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Sonia Karamchandani, 4th Year Dental Student

Sonia Karamchandani spoke to the ADA shortly after graduating from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC.  Dr. Karamchandani went on to continue her education in an AEGD program at the University of Florida-St. Petersburg. Reflecting on her time as a 4th year student, she shares a typical day:

6:30 a.m. Alarm goes off and I’m ready for another day of dentistry. I try to eat healthy, so I usually eat a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast. If there’s anything unusual about the procedures I have scheduled today, I may look over my notes one last time or get to school extra early to ask for additional guidance from faculty. It  took me awhile to learn the time management skills required for dental school—but now I’ve got a system that works! It’s really important to stay organized.

8:30 a.m. I live close by, so I walk to school which takes only about 10 minutes. Most days, I try to get to school a little early, so that I can review my day using the patient scheduling software at school and also check my ADA Appointment Book for any meetings that I might have that day. Each Tuesday morning I run by the Starbucks® in the hospital and head to class. The 4th years at my school attend class instead of clinic on Tuesday mornings. One class in particular is more of a discussion than a lecture. We talk about treatment plans or participate in a peer-learning activity, like listening to a presentation from a classmate. During the second semester, that Tuesday morning is open time… I spent many Tuesdays preparing for licensure boards. The rest of the week,during second semester, I see patients and attend an 8:00 am lecture on esthetics once a week.

9 a.m. I see my first patient of the day. Each appointment is scheduled for three hours, but as you become more comfortable and skilled, you can finish one procedure in a shorter amount of time and move onto something else, such as lab work.

10 a.m. I’m still working on my first patient. One of things that I love about dentistry is that it’s a different type of work every day—every day is challenge, every day is new, everyday is exciting. For example, let’s say I am scheduled to do a crown prep on a tooth, but when I greet the patient he is complaining about intense pain on biting.  I then try to diagnose this new problem and make sure the crown is the correct treatment. I may take a radiograph and discover that the tooth is fractured at the root, which means that I will now have to extract the tooth and rework the treatment plan.

11 a.m. If I have an appointment that doesn’t go as planned, I may signal a faculty to give me some additional guidance. Generally the faculty is around for certain check points during the procedure. It’s really helpful to have the faculty available whenever you need them. They will stay late or come in early to walk you through any procedures you’re  not comfortable with yet. I’m very lucky—the faculty at MUSC is amazing!  If I finish a procedure before lunch, I usually do lab work or review my charts for the next day.   

Noon  I usually eat lunch with my friends in the “4th floor lounge” at my school. There are several big tables and a pretty wide mix of people from my class. We talk about what procedures we have scheduled that day and what happened that morning—tell stories, share experiences. Talking things out with my dental school peers really helps me stay sane and manage stress. It’s comforting to be surrounded by people who understand and can listen … and you can do the same for them. As the year went on, I would cut lunch short, so I could go practice for boards on the mannequins.

1 p.m. Back to clinic for my second patient of the day. This appointment should go smoothly and I hope to finish early.

3 p.m. In 4th year, you spend a lot of time “jumping hurdles.” You go from working on a patient to practicing prepping crowns or other procedures and preparing for your next block rotation and boards. At our school, we rotate to certain areas for a week at a time, like pediatrics or oral surgery. Also, I may talk with a faculty member about a specific procedure, for instance, especially if I have a patient scheduled for something challenging like a perio surgery

4 p.m.   In January and February, I spend time searching for patients and practicing for my licensing exam coming up in March. At our school, we take our NBDE Part II first semester and the licensing boards in the spring. The licensing exam has both a written computerized portion and a patient portion, and it’s really challenging to find the patients with the exact lesions you need. The 4th year students in my class at MUSC decided to alternate screening patients from the local community who were in need of dental care. We all sign up to staff the clinic with a faculty member present for a couple hours in the evening during the months of January, February, and March, while we are looking for board patients. When we screen a patient who fits a requirement, we enter the case into a pool (with the patient’s consent)and then we have a lottery to determine which student gets matched up with which patient. The path to licensure is a seriously intense experience. It’s really expensive to take the boards, so there’s a lot of pressure to pass—it’s a lot of pressure in general.

6 p.m. I decide to skip the gym and just head home. It’s difficult to have a regular exercise routine in dental school, so you just go when you can and be happy with that! I heat up some leftovers and spend about an hour sending ASDA e-mails. I am the ASDA chair for the legislative grassroots network, which means I lead student efforts to monitor and affect change in legislation related to dentistry.  We inform students of important legislation and coordinate legislative events for students from all over the country.

7 p.m. - 11 p.m.  I need some quiet time to clear my head and let go of the day’s stress—I may decid to watch some TV or just relax. You can’t let everything that happened during the day prevent you from unwinding. And even though your life is dental school, there are ways to keep a balance. Our school holds a lot of charity events, sporting or social activities. I went to a silent auction and wine tasting put on by the American Association of Women Dentists—it was fun and helps to take your mind off of everything.

Before I go to bed, I’ll start to plan for the next day. I’ll review my calendar and if I have a procedure that I don’t have a lot of experience performing, like a post and core, which is used to build up a tooth for a crown in some cases. I’ll study notes from the class I took on that subject.  Or I’ll watch a how-to video on the procedure that one of our professors created. It’s much easier to study when you can watch the procedure happening with step-by-step instructions and tips. I try to get to bed every night by about 11 o’clock. It’s important to get a good night’s rest so you can be alert for your patient’s the next day.

Yes, dental school is stressful and more hard work than you can imagine, but it’s all worth it. I like the variety, love working with my hands, and the patient interaction is rewarding. I can help patients change something that bothers them or fix a dental problem—it’s amazing. And it’s different every day; you never know what challenge you may face. If you’re passionate about dentistry, and can stay organized and work hard—you’ll get through school just fine. I am really happy with the decision I made!