The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of the dental profession. But what’s been its effect on dental students?
A recent study, published in the Journal of Dental Education, found the pandemic to have ‘significantly impacted’ dental education in the US.
It is likely that the same could be said for dental courses across the UK, as thousands of students were forced to substitute the clinic with online work.
We hear from a number of dental students about their pandemic experiences – and how it’s impacted their studies.
Walking into the dental school after six months since my last clinical session, I relived all the nerves of a fresher walking into university for the first time. The building I once was very familiar with had become unknown. With new social distancing measures and PPE rules, an instant adjustment was required.
Due to the pandemic, our third year ended prematurely. Unfortunately, we were not able to start seeing paediatric patients, start our periodontal cases, or sit our written exams. Further to this, we did not finish completing our ongoing labs on bridges and partial dentures.
In effect, this has significantly set back our clinical practice, progress and learning, making the thought of graduating inconceivable.
At Leeds, the typical fourth year curriculum has been adapted to meet the health and safety requirements, as well as ensuring that any knowledge missed due to the pandemic is integrated into our current teaching. Differences include lectures being pre-recorded or virtually presented.
Our weeks consist of half day labs rather than clinics. Patient interaction has been postponed until our competencies are met. The teaching in labs has remained much the same. However, the peer learning element (which was a beneficial opportunity for pre-tutor advice) is no longer permitted due to keeping a safe distance from one another.
Throughout this year, I am looking forward to refreshing my clinical skills as well as commencing treatment again with patients, from non-AGP to AGP procedures. With our timetable ever developing, I’m excited to reorientate myself to these new modifications for safe practice. And welcome the delivery of online teaching as I continue my dental education.
My term abruptly ended in March due to the pandemic. We had been seeing patients regularly but then all the clinics were shut down. We have clinical targets to reach as well as patients who need dental treatment. Who knew a virus could pause the world! Thankfully, our university already had online lectures and software in place so we could smoothly transition to the online world.
However, as we no longer had clinics, more coursework was set and workload was relatively high. Particularly alongside adjusting to living at home again. During this time, I felt overwhelmed, anxious and stressed. There was so much work, a lot of other things going on outside of university and still had to revise for numerous exams within that time.
The teachers were understanding but there’s only so much virtual support you can get. Mental health is a big issue within today’s world that needs to addressed more openly and supported more by university staff. Dentistry is a hard degree and the real world is even tougher.
Following summer term and a break, I’m glad we are back at university. Unfortunately, we are not seeing any patients until next year as it is not deemed safe and PPE is a huge cost. Nevertheless, the university has worked hard behind the scenes to make sure we reach our clinical targets. It has created phantom head scenarios to make it as lifelike as possible within the current circumstances.
By now, we would have been in an Enhanced Training Practice, which is an actual dental clinic where we work under supervision. However, without this, our soft skills are limited. Consolidating our knowledge and skills are not as fluid as they would be. Since it is my final year, I am apprehensive as to whether we will qualify in time and to the right standard to start working in the real world.
The future is unknown, and I worry my skills and knowledge will be subpar to graduate. But we can only hope and do our best. The pandemic has taught me to be grateful for what I have and I’m glad dentistry has many transferrable skills and can adapt to the ever-changing guidelines.
The uncertainty that comes with being a final year dental student as the global pandemic continues, is one that we are not trained to deal with. One of the contributors to this uncertainty is the five months of lost clinical time. This meant that we missed out on completing treatments for our patients, outreach placements in the community, hospital oral surgery rotations, the opportunity to go on an elective and much more.
Although it feels great to be back at university, I can’t help but wonder how we are going to be able to achieve our clinical totals in the remaining months that we have left, to graduate as the “safe beginner” that the GDC expects us to be.
Since our summer examinations were disrupted last year, it has been our responsibility to ensure that we are up-to-date with all our studies. A lot of the scheduled lectures from last semester have been rolled into final year. This has added to our workload. My university has been providing useful online resources and case discussions to help with this.
However, since starting final year I have realised that there is a backlog of forgotten content that I need to revise. This is on top of the new information that I’ve been learning this semester.
Furthermore, I study in a city where the rate of coronavirus continues to soar. Everyone is on high alert at the possibility of stricter lockdown measures. I am concerned that if this takes places, it will set us back and make it harder to obtain the clinical skills which we need. Dentistry is a hands-on course.
Therefore, the time we have now is precious, and we need every bit of practice that we can get in order to grow in confidence and experience as future clinicians.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a significant impact on dental education in all aspects! It wasn’t long until the dental school introduced the use of Zoom so that we could continue with group sessions and lectures as planned. We also had to submit all essays as normal. But nevertheless everything felt so strange and it was difficult to stay focused.
I also felt there was an emergence of varying free online webinars and workshops. This was helpful as it meant I could supplement gaps in my academic knowledge. But I also felt quite pressured to keep up with all the learning amongst all the coronavirus panic.
I’ve now finally began fourth year after the five-and-a-half-month break! More than anything, I feel grateful to be here in good health both physically and mentally. I also appreciate all the efforts of Peninsula Dental School to gently ease us back into dentistry.
Initially, it felt overwhelming, but I’ve settled back in now and I’m enjoying being back. I’m currently focused on recapping all the knowledge I may have forgotten over the long break. I used a dental drill for the first time since lockdown just a few days ago! I was surprised at how much I actually remembered.
Now that I’m settled in, it almost feels like I never left. However, the effects of COVID-19 are so evident. Every lecture and workshop is via zoom, and wipe down procedures on clinic are a lot more extensive. Our training now incorporates teledentistry and the masks we use for aerosol generating procedures are a lot heavier and tightly fitting.
We now also have specifically allocated single surgeries for AGPs. I’m really concerned about whether I’ll have as much clinical time. There are so many new things to learn, and I’m fearful that it’ll be easy to get left behind! But I have a lot of faith that the team at Peninsula are hard at work to get things in order for us all during such an uncertain time for dental education.
The past few months have been extraordinary to say the least. I never could have predicted that back in March, our last day at dental school would come so abruptly. One morning, I was finishing up on the paediatrics clinic and the next day, we were being told not to return to the dental school.
With fast-changing government guidance, this was a distressing time for us all, especially because no one had the answers. Everyone had to adapt so quickly. However, we all rose to the challenges of virtual learning and with online exams in May, it seemed this new way of life was staying.
A huge part of dentistry is the hands-on practical experience which is irreplaceable in our learning. This was the main aspect affected by the pandemic and is impossible to continue from home. Concerns about losing manual dexterity definitely crept in. But upon my return to fourth year and clinical skills commencing, I am starting to feel at ease again.
Currently, we are only going in for clinical skills and laboratory sessions two to three times a week. With double back to back sessions, the days are often exhausting but reassuring. We are all doing everything we can to stay on track and graduate on time. Online lectures are continuing for the foreseeable future, and with them mainly being pre-recorded, managing time has become vital.
Small group tutorials are also being held virtually with collaborative tasks set online, currently surrounding the topic of quality of patient care.
The greatest thing about returning to university has been feeling a sense of normality and structure again. Seeing friends, tutors and other people even in a new socially distanced, mask-wearing environment brings a sense of familiar comfort in this new era.
The future shows hope of seeing patients again and continuing the rewarding path to becoming a dentist.
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