What’s life like at dental school following lockdown? – a student’s perspective

university after lockdownWith dental students returning to university, we speak to Gursahib Sohal about what life is like following the COVID-19 lockdown.

Have you gone back to living at university?

Yes. I’m actually living in a shared house with some other dentists.

Did the university encourage you to come back?

Because we’re in the final year, we’ve all been encouraged to come back to Manchester. This is so we can progress enough clinically to reach a standard to graduate on time.

I believe third years are online for the first semester, so they could potentially stay at home.

Fourth year students are back at the university, but limited to clinical skills and oral surgery clinics up till January.

What’s it been like since moving back? Are you trying to keep social distancing from everybody in the house?

It’s been great to be back finally after a long time off and it felt relatively normal.

Most final years share accommodation with other course mates, so it’s been great to see them again also.

In our house we don’t socially distance as we are in the same bubble.

In some circumstances, not all, if you’re living with dentists, you may have been put into the same groups for clinical skills or clinic. That way the university can help limit contact with many different people and hence reduce the risk of receiving or transmitting the virus.

Is there social distancing within the university?

Yes, the university is encouraging that. Two metres distance between us all where possible throughout the hospital grounds, with one metre at least if areas are slightly busier.

But it depends on the situation. Obviously when you’re seeing patients and so on, that’s not possible.

If you need guidance from tutors or consultants, they will breach the one-metre rule, as they may assess a patient with you. However, as everyone is wearing appropriate PPE, this will eliminate risk.

Manchester is a hot spot right now, so it is crucial to try to stick to the distancing rules as much as possible.

What has it been like in Manchester? Does it feel quieter?

I wouldn’t say so to be honest. You can really tell the students are back. Especially when you take a trip through university campuses or go into the city centre on an evening.

The first year students who have just come as freshers are keen to enjoy themselves. But with the 10pm national lockdown restrictions, they’ve been hosting their own parties on campuses.

So, it’s quite risky being a student in Manchester right now.

We’ve been told not to go near any new student campuses. These are considered higher risk and it only seems to be getting worse.

What’s your course been like? What changes has the university made?

We got an outline of the course and how the university is planning for us to see patients as regularly as possible with patient contact from day one. There’s a lot of changes in terms of the structure.

A clinical skills course has been implemented to make sure we remain competent in a variety of restorative and oral surgery procedures. The university has put a lot of emphasis on this for the first six months.

We’ll undertake non-AGP and AGP clinics on alternative weeks. For non-AGP procedures, we’re in the main restorative clinic.

We’re in small groups with three students to one tutor. Here, we can see a patient without having to adhere to any fallow times.

But then to continue experiencing AGP procedures, we’ve got a clinic the following week. This is in a side surgery where we will get one-to-one guidance from a tutor whilst we see a patient.

It’s the first time we’ll get an opportunity to work closely with a tutor. This should give us a great opportunity to learn and understand aspects of procedures and dentistry more quickly and thoroughly.

We will also have oral surgery clinics where we will treat patients routinely.

Our patients will book in for us by the hospital, which should hopefully ensure we have a broad range of clinical experience by the end of the year.

Do you feel you’re getting the full education?

I think as a whole year group in terms of experience, we’re all quite concerned. We don’t know how the year will play out.

We hope patients will make their scheduled appointments. But they might not come in because of COVID or other reasons. It’s understandable with the situation we are all facing.

We may not get the experience we would have. But you never know.

I think the whole year group is a little apprehensive to see how it goes.

We know we’re not going to get the experience we would have a few years ago. But we’re trying to make up for it with the clinical skills course.

Although we’re not working on real patients, it’s still helping in terms of honing our skills.

We know the university has placed emphasis on the final years to make sure we meet our targets, so we hope this pays off.

Over lockdown we did get a lot of online teaching, which was really useful. We discussed case patients and various topics in dentistry, really aiding our theoretical knowledge whilst we couldn’t improve practically.

The university has without doubt tried its hardest to create a year plan.

How do you feel the university has reacted to everybody coming back?

I think the university has done the best it can in the situation. With Manchester in particular, the architecture of our building doesn’t help with airflow.

The reaction is positive in a sense that we have been constantly kept up to date with regular emails regarding changes to the university and getting our fit tests done.

Some universities came back earlier than us. Which we would have loved.

But we understand that our university is different in terms of its layout. And further plans need putting in place before we came back.

Everybody is trying their best and that’s what we can appreciate.

Do you feel you’re getting value for money from your course as it stands?

I think with what’s going on right now it’s hard to justify the fees we currently pay.

Since lockdown till the end of the academic year last year, all of university was online.

This year lectures and EBL sessions are online, with less clinical time compared to a normal final year.

We understand as students the reasons for these changes, but our fees should also reflect this. I’m sure all students would agree.

A lot can happen over the next year. But if things were to continue the way they are, do you feel you’re ready to enter the world of dentistry if you were to graduate? Or has the COVID pandemic held you back?

The way they’ve organised the course, I think personally I would feel comfortable graduating.

I feel it’s a good structure they’ve got.

Like most students I’m still concerned that we may not get continual experience in certain dental procedures. But I still remain hopeful that the new course structure may compensate for this.

The clinical skills course is going to help with a lot in terms of restorative dentistry. It will make sure all students are competent in various procedures. Even if they can’t do them on patients for now.

Personally, I’m hoping to do further training in restorative dentistry after university. So I’m really looking forward to it.

If all plans work out we should get a wide range of experience by the end of the year. Hopefully we all go into our dental foundation training year full of confidence.

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