Sophomore year I copied this open letter from an old listserv. What do you think about the author's advice? To Whom It May Concern: > > I am a first-year dental student, and I am addressing this transmission primarily to those of you that have already been accepted to dental schools starting next fall. I imagine that most of you have been concentrating on simply being accepted. However, now it is time to begin. I must say that dental school is much like the army: everything seems just fine and great at the recruiting office and then -- whooo....that fist day of boot camp (first day of the semester) hits you like lightning. However, there are things you can do this summer which will make next year much, much easier. Dental school is not medical school nor is it a Ph.D program. It is primarily a technical rather than an academic degree. All that studying that you did for the DAT will be very unlike what you will do when actually in school. You must learn the lab skills. These will be far more important than book skills. Again, if interested, I will later give you my thoughts on how to prepare so that that first semester is not so much of a shock. I will give you one hint now. Do NOT study gross anatomy over the summer. I know that this is the largest of the first-year classes and scares many people. However, the textbooks are so huge and so detailed that no person could realistically learn them on their own. Much more important and useful would be to spend the summer becoming familair with dental anatomy. Academically, dental school is not very hard. Very few people (almost no one actually) has major problems with biochemistry, physiology, histology, etc. There is much material, but it is straight forward enough. This is true even for non-science majors. There seems to be a real "rise to the challenge" mentality once school starts. Even people with the lowest GPA's and DAT scores do well enough with the books. For example, my class contains several former English majors who had only enough science to meet the entrance requirement. There is also a guy with an M.A. in microbiology and a former junior college science professor. And everybody in between. Still everybody passed gross anatomy - most with grades no more than one letter apart. Therefore, I would not use the summer to prepare for "book work." This is especially true for gross anatomy. I don't know why anyone would do that anyway. Shouldn't you be golfing or something? (Or working?) It would take months just to learn one chapter. But not to worry the professors will shorten it to a manageable amount. As an aside -- do not worry about the cadaver. When I was walking to the gross lab for the first time, my egs almost gave out from the fear of it. Truly, I felt light in the head. But within a week, it will be no problem -- easy as cake to do things that a few weeks ago would have made you pass out. So if the books are not much of a problem, the lab classes are. These laboratory courses probably make up the biggest difference between medical and dental school. I have some intimate knowledge of this as my ex-wife was a medical student. (We were married a month before her school started and divorced a year before her residency ended -- but that is another story.) The first two years of medical school are made up of books and tests, books and tests, books ..... and so on. I do not remember her having many lab classes at all, besides gross, of course. In dental school, however, the labs are the main thing. As the semesters go on they start becoming more and more significant in both complexity and time. This can be good and bad. Good in that they are essentially mindless and thus provide relief from studying. Bad in that the work will be graded with almost unbelievable strictness. I was once told to move a wax cone over two hair widths. And this was not meant to be funny! Of course not. Imagine if that had been a patient's mouth. 2 hair widths can mean the difference between a good filling and an extra contact point, which could need a root canal down the road. Here is the other main difference between medical and dental schools -- the failure rate. When my ex was in school, only two people failed, and they did not really fail, but simply got fed up and left. In dental school, if a person fails a laboratory class, they will have to repeat the entire year -- everything, not just the failed lab class. What is worse is that this really happens. what is more, it happens to very bright people. Frankly, waxing model teeth and cutting preps is a skill; intelligence just is not a big part of it. I doubt that Einstein could do a Class III amalgam prep. And I doubt you could have come up with the theory of relativity. Therefore, when school starts, make the labs your primary concern. I stated class with people who were repeating the first year, and I remember thinking that they must really be stupid or lazy. Not true. They just messed up a few lab practical tests. Too often people dismiss the labs as less important or think that it will be a natural ability or that the technology will be so advanced as to replace the "art" of it. Don't believe it. Practice, practice, practice. Of course, you may be one of the naturally gifted. In which case, dental school will be a breeze. Here are so more general hints -- for what they are worth: everybody has a different opinion. These are only mine. * You will not have to do everything the teachers tell you to do. What? Don't always do everything you're told? Are you mad? Often reading assignments can be ignored or lab procedures practiced only a few times (If you are good at it.). If you did every thing you were told to do, well there would not be time enough in the day. Trust your abilities. Also, ask second years students what textbooks you really need. I spent over one thousand dollars on books I never even opened. If you have a choice between a less expensive state school and a prestigious private one -- go for the "cheap" one. I hate to get practical here, but you will;l need all the money you can get. I spent on average thirty dollars a week on extra lab supplies -- an expense they do not talk about in the catalogs. I knew one guy who spent $100 just on a single weekly lab project. Also, you do not want to finish school with a huge debt. Terrible. * Do not compete with other students. Unless you want to be an orthodontist, grades or class rankings no longer matter in the longrun -- not like they did in college. Therefore, help each other. I've been saved many times by others. * Get used to the feeling that you are no longer the smartest person in class. Here the dumbest person is extraordinarily bright. At first this is a bit of a shock. But it rapidly becomes one of the best things about being in school. You really feel as if you are a part of something meaningful and important. You start to hunger to be around such sharp people. Just let me finish with a few tips on what to do this summer. As I have said before, buy a copy of Fuller and Denehy's "Concise Dental Anatomy and Morphology". You should be able to get through it by yourself over the summer. If so, you will have much more free time in the fall and also you will be able to nderstand laboratory assignments with greater ease. This is a terrifically boring book, but its contents are invaluable. You will learn every bump and groove on every tooth. Plus you will get to say things like "the mesial secondary groove of the mesial-buccal cusp of number 3", and actually know what it means. * Go to the school and find out if they make wax models by the carving or addition waxing technique. They will know what you are talking about. You should be able to buy dental wax and waxing instruments for less than $50. Ask a freshman to lone you their morphology and occlusion lab manuals for the summer. Then practice "waxing" the teeth at home. They will look like hell, and there will be no way for you to get feedback. But when school starts, at least you will have a feel for it. This thing called "waxing" is without a doubt the most hated thing in dental school -- with the possible exception of the professors who teach waxing. * Buy a copy of Rohen and Yokochi's "Color Atlas of Anatomy" (ISBN # 0-683-30492-5) -- about $70 and a computer anatomy program called "A.D.A.M." -- about $120. You will not need them this summer, but they are a great help in gross anatomy lab. In fact, I have know several people who found these two aids more important for passing gross anatomy than actually doing the dissection.