By Sierra Rose, Colorado ASDA Health and Wellness Chair
From the Fall 2019 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association
I still remember being told during my new student orientation that the upcoming four years of dental school were going to feel like I was “drinking out of a fire hose” or “sprinting a marathon.” While the memory still makes me laugh, those sayings aren’t that far from the truth.
The reality is that student life is demanding on the best of days. If you were to ask a dental student the last time he/she felt well-rested, mindful or truly healthy, you might get a tired laugh or even a confused expression. The desire to serve and care for others is a common factor that leads most dental students into the healthcare field. I’ve personally observed that—the dental profession is a population of compassionate, knowledgeable and selfless people who tend to work themselves to the bone in order to care for their current and future patients.
At the student level, debt, family, work, grades, lab work, clinic requirements, deadlines, and other stressors make it all too easy to forget to extend the same compassion that we hold for others to ourselves. Medical leave when health issues arise, chronic stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, addiction, damaged relationships, isolation and exhaustion are all problems that exist and don’t go away with every year of incoming bright, motivated classes of future dental professionals. We aren’t learning from our mistakes like we do when we fail a practical or exam, so we just keep making them. The results have the potential to be devastating.
In 2016, CBS reported that the profession encompassing doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals was 12th in suicide rates, as ranked alongside other occupations by the CDC. These statistics are heartbreaking, jarring and certainly should serve as a wake-up call for those who consider entering this field. The dental profession comes with its own unique set of challenges, and without proper coping mechanisms and lifestyle habits, it has the potential to be detrimental to health and wellness. Wellness isn’t about finding the time to train for a 5K, meal prep green smoothies or stretch; it’s about developing a lifestyle that meets individual needs to achieve a quality of life for the duration of a professional career. It is something that needs to be addressed early on in our dental careers so that it can be maintained for the rest of our lives. It isn’t optional—it is imperative.
In a Google survey that I sent out this past summer to all dental students at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, only 65% of those who responded reported being aware of available on-campus mental health resources, while 95% of that same surveyed group expressed interest in future ASDA events with a focus on mental health. It was clear to me when designing this school year’s events that all dimensions of wellness, especially those that might be avoided due to stigma and potential for uncomfortable conversation, needed to become priorities that were both encouraged and celebrated. My plan was and still is to take unique approaches to wellbeing and incorporate them into fun, accessible, inclusive and sustainable events that teach dental students to care for themselves.
September was ASDA Wellness Month and our chapter was proud to put on successful events that aimed at making dental students’ lives better. We were fortunate to have free access to the Johnson Depression Center’s powerful presentations on QPR Suicide Prevention Training, Understanding Depression, and Stress Management. We participated in a national steps challenge and, as an added motivational factor to get students on their feet and out in nature, hosted weekly group hikes on 14ers, around Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and in the Boulder Flatirons. We met up at local farmers markets and had a “Make Your Own Trail Mix” station on campus to encourage healthy eating and snack choices in between studies. We released a graphic series highlighting tips for how to approach wellness with the theme of “Self-Care September” as well as a feel-good playlist made by and for dental students. We met before school to meditate and do yoga at sunrise. We released a series of videos on our YouTube channel highlighting a current dental student that exemplified each dimension of wellness and their unique versions of balance. Lastly, we released a photo gallery of real responses to a school-wide mental health survey with the theme, “You are Not Alone” to destigmatize mental health and open the topic for discussion in the graduate school setting. We came together as a community, we had fun, and we temporarily turned the focus back on ourselves and our wellbeing.
All this said, wellness isn’t just a themed month that comes around once a year. It is something that needs to be practiced and promoted, especially for future and current dental professionals. Organized dentistry and organizations like Colorado ASDA have unique opportunities to reach a large amount of people and bring them together in a way that encourages them to care for one another and themselves. It is with the tools and reach of dental organizations that we can support the dental student and practitioner alike so they can contribute to what many consider the most important goal of their practice; promoting the wellness of their patients.
Sierra Rose is a second-year dental student at the CU School of Dental Medicine. Originally from Marco Island, FL, she is also a 2LT in the U.S. Air Force and is excited to enter service as a military dentist after graduation. Driven by her passions for health, wellness, balance and fun in dental school, she proudly serves as the Colorado ASDA Health and Wellness chair.
Colorado ASDA YouTube Channel: youtube.com/channel/UCHnPaBC8xnnDaTn7urLYf7w