Young dentists – are we thriving or surviving?

Are young dentists surviving or thriving?Beth Bradley questions whether young dentists are thriving or surviving in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s six months into my first year as a dentist. Many young dentists are now in their groove as successful dental practitioners. The early anxieties for simple dental tasks are gone, the days of having colleagues popping in to see what we’re up to are over and we are finally feeling that ‘we’ve got this’.

But wait, there is a flurry of talk in the lunch room about a nasty virus that’s having devastating effects in Wuhan, China.

All will be well

Surely there is no way that will reach us here? We eagerly listen to public proclamations and ‘advice’ from the top bolstering an attitude that ‘all would be well’ and the UK are ‘well prepared’ to deal with any threat a pandemic may pose.

A position in hindsight, that now looks decidedly optimistic at best and myopic at worst.

Our dentistry bubble

We are a profession where daily, regular hand-washing is the norm, personal-protective-equipment is standard and our cross-infection control procedures are endless. It was understandable to feel protected or cocooned in our dentistry bubble. Surely the normal equipment and protocols which protect us daily would protect us now?

We know now – there is absolutely nothing ‘normal’ about the coronavirus and its effects.

#Downdrills

The number of cases quickly began to rise. Guidelines for dentistry were no sooner released before they were deemed defunct and usurped by another ambiguous document for us to process.

Finally, the time came to #downdrills introducing a trending approach and displaying a united front from the dental community. We now knew that even our ‘bread and butter dentistry,’ was unsafe.

Webinar FOMO

Suddenly we’ve found ourselves at home, perhaps triaging remotely or awaiting information on re-deployment.

It has been incredible to see the dental community banding together to support each other. As a young dentist seeing the ‘shining stars’ in the field offering free webinars and live CPD has been fantastic.

In all honesty it has been hard to keep up! The phrase ‘webinar FOMO’ springs to mind.

‘Even if you learn one thing today – you’ve won’

In these uncertain times it can look like everyone around you is thriving. We now have more time than ever to scroll through the ‘highlight reel’ of people’s lives.

To combat this try and set yourself small, achievable goals and targets. These can be as simple as cooking a healthy dinner or running that 5k today. Or as far reaching as completing the research paper you started months ago! Whatever you decide, go for it and hold yourself accountable!

‘Deciduous – the Young Dentist Forum’ is a new Facebook group that has arisen in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. It is a platform for young dentists to learn and grow alongside each other and a safe space to question and seek advice. The group has countless successful young dentists and many respected clinicians and specialists. It is the perfect forum for a young dentist or dental student to have a voice, ask that question and get a response without being fearful of feeling silly or wrong.

Are we thriving or surviving?

This is our turning point, will we thrive or just survive? To answer this I’ve asked my colleagues how they are coping during this pandemic. It is interesting to see just how differently we all respond to staying at home.

Let’s talk first to a colleague who is just ‘surviving’ this pandemic. She says: ‘I am missing the practical side of dentistry, after just coming out of university. I don’t like sitting back behind a screen and learning from webinars when I need to get the basic practical skills to a high standard first!’ This raises a fundamental aspect of dentistry. It is hands-on! As clinicians we are not hard-wired to sit behind a screen or treat through a telephone.

Yet another young dentist is thriving through this: ‘Telephone triaging is keeping dentistry at the forefront of [her] mind and teaching [her] in a different way.’ This is also true, suddenly that emergency patient is turning into a puzzle we must solve without our usual armamentarium of radiographs and special tests. We must work as detectives to derive the true cause of a patients pain from such limited information. I for one see a development in my own clinical diagnosis and analytical skills already.

Other young dentists who are surviving are ‘finding it difficult to stay motivated without [their] usual routines.’ Another worries about her ‘patients, colleagues and the changes that will occur in dentistry in the wake of COVID-19.’ One who is working in hospital is ‘grateful to be able to help but dislikes knowing [her] patients may be struggling at home.’ All of these are rational concerns. Our daily lives are interrupted with no prospect of what the future holds, it is only natural to worry. A fellow author on dentistry.co.uk wrote a piece which has 10 tips on how to cope with the new norm. This should help young dentists develop a daily routine and thrive during this pandemic.

On a positive note one young dentist says: ‘I’m thriving, making time for important things and the things I want to do. I’m using it as an opportunity to prepare myself for the future.’ Surely this resonates with many of us. As young dentists with burgeoning career goals and aspirations, this time is perfect to reflect on and develop our CVs and portfolios. All those cases you wanted to write up, that article you thought of or maybe even the CV you haven’t updated for years. Wouldn’t it be nice to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.

Many of my ‘thriving’ colleagues mention loved ones, with one ‘loving spending time with family and focusing on hobbies,’ another felt ‘lucky to be home in the countryside.’ If you are in this fortunate position don’t take it for granted. Spend time with your loved ones, take that beautiful walk, appreciate the nature around you. For me my family are in Northern Ireland, while I work in England, with no prospects of a flight home any time soon. However, I am enjoying spending time at home with those who I have. I have even taken up cycling…with limited success!

More in touch than ever

We miss seeing our friends and interacting with others. But, catching up with friends has really never been easier and family members are suddenly learning how to use their phones! You could say we are more in touch than ever, helping others where we can. We have slowed down, built resilience, adapted to our enforced circumstances and discovered what matters most.