Electives, exams and the East End

Elective projects provide students with a great opportunity to take a break from dental school life and satisfy their appetite for adventure. After spending the past four years studying to be a dentist in the East End of London, like many other students, I decided to incorporate some international travel into my short period of study at another dental school.

I spent an unforgettable month working with a children’s charity dental programme in Paraguay. However, that month soon came to an end. Back at dental school for the first term of the fifth year, it wasn’t long before the preparation for our part four exams began.

These assessments consist of three integrated clinical papers and an Observed Structured Clinical Exam. They are designed to cover pretty much everything learnt in our clinical years and are considered the hardest exams to take during the BDS degree course.

Revision worries start early and talk about elective adventures is soon replaced with discussions about the exams looming ahead. As the nights draw in, the library fills with final-year students frantically searching through books to find out exactly what is the copy denture technique. During the day, clinics become a frenzy of final-year activity with all the students desperately trying to complete all their clinical in-course assessments.

However, amongst all the stress and hard work characterising the run up to the exams, it is encouraging to look around and see all of the fifth year students working together. People who normally just pass each other by share notes and revision tips.

It’s times like these that make me glad that I chose a dental school with such a sense of community and genuine friendliness about it. Staff and students socialise together and, with just 60 students in each year, everyone seems to know everyone else. Unfortunately, in the run up to the exams, social activities get put on hold with nights down the pub being wisely spent in the library instead.

Thankfully everyone in our year passed the pre-exam requirements to sit their exams, and having just finished them everything seems to have gone well.

After a month of hard work the first port of call before the ink is even dry on our last exam is the Good Samaritan pub next door to the dental school. Here everyone comes to celebrate the end of the exams and discuss how they think they’ve done.

I recently saw a report on the news claiming that medical and dental students work, on average, 45 hours a week. That’s 25 more hours than students on other courses, but it’s not all work, work, work. Dental students at the London are a sociable bunch and love a good night out, whether it’s at the union or in one the many trendy bars dotted around Hoxton and Shoreditch.

East London may not seem the greatest place in the country to study and live – Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham are some of the most deprived London boroughs. But, regardless of its bad bits, East London has its own unique charm and a cultural diversity that is hard to beat. Hidden amongst the traditional cockney boozers are unusual bars, great restaurants and some of London’s best clubs.

It’s a far cry from the homogenised and over-priced West End that many people first think of when conjuring up images of London nightlife. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. With the exams over, I can now enjoy all of what the East End has to offer after a long day in clinics, the lab and (of course) the library.

Martin Lazenby is a final-year dental student at Bart’s and the London Dental School.

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