Despite the five years of dental school, my first patient of DFT year was not a nerve-free experience (of course, the two national lockdowns didn’t help!). So, when my Educational Supervisor (ES) said ‘Why don’t you see the next one?’ on my second day of shadowing him, it’s safe to say, I felt completely unprepared.
All of a sudden, doubts, fears and worries started to creep in, and I felt like a first-year dental student. But I’d been watching my ES all morning, I’d done history and examinations for nearly five years at dental school, and this was the job I had worked so hard to get – I just had to bite the bullet.
The importance of building rapport
The patient I was seeing was a regular attender (pre-COVID) and this was his first appointment in just over two years. As soon as he walked through the door, I was glad that he was my first patient. He was relaxed, jovial and seemed genuinely happy to be at the dentist (shocking, I know!). My ES invited him to sit in the chair and then signalled me to come over.
At first, I felt very aware of not leaving any long silences, not speaking too much and not missing anything out. But once I relaxed the appointment went very smoothly, and I soon got into the flow of it. I completed an exam and radiographs with the support of my ES who was also in the room, and we then brought the patient back to treatment plan a few weeks later.
Completing complex treatments
This patient went on to need a lot of treatment over the coming months and his medical history became more complex. I learnt a lot from completing his treatment, but the most important thing I realised was how much patients’ value conversation and developing a rapport with you. His treatment continued over quite a few months, and during this time I was able to see him build trust and confidence in me.
Looking back, I am glad that my ES threw me in at the deep end and pushed me quite early in my training year. It prepared me for what was to come and not giving me much notice meant that I didn’t have much time to stress over the situation.
Trusting your abilities
Your first patient during DFT will be something you worry about. You are finally a ‘real’ dentist, but you might not feel like one. Your patients don’t need to know it’s your first day – just take your time, be yourself and trust your abilities.
- Your first patient as a qualified dentist may seem daunting, but it is the first step of your very exciting career and one that you have been well-trained for
- Ask for assistance or advice from your ES when needed – it is what they are there for
- Take time to get to know your patients – it will make both of your experiences better
- Talk to your friends about your worries – you will soon realise that you are all in the same boat
- Ensure you enjoy a life outside of dentistry and find a way to switch off when you leave the practice - don’t bring work home with you