but I was not putting in the effort. As a result, the first half-semester exam scores were not as high as I’d liked. I began to question my motivation, re-evaluate my purpose, and reflect deeply on what I should do. I woke up earlier, had breakfast prior to class, changed out of my PJs, and focused. It would be difficult at times, but I managed my time better and created a more school-like atmosphere. In the second half of my first semester, I saw improved scores.
Learning To Fall Forward
In the second semester of D1 year, we take operative dentistry, the basics of dentistry. That is when I knew one thing: I was not born with golden hands. I remembered reading how it would take me 10,000 hours to master a new skill in this case operative dentistry. It was quite terrifying to think how long that would take me. I became even more discouraged when we began indirect vision.
After weeks of butchering my plastic teeth and failing my practical exam, I re-watched a short ted talk with Josh Kauffman. The highlight of his talk is that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, but only 20 hours to become reasonably good at something. I asked myself, “was I putting in the effort to even become good at it?” I wrote down the main points of the talk again and committed them to memory.
Step one was to deconstruct the skill; the second is to learn to self-correct; the third is to remove practice barriers, and the fourth is to practice for at least 20 hours. The difficult part is that dentistry is multifaceted, and every component will need its own 20 hours. So, I broke down my long-term goal of mastering dentistry into more attainable short-term goals.
With only a couple of months away from walking into the clinic, I feel more confident knowing I have accomplished several short-term goals rather than failing to achieve one long-term goal. I still have a lot of work to put in, but this was an effective way to overcome this temporary obstacle.
To conclude, I realized that I am bad at trying new things. I tried avoiding aspects of dentistry that ruined my confidence, especially when it came to indirect vision. I noticed that I cannot learn anything new unless I tried. As a result, I failed and repeated a lot of my work whether it was graded or not. I may have failed more practice attempts than succeeded, now that I think about it. Maybe I felt like a fool turning in my work, but then again, I was closer to my 20 hours of becoming good at something.
When it comes to my mindset, I owed it to myself, but more importantly to my future patients to be the best version of myself at every stage in my dental journey. I continuously revise my goals, meet my goals, and even fall short of my goals, but it is all a learning opportunity.
As always, fall forward. Until next time!
Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy