“You gotta,” said my parents.
A deviation from my usual posts about food. How ironic that I should have such an affinity for sugar while learning about all the horrible consequences it has on teeth – a telling sign of my hypocrisy. Funny that, because all my childhood I had pitied my friends who had dentists for parents who banned candy, and therefore fun; and now that I’m on my journey to hopefully become one, I barely fulfill my obligations to promote oral hygiene in my family.
As the title indicates, I never dreamed one day I’d be in dental school and that I won’t mind and even enjoy it. It never made the top 10, hell, top 100 of my career aspirations growing up. At first I defaulted to wanting to be a doctor due to certain paternal influences, then a pilot, a marine biologist, pastry chef (duh), a vet. When the time came to put down course preferences for uni, I secretly wanted to go into research and work for the AIBN. Whenever the topic of how I should consider dentistry instead of medicine came up, I’d resist without giving reason and refuse to give it the tiniest thought.
“Doctors have to work extremely long hours – have you not read the books I recommended about how medical interns are driven to insanity all the time?”
“Dentistry is a much better job for girls. So much cleaner, get to sit down all day. Girls don’t have the stamina to last night shifts.”
“I don’t think you have the empathy and optimism it takes. You’ll be the cause of your patients’ depression, if not death.” (I was shocked too at the brutal frankness)
All their persuasion became rather overwhelming and had the opposite effect – I wanted nothing to do with becoming a dentist and wanted to do medicine all the more desperately even if I knew in my guts I wasn’t completely up to it. Looking back, I don’t even know why I was so obsessed with studying medicine. Sure, I genuinely wanted to make a difference and I liked biology, but it was really more being infatuated with the idea of it, not the reality.
My parents are incredible, contrary to what I’ve been bitchily rambling about. They’ve gone out on a limb to make sure I had the absolute best education they could afford, moved me from school to school if there was the slightest problem with my teacher, finding me the best tutors and encouraging multi-faceted development, not just academic. Over the years I’ve had classes in Go (the board game), speech and drama, art, astronomy, computer, rollerskating, crosstalk, piano, flute, guitar, violin, extracurricular maths – most of which I enjoyed immensely and was not in the slightest pressured to be good at any of it, and was just for the sake of balanced learning. They never, ever disciplined me when I occasionally failed a test, or didn’t make top 5 in my class
So I understand why they were trying to discourage me from following in my Dad’s footsteps. They were trying to spare me the reality of life and death, the impossibly long training and ungodly work hours starting out. Even if I understood all their good intentions back then, I was adamant that I could withstand all that if I put in the effort.
That’s why when I found out I was one (ONE, 1!!) point off the UMAT threshold to be accepted into UQ med, I lost my shit. Of course, at the time I had no idea how close I was and was totally miserable about not guessing the last 5 questions (I was wrongly told there would be negative marking), seeing as an OP1 was almost guaranteed (not to be cocky – I knew bonus points would compensate up to 6 IB points).
I still didn’t give any thought to studying dentistry at all even when I put it down as a preference. In fact, I hated that it was perceived as a ‘back-up’ for those who failed to gain entry into medicine. I agonised over whether to obey my parents’ wishes and have dent as my 1st preference, or to go with my own and put down bonded medicine. I switched the top 2 countless times, eventually succumbing and put down dentistry. (I think I would’ve lied that I wasn’t able to get accepted into dent and got my 2nd preference instead, had I gone the other way) The morning results came out, and to my defeat I saw I was accepted into dentistry. It was the happiest day for my parents, and who can blame them, but I couldn’t stop being bitter about them succeeding in controlling my life. Before then I had had interviews for medicine and applied here and there, but I knew my chances were minute and it would depress me even more to confirm that I was rejected.
Being the bitter bitch I was, I was envious to tears at every one of my classmates who had been accepted into medicine and was frustrated beyond description that I had not put down bonded med first. By the way, since knowing about the dental workforce saturation crisis, it’s super ironic that such a huge deal is made out of bonded med students having to serve in a rural area now that I’ll probably have the same fate anyway in dentistry.
Long story short, I tried for UMAT again but half-heartedly and without real preparation in first year. I’m ashamed to say I had little respect for dentists before starting the course courtesy of my Dad’s mocking that all dentists ever say to patients is ‘ahh’ and that’s it. I confess I was utterly wrong and quickly gained tremendous respect for the wealth of knowledge and professionalism that my tutors and lecturers carried with them. I remember being absolutely gobsmacked at how dentists do their job every day when I couldn’t even hold a handpiece properly or use indirect vision.
Now near the end of two years studying dentistry, it’s been the most intellectually challenging and stimulating experiences I’ve had. It’s made me appreciate the depth of knowledge and critical thinking that goes into every single diagnosis. It’s exposed me to some of the best professionals in the field who are so passionate in what they teach and truly care about patients. It’s afforded me the most practical, hands-on learning experience – what other course lets you play with wax and knives and high speed drills and fake people?
Would I still apply for medicine again if my grades allowed? Maybe, but I don’t regret for a second for accidentally studying dentistry. It was never my intention to do it, I certainly didn’t expect to not hate every second of it – but hey, here I am, glad to be proved wrong for being a pre-judgemental hater.