‘Dental Olympians’: Moving forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato
As I watch the New Year’s Eve ball dropped, I embraced the memories of 2019 and waited for the year to end in hopes that 2020 will be even better. But no one could have predicted what the past six months have been like from a pandemic requiring everyone to safely distance themselves and staying at home, to protests and riots occurring across the nation.
During the week of our spring break, a thief by the name of SARS-CoV-2 robbed us of our plans, celebrating our graduation ceremony, and causing an abruptness to find closure in saying goodbyes, and expressing words of gratitude to our dental faculty and friends. On Friday, March 13, multiple events were canceled: NCAA’s March Madness and so many more. These cancellations emphasized how serious this matter was. Emails were sent notifying to us that clinic may not resume that following Monday. This time created lots of uncertainties. The world was going through something that was unprecedented.
During this time, class of 2020’s dental students across the nation scrambled to graduate with questions of “Will I be able to return to clinic? How will we complete our graduation requirements and obtain licensure?” During the beginning of COVID-19, a private Facebook group spread like wildfire from the West to East Coast, in two days accumulating students from across the nation, to band together to graduate. We no longer felt alone. We all helped each other prepare for the exams by our shared feelings of camaraderie and advocating for other states by writing letters of petition in support of alternative exams to obtain licensure due to not being able to see patients safely.
Despite all the frets of the world, I have seen so much connection, compassion, empathy, and kindness across the world. One of my professors had joked that the Class of 2020 was the class of “Perfect Vision.”
But I call us the “Dental Olympians.”
In uncharted waters, we had demonstrated on numerous accounts our resilience, patience, and grit. Most of us obtained licensure on an exam that has never been tested before, we had to find alternative ways to complete our graduation requirements, and to make sure everyone was safe, our graduation ceremonies were held virtually.
I wanted to emphasize that during this COVID-19 pandemic, we were never alone. Yes, we all had our own uncertainties but, “in the same storm, not everyone is in the same boat.” Being mindful, patient, compassionate, and understanding are all good traits to have as a dentist. It is helpful to remember the struggles that we all felt during dental school and COVID-19, these feelings also echo within our patients.
I want to share some advice that I have learned these past few months from faculty and continuing education courses, as we continue to move forward to care for our patients:
1) Humility: Learn from other people: we do not know everything. Seek answers to find a way to care for your patients to the best of your ability, upholding the virtues of “beneficence.”
2) Kindness/grace/compassion: Open up your heart and listen – do not listen to react.
I quote Maya Angelou because this holds true to how you treat others: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Continue to practice this kindness to anyone that comes your way, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.
3) Benefit of the doubt: Listen and hear what others have to say.
4) Perfectionism: You are human, so learn from your mistakes, and do not be so hard on yourself. Have self-compassion and patience for yourself.
5) Balance: Continue your hobbies, continue to take care of yourself by physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. “No one can pour from an empty cup.”
6) Curiosity: We pledged an oath to be lifelong learners. We are leaders in your own community; we pledged that oath to do our best. Continue asking questions and being actively engaged in the dental community. The amount of effort you put in is the amount of effort that you will gain from it.
7) Gratitude: My family often used this quote, “The apple that falls from the tree, remember where that apple originated.” It reflects remembering those that made you who you are today and provided so much support and sacrifice for you to achieve your dreams.
8) Positivity: Stay positive and spread that positive contagiousness, people will want to be with you if you are the light that shines during that darkness.
9) Leadership: Lead by example, your words and actions matter most in how you treat others and make others feel. Do not be afraid to perform actions such as bringing the trash out or helping your assistant clean up when you have down-time. A small gesture like this goes so far.
10 Confidence: Believe in yourself, you went through four years of dental school and acquired a plethora of experiences – you got this!
Congratulations, my fellow dental colleagues. Let us make our dreams come true by making a difference in someone’s life.
Dr. Jessica Nguyen is a recent dental graduate from the University of Minnesota-School of Dentistry. Dr. Nguyen will be working as an associate general dentist in Forest Lake, Minnesota. She enjoys spending time with her family, singing, trying new foods with her friends, and playing sports. Dr. Nguyen connects with others by learning from their stories because she believes each person has a life lesson that one can learn from. She is passionate about volunteering and helping others by giving advice to pre-dental students, dental students, and sharing positive, uplifting, inspirational stories to guide others to become successful, achieve their dreams, and live life to the fullest. Any questions/comments and please reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.