Erica Prados-Delgado Aguilera is a fourth year dental student at the University of Barcelona in Spain. Her main areas of interest lie in surgery and periodontics. As there is still much to learn, Erica says the final decision on her specialty is still open. In the following article she discusses the choices, questions, challenges and concerns, which dental students face as they near the end of their undergraduate studies.
“Why Dentistry?” people keep asking, “You will spend the rest of your life looking at teeth” they say. But what they probably don’t know is that dentistry goes way beyond the teeth. Dentistry is medicine, art, psychology, architecture … and it includes a range of knowledge and a wealth of information that make this profession an almost holistic study.
This seems very far away when you start studying dentistry and must begin with physics, chemistry and anatomy. We often wondered why we had to know all this. But little by little, we understood that dentistry involves all these aspects. When starting to study, you usually don’t think beyond the first lot of exams and your main concern is whether you know what you are expected to know. It’s only when you get to the fourth year that you realize that you are almost there, your studies will soon be finished and you are ready to start your professional life. At this point you ask yourself the big existential questions: “What’s next? Should I start looking for a job in dentistry? And what if the job I find is abroad? Do I take an additional course or start a postgraduate study?”
Today, dentistry no longer fits the stereotype of super-wealthy dental professionals living like royalty (although there might be some exceptions). This reality is not only described by our teachers – you can also see it in the media. The situation for dental professionals is not very favourable nowadays in Spain, especially for university graduates looking for a job. An excess of graduates is causing the problem, as there are no effective rules that limit the number of new trainees to the real needs of the population. As a result, some employers, knowing that it’s almost impossible to find something better, even profit from the situation by offering jobs with poor working conditions. This creates fear and anxiety amongst students and makes us consider going abroad to countries where dental professionals are better valued. Moreover, there are the questions about Master’s studies: “Which one is best for me? Can I allow myself to go for a Master’s degree? What if I’m not accepted?”
I’m in my fourth year now with another year to go to finish my studies. Although I still have some time to think about my professional future, I must acknowledge, that these are days of uncertainty and ambiguity (and I think most of my fellow students feel the same way). The truth is we are totally unaware about what is lying in wait for us once we graduate.
However, the future is in our hands and the direction we decide to take depends on ourselves. Only we can decide how far we want to go in our careers, what challenges we would like to face – and what our core values really are. With dedication and maybe a bit of luck, I’m sure we can become the dental professionals we always wanted to be. Together we should try everything possible to improve the state of dentistry. We will surely go far if we help one another.