When I reflect on where I was this time last year, I am transported back to the feeling of elation at finishing my written finals as a fifth year, the feeling of hope of my future as a newly qualified dentist, the excitement at focusing on clinical dentistry in preparation for my dental foundation training (DFT) year. I look back fondly at this time, as I am sure many people do, living in ignorant bliss at the silent enemy that was about to take a deadly grip on not only this country but the world. If you told me back then that in just a matter of weeks that we would be told to go home from university, that the country was about to be in a 3 month long lockdown and our perception of normality was about to change I would have dismissed it as a joke.
I won’t ever forget being emailed to attend a compulsory lecture with our Head of School, Professor Chapple and his soon to be successor Dr Hill, to be told that the next week would be our last, we had the rest of the week to say our goodbyes, get our belongings and go back home before the country was plunged into a seemingly never ending lockdown. Fast forward a year and we’ve been through some of the most trying times, a global pandemic, three lockdowns and for me, 6 months of my foundation training year. People have spoken about the hope and positivity they have for the future, but for me I’m still stuck in the past, reminiscing about the good old days of university, how happy and hopeful I felt during my final year. When I say it has been an uphill battle I think that is an understatement, starting the next chapter of my life during such uncertain times has been difficult to say the least.
Dental foundation training during a global pandemic was not what I nor my peers ever envisioned and it was definitely something we weren’t prepared for. I saw my last patient at dental school at the start of March and wasn’t to see the next until I started my DFT year in September, a whole 6 months of sitting around and waiting, anticipating what was going to happen. It was expected that the first few months of being a newly qualified dentist is a huge learning curve but the first few months of being a newly qualified dentists during the COVID-19 pandemic felt near enough impossible. Prior to starting in September the West Midlands DFT schemes were told that we’d be redeployed for 2 days out of the week to then be told a few months later that this shouldn’t have been the case and we were only supposed to be redeployed for 1 day further limiting our initial clinical time. Our face-to-face study days had been replaced with Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls, whilst it meant we can learn from the comfort of our own homes, it also ruined any chances of socialising with fellow FDs on the scheme, creating a support network and new friends.
Having completed half my DFT year, I can’t help but ponder what the ramifications of thepandemic will have on both myself and my career. I spent the best part of my 5 years at university suffering with Depression and Anxiety, towards the end of my time at dental school I was trying my hardest to continue the positive work I had started on promoting mental wellbeing with the support of staff at the dental school, when I look back at where I started and how far I came when battling some of my lowest points I can't help but feel starting DFT year in a pandemic has forced me to take many steps back. I am sure this is the case for many others no matter what stage of their careers they are at, the pandemic has hit us as a profession hard but the resilience our profession has shown and the ability to bounce back from one of the worst crises we’ve seen in our lifetime gives me hope. Throughout my time at dental school I was constantly told that Dentistry is a difficult and stressful profession but what people failed to mention is how the profession comes together, we came together at the height of the pandemic with countless professionals hosting webinars and keeping the love for the profession alive and adapted to the new digital era, we came together during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement again hosting and promoting the diversity that our profession boasts whilst also working on how to be even more inclusive and equal in the profession, we have come together during the height of a mental health crisis with countless groups being set up to provide support to those struggling and in the darkest of places. Even though I am struggling to find my place and to feel settled in times of such uncertainty in a new territory and even though I feel such a great sense of isolation I have come to realise that I am not alone, I’ve come to realise that I am only just at the start of a long and hopefully successful career.
Completing my DFT year in the midst of this pandemic whilst not ideal has shown me that life doesn’t always go to plan and that we must adapt and allow ourselves to be moulded by the environment we are in and not consumed by it. Dentistry can be all-consuming if we allow it to be, but what I have been shown time and time again is that Dentistry as a profession and a community is one of the most nurturing and supportive environments that we can grow in, I can only thank and show my appreciation by promising to continue to see the light even in the dark times we are in, because things will get better, face-to-face meetings and networking can begin again and we will navigate ourselves out of this maze we are stuck in.
Even though myself and my fellow FDs were robbed of our last few months at University and our Graduation Ceremonies we can take pride in being the Class of 2020 – The Corona Cohort.
I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favourite films that always resonates with me
‘The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you the dawn is coming.’