October 15, 2021
by Saif Matti, FCDSA President
Each year, Oral Health invites us to contribute a piece to their student issue, and the article tends to be focused on our organization, the Federation of Canadian Dentistry Student Associations (FCDSA). However, in light of the pandemic, I have opted to use this as an opportunity to highlight the perseverance and dedication of dental students across the country. The lessons learned during these past two years will last you a lifetime and continue to positively impact your personal and patient care for the remainder of your careers.
Dental students are not unfamiliar with the rigor and challenges that come with pursuing advanced education and applying to dental school. However, the COVID-19 pandemic was an entirely different beast that would prove difficult to endure. Although the pandemic was the ultimate test, students still passed with flying colours. And so, you must be wondering, how did students accomplish this? Well first, let’s start by defining the word “resilience.” Resilience can be defined as a person’s ability to maintain course in the presence of hardship, and this is precisely what students across the country were able to demonstrate.
As lectures abruptly transitioned from live in-person events to online recordings, students were able to reflect their new schedules to accommodate this. Some students even went as far as creating a synchronized online schedule for their peers to ensure everyone had help organizing the new method of learning. First year students participated in their orientations virtually and although they weren’t able to meet face to face in most instances, they formed virtual study groups and built long-lasting friendships that way. The students at the University of Saskatchewan used social media to give a shoutout to their colleagues who were seen performing acts of kindness around the clinic. A sense of teamwork was in the air across the country and during this period of adversity, students exemplified the true meaning of comradery.
As you can imagine, some patients were nervous to come into the clinic and see us for their dental care. Yet time and time again, students would call patients to ease their minds and explain the new enhanced protocols put into place in the clinics. Notice how I didn’t use the word PPE? Simply reading that word makes the bridge of my nose feel sore. Yet despite the discomfort of the new protective wear, students and faculty geared up and kept their patients safe. On a personal note, when vaccine registration came about, I noticed a need among my patients. Some patients were not tech-savvy, and some didn’t have a computer at all, and so at the end of my appointments I would offer to help them register if they were interested. As (future) dentists, we are a support system for our patients and this doesn’t just automatically kick in the day we graduate, it starts now. Fortunately, in dental school we have phenomenal faculty and staff who model this sort of professional support for our patients.
It wouldn’t be right to discuss student success and resilience without giving an honourable mention to the faculty and staff at the dental schools across Canada. There exists a famous proverb that states “it takes a village to raise a child,” and although dental students aren’t children, they do have the unwavering support of the faculty and staff at their respective schools. Instructors were busy recording (and re-recording) lecture materials on their own time, researching all the methods by which they can deliver it while keeping students engaged. School admin had to juggle the everchanging enhanced protocols and ensuring students understood how to follow these guidelines. Dental assistants were working around the clock to ensure the clinic was stocked and students had the items they needed in their aerosol rooms. Custodial staff would work after clinic hours to ensure the clinic surfaces were clean and disinfected, ready to use for the next day.
There was one particular moment at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry that truly stood out to me this year: after one of the province-wide lockdowns, we returned to clinic only to find out the faculty had given up their own offices so they could be used as AGP (aerosol-generating procedure) rooms. This meant students could use these rooms to treat more patients, gain more experience and continue learning at the pace they were once at. I was astounded; I remember thinking to myself, “Why would they do all of this…for us?” The answer is passion. The faculty put their own comfort and needs aside to ensure students can continue learning in the clinics and patients can be seen without as long of a wait. I was very proud to be a Schulich student that day. Similar experiences to this were observed across the ten dental schools, with faculty and staff rising to the occasion and role modeling leadership in its truest sense.
Thank you for showing up, caring, supporting each other and seeking help when you needed it. And thank you for never giving up. I could not be prouder to call myself a Canadian dental student. I’m excited to see where the future of dentistry will go in your capable hands.
For more information regarding the FCDSA and our upcoming events, please visit us on the web at www.fcdsa.ca, Instagram (@the_fcdsa), Facebook (@fcdsa) or connect with us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Saif Matti, FCDSA President. Saif is currently a fourth year dental student at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University and is in the process of applying to General Practice Residency programs. He hopes to utilize the skills developed from this experience to provide comprehensive dental care to his local community. As President of the FCDSA, Saif represents dental students across the country with a unified national voice that protects and advances the rights, interests, and welfare of dental students.