4 Tips I Wish I Knew Before Starting Clinics

It’s been just over a year since I had an experience that most dental students find daunting. I felt excited, apprehensive and nervous all at the same time. I still remember redoing my hair, gulping down water and composing myself as a prepared myself bringing my first ever patient from the waiting room to treat.

One year on, I have interacted with many patients and so far (touch wood) I personally haven’t had any nightmarish experiences while on clinics. Now I can look back at how nervous I was, with a smirk on my face… But, I do believe that there are a few things which if I’d known or learned sooner could have made my first few patient experiences a lot smoother and a lot less nerve-wracking for me.

In this article, I hope to summarise what I wish I could have told myself a year ago.

1. “Quick” small talk
2. Preparing for clinics and staying organised
3. Creating systems
4. Asking for help

 

1. “Quick” small talk

“The key to good dentistry is good communication” is a phrase we hear all the time from our tutors.. and it’s true!

Patients who you get along with, and take a conscious interest in from the moment you greet them, will obviously be easier to interact with and be more compliant overall. This will make any treatment easier by taking the pressure off you, as the patient will be more communicative, and more pleasant if you make any mistakes or they have to wait long periods of time (especially if it’s with a rubber dam in their mouth!)

 

2. Preparing for clinics and staying organised

From the material preparations to taking patient notes, organisation is key when it comes to minimising hassle and embarrassment on the clinic floor.

When I’m due to see a patient I’ve got into the habit of trying to prepare for the particular treatment they’re due. This means less time is wasted on fetching items such as materials, PPE, instruments and the all-important mouth rinse. However, treatment plans can change quicker than composite sets, so to prevent getting awkward looks from your tutor and compound I wouldn’t recommend opening any equipment before your tutor has given a nod of approval for the treatment.

Both preparation and time management are things I struggled with a lot at the start of the third year. Examples of failure include:

  • Forgetting an essential item from compound and having to get my clinical partner to remove and redone their PPE in order to claim it from compound.
  • Calling the tutor to present the patient but forgetting to do something like a BPE score or extraoral examination.
  • Forgetting to check if there are any existing radiographs on the system.

Fortunately, the next point can dampen most, if not all, of the teething-issues (pun intended) you may face in your first few clinical sessions.

 

 

3. Creating systems

When it comes to time management, I think I this is the most useful skill I’ve learnt over the last year.

Just as different tutors prefer different ways for students to present patients, every dental student should aim to develop their own approach with regards to ( extrapolating information )from a patient.

Personally, note taking is the cornerstone I rely on, so I’ve created a general history proforma for me to use when presenting a patient. It goes through aspects of history taking such as the presenting complaint, medical history, oral hygiene routine, extraoral examination and radiographic report, in my own order and style.

Furthermore, I’ve created lists for specific tasks so that I don’t miss anything. Examples include:

  • Lists of basic materials for an anterior or posterior composite/GIC/amalgam restoration.
  • List of what to remember in an oral surgery consent form for upper or lower extractions.
  • Common drugs I’ve encountered and their most common side effects.

 

 

4. Asking for Help

Asking for help isn’t a weakness and it doesn’t make you a lesser dental student. You’re at university so that you have a clinical support network.

Whether it be the fifth year, a tutor or your clinical partner, asking for help can make the difference between a perfect filling and something which will drop out by itself within a few days.

Even if you feel like it’s a minor aspect of clinical dentistry you need help with, don’t risk winging it. Asking for help is a win-win situation for your patient and yourself. They get better (and often quicker) treatment, you get to learn how the professionals do their work. Many tutors have nifty tips and trick up their sleeves which can help you not only now, but also for your whole career.