A few short months ago, back at the beginning of fall semester, a couple random classmates and I were chatting while standing in line to use a model trimmer. We were talking about the newly minted first year dental students and how fresh faced and eager they all were (as, I’m sure, we were just a year prior). Having newer dental students at the school was quite novel to us then. Somebody mentioned that one of the newbs was Vlogging dental school, another kid commented that a few people have Vlogged first year of dental school but nobody vlogs second year.
See, second year of dental school is a bit like Fight Club in that you don’t talk about the second year,not while you’re in it
….because you just don’t have the time and energy Actually it’s like Fight Club in some other ways too: second year students (D2s) all look pretty rough and beat but there’s a comradery to being on the inside, it’s challenging but we’re revelling in the difficulty of the tasks at hand, getting through it provokes a deep sense of pride and accomplishment. But, mostly, we are all in pain (physically from stress and lack of sleep or mentally and emotionally) and questioning our collective existence while just trying to survive the hours and hours of labs and lectures; just trying to get through the competencies and skills tests, the rotations and the exams. Holy hell, the exams! We had 10 finals total, 8 in one week along with a random four hour Sim lab crammed in for good measure. By the end of finals week the D2s looked like the walking dead in scrubs.
But we survived. We all somehow made it to the two and a half week December break and, as far I can tell, most everyone did so thoroughly enough to make it to the next semester.
So what is the point of this post? I’m not really sure…to share the misery? Not really. To give you a peek into the life of a D2 student? Definitely not! There just isn’t time; another intense semester just started and it’s going to be at least as arduous as the one I just survived. In fact, the schedule this semester was so daunting that I considered going off grid and not coming back to school….if only I wasn’t already a quarter million dollars deep in student loan debt. Most likely I just need to whine a little about this. Because it is, and has been, super rough these past few months. In the really tired moments I question what I’m doing and why I’m here. I wonder if I made a huge mistake and feel panic and dread inside. On paper I am excited and grateful to be where I am and to have this opportunity (and I really, truly am) but the magnitude of the task at hand is great. I don’t feel ready and suddenly I just don’t know if I can handle the responsibility of patients’ health and well-being resting in my hands. All those decisions being mine to make and the consequences if them being my responsibility (and liability).
Towards the end of that brutal finals week, while sitting in a small room with a few classmates who have also become friends, trying to cram enough information into my brain to do okay on the next final, I brought it up. “Maybe I’m Not supposed to be a dentist and I should just go home now.” I said in a not quite joking tone. I question and doubt myself on a daily basis right now. I feel like I’ve worked so hard and learned so much since August of 2018 but I really don’t know anything. How am I going to be ready to treat patients in four very short months? One of my friends whose dad is a dentist then said she’d been feeling the same way lately and that she unloaded to her dad about it. Apparently he reassured her that most dental students feel that way at some point in second year.
The self-doubt is real, folks, but it seems this is “normal” for the second year of dental school. Congratulations, me, I’m normal! Maybe this self-doubt and sense of impending dread that’s so pervasive is what makes us into good dentists. Perhaps the fear of being incompetent and harming people with our ineptitude is what motivates us D2s to kick it up yet another notch and push ourselves just a little harder. Could it be that this stress and struggle is the transforming fire that we have to pass through? I guess we’ll see.