The class of COVID 19/20 – how dental students are surviving during lockdown

Dental student celebratingJennifer Rawes describes what life is like for a final year dental student whilst on lockdown during the COVID-19 lockdown.

An unprecedented end

With merely months to graduation, students in the final year of their undergraduate degree (including myself) were preparing for the final lap of the marathon that is dental school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. Students had about two weeks of uncertainty. There was much speculation for how things would develop behind the scenes. We held many student leadership team meetings as well as national stakeholder meetings before all UK dental schools had paused treatment and teaching for the foreseeable future, shortly after which the UK entered lockdown.

Lockdown limbo

Suddenly detached from the dental schools, students anxiously waited to hear more information with regard to assessments. In this uncertain time, no one had a full understanding of how long this period would last; whether we would be able to return to complete our cases or whether we would have to complete exams remotely. Students looked to staff. However, each level of authority was awaiting those senior to them to provide guidance. Patience was key.

Soon staff started disseminating information. Final year students would not return to university and we would hold outstanding examinations remotely (online). I found this surprisingly disappointing, almost an anticlimax to the years of build up. I’d built rapport with my patients and felt genuinely excited to complete their treatment plans. And then present the work with pride. However, this was no longer the reality. I wouldn’t see these patients again. I worried about the stability of the mid-treatment temporary crowns in some cases and whether I would be able to help the next student to adopt the case in any way. Eventually I reached the conclusion that there was no benefit to ruminating over these factors. I couldn’t control them, therefore I needed to focus on the things within my control in this strange reality.

The silver lining

Despite the unconventional end to my degree, the pandemic state provided ample perspective of the devastating circumstances others were experiencing. Therefore, I was determined to look for the silver lining, which was the blessing of time! I was certainly guilty of previously thinking on many occasions: ‘If only I had more time’. Therefore I was going to make the most of the time; I created a plan for my new routine within the limitations of a COVID-19 Britain.

The new norm – 10 tips I focused upon to cope in this uncertain environment

  • Create a routine – there was a period where I slept in and stayed up because, why not? But I found I became unproductive and craved the structure to my day. Therefore I made sure I got up and went to bed at a reasonable hour
  • Factor in exercise – with gyms shut and no summer holidays on the horizon it was far too easy to sit on the sofa. Exercise is key to a healthy body and mind. I was able to try new workouts gyms were posting online, doing a virtual eight-week program with friends on Facetime and spending time enjoying the exercise without the guilt that I don’t have time to workout
  • Reflection – I personally turned to prayer in uncertain times. Any form of peaceful thought and meditation can help to ground you in a period of stress
  • Sleep – during normal university I had a terrible habit of getting around five to six hours sleep a night or sometimes less. My body has definitely appreciated more rest, which is key to cognitive function
  • Hobbies – I love to cook and bake. For many months I hadn’t had the time to do so. So I have really enjoyed being able to practise this again (and my brother has too)
  • Webinars – the dental community has really come together in this period, providing fascinating and accessible information online. I have really tried to take advantage of these opportunities to learn as much as possible
  • Appreciate – this time has allowed me to enjoy the time spent with family, on the phone to friends, with pets, in the garden and fresh air. Things we often take for granted
  • Social media – although it has its blessings with online workouts, contacting friends, learning information etc, I did find that it was easy to be overwhelmed by how much everyone else seemed to be doing and therefore restricting the time I spent scrolling was important
  • Develop – it is rare to have such an extended period of time in the house. It’s a great opportunity to revise as well as work on new skills. I’ve been practising more yoga between revision
  • Relaxation – finally not having to rush to do the next job or meet the next deadline. Although I’ve listed a number of things I have done, I have allowed myself lots of relaxation time. I’m probably watching more Netflix than I ought to. I think it’s important to always find balance between being productive and allowing your batteries to recharge.

What next?

Although times are uncertain right now, we will come out of this period. Things will return to normal, there may be changes and adaptations to the way we practice, but it is key to be ready.

Having lost the last months of clinical practice in undergraduate training, not touching a high speed for six months before entering general practice, I am certainly feeling less confident. To mitigate this I am working to ensure I have a sound dental knowledge. I’m revising and particularly focusing on the topics I have always found more challenging. I’m also considering my development plan for the next year, which will help me to plan tutorials with my educational supervisor. Finally, I’m preparing resources and illustrations to show my patients next year to communicate diagnoses and treatments.

Coming out of this period I think the same key themes remain; it is important to always try to maintain a positive outlook. Utilise your time to the best of your ability, appreciate every blessing in your life and find balance between health and development.

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