“Just do it already! Call him!” I say to myself as I pace around my apartment. I think back to my last conversation with J (I’ll shorten my patient’s name for the privacy savvy folk out there): “Have you done this before?” He asks this nervously. “Oh yes, absolutely, I’ve done a ton of these…you’re in good hands.” Sim Clinic counts, right? All the while, my inner voice is taunting me by calling me a phony. I practiced a more eloquent version of that line a few hundred times, anticipating this was going to be the natural progression of our conversation. As hard as I try the ol’ “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra, I am quite certain J knows that he is dealing with a newbie.
The phone rings three times and goes to voicemail. I take a deep breath, my faux confidence dominating, and I leave my pre-rehearsed voicemail. Nailed it! All right, I think to myself, let’s try the cell phone. The phone rings once, and then goes straight to voicemail, and I am convinced he ignored my call. At this point, I am preparing myself to listen to another week of elated classmates talk about their first real patient experiences, and it will become increasingly difficult to feign excitement for them.
Exhaustion creeps in after checking my phone every thirty seconds for a return call, and I attempt to go to sleep—my phone just inches away from my pillow. At 7:00 AM, I am roused from sleep by the melodic sound of my ringtone and a surprisingly chipper man on the other end. “Hi, this is J! What floor are we on today!!?” In my head I am thinking, “WHY DIDN’T YOU ANSWER MY CALLS YESTERDAY!?” Restraining myself, I manage to say, “It’s nice to hear from you, J! We are on the second floor today. I hope you’re excited!” If you’re wondering…yes, I really did ask him if he’s excited.
Fortunately, the rest of the story is as smooth as a freshly polished composite. I did not prep the wrong tooth. I did not cause paresthesia. I did not cause a pulp exposure. I did not cut straight through his cheek with my #12 blade (a fun story an instructor likes to tell about a previous student). Instead, I broke my contacts, excavated caries, and filled that class II prep like a boss—all in only 2.5 hours of course!
Entering clinic has been absolutely terrifying, and I wish I could say I was the type of person to jump for joy at the thought of performing irreversible dental procedures on a human being for the first time. You know what I have learned though? It’s okay to be nervous. Unless you’re one of the lucky few whose mother, uncle, brother, or dog is a dentist and you’ve been prepping crowns since your 8th birthday, understand that it’s okay to be nervous!
After a few weeks in clinic, this fear of the unknown has turned into excitement, and I love my clinical experience! There are so many more “firsts” to come while in dental school, and each time I will hear that inner voice (aka Dr. DeLapp) telling me to put on my “big girl pants” and go for it!