A reflection written by David Danesh, DMD20.
“When the world needs leaders, we will be among them; when the world needs solutions, we will help create them.” Reflecting on the class oath that we took with our Harvard Medical School colleagues during our White Coat Ceremony in August of 2016, this line resonates with me today. The knowledge we gained while receiving our education at Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) will help us think about creative solutions to the challenges we face today, and new challenges we will ultimately face in the future. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing a time where so much is unknown about the future of health care. To become the next generation of global leaders, the crisis in our ever-changing world emphasizes the importance of our education, grounded in public health and medicine, at HSDM.
As first-year students we learned preclinical science and gained exposure to patient care alongside our Harvard Medical School (HMS) classmates. This provided a foundation in medicine that we carried with us throughout dental school. I vividly remember sitting in Tosteson Medical Education Center at HMS learning the skills and techniques necessary for interviewing and examining patients during our first week, then putting on my white coat to visit Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center the following week. We were put in the shoes of a health care provider early on in our training. Though we did not provide care at that time, we learned how to connect with patients.
Our whole class would come together to observe each other interviewing patients who would share their unique stories with us. We’d learn about hemoglobin disorders, cancer, and genetic diseases. Supplementing our clinical experiences, l will never forget the third-floor study room in Vanderbilt Hall, studying every day for our classes with my friends – or the Casebuster’s crew, as we affectionately called ourselves. Our exposure to dentistry started with the Foundational Continuity Clinic course in the Harvard Dental Center Teaching Practices, where HSDM faculty and fourth-year students taught us the fundamentals. The lessons we learned from these experiences with our medical colleagues during our first year developed our empathy and soft skills– helping us grow into our white coats as future doctors.
In our second year, we transitioned to a new family of faculty, staff, and student colleagues at HSDM. Our professors taught us dentistry and more – like life beyond dentistry. Sharing inside jokes with our teachers and staff, seeing faculty stay late to help us in the clinic and lab, supporting us through challenges we faced, and celebrating our victories demonstrated the passion of our faculty.
Dental school challenged me. At certain times, I felt like it was just too much. Likewise, each of my classmates faced their own challenges. Developing resilience to overcome these challenges taught us what we need to better help others. The long hours —and sometimes long nights — in the lab began. In didactic learning, we listened to the perspective of an oral cancer survivor, collaborated to solve challenging patient cases, and learned from experts in their field. We learned the science of dentistry while refining our hand skills. A grounding in clinical knowledge and science gave us tools to be adaptable for patient care.
At the end of our second year, we started to see patients in the clinic. Working with patients, encountering the unexpected is what taught us the most. My first patient was an elderly gentleman who was wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy. Dr. Samuel Coffin helped me navigate this challenge and do my best to appropriately accommodate my patient. This began my class’s deep dive into patient care as our third year progressed. Who can forget the times that our faculty came early or stayed late in clinic to help with a difficult procedure or walk us through the first time? Or when long lines of adorable children would fill the clinic for HSDM’s annual Give Kids a Smile Day and during our pediatric clinics? Or when our HSDM Class of 2020 speaker, Ryan Lisann, would snap candid photos of us hustling in clinic? Our sweat, grit, and determination made us grow closer as a class and become competent as clinicians.
As we transitioned to fourth year, our clinical experiences expanded beyond HSDM as our class traveled around greater Boston – and all over the country – to pursue oral surgery externships, complete rotations at community health centers, and interview for residency programs. We gained confidence and skill in clinic. The learning opportunities were global, too! I spent a week in Costa Rica for a global health course, with Dr. Brittany Seymour, and a week in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics, with Dr. Neeta Chandwani. Both experiences enhanced my understanding of dentistry and patient care from a global perspective. Our international experiences helped us grow as future global leaders in dentistry.
I challenge my class to stay true to the vision of HSDM – to transform dentistry by removing the distinction between oral and systemic health. Our class will go on to pursue different pathways in public health, education, oral surgery, prosthodontics, general dentistry, and more. In any pathway we choose, HSDM provided us with the inquiry and critical thinking skills that will allow us to adapt to these challenges.
Juggling the rigors of patient care, didactic learning, research, and diverse extracurricular involvement, our class is accustomed to striving for excellence. I am grateful to the faculty, staff, and colleagues who guided us along the way. All of you helped us become who we are today. During these unprecedented times, our first steps after graduating will be reflected on by future generations of students. The COVID-19 pandemic has left no part of our daily lives untouched. Our experience at HSDM has molded us to become doers and solvers, crafting us into the leaders and thinkers that the world needs. Health care has changed in ways that we don’t fully understand yet, but health care requires adaptability. Though not the fourth year we expected, our future is bright. Harvard School of Dental Medicine helped us follow through on the oath that we took in our first year and shaped us into health care leaders who will create solutions that the world needs.