What to Expect During D3 Year

Finally! It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! You’re entering D3, which means you will add a clinical component to your dental training. You may be wondering, what will my schedule look like? How will I balance it all? See below for a sample course list and interview of Erin, a dental student who just completed her D3 year! She shares some great advice to ensure success as you transition to the clinical portion of your education. Be sure to also check out my two-part series on starting clinic: Tips for Starting Clinic (1) and Tips for Starting Clinic (2)!

Sample Course List

Was D3 what you expected?

Overall, my third year of dental school surprised me—it had a little bit of what I expected, and a lot of surprises mixed in along the way. I expected D3 to be filled with hands-on learning, treating patients and working one-on-one with faculty. It was! Naturally, I think everyone felt different emotions towards starting clinic. Personally, I felt confident, yet nervous the first few times treating a patient. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable I became after the first couple times! Thankfully, faculty was always there to help with any questions or unexpected hiccups along the way. 

Some things surprised me about D3 year which I wasn’t anticipating– I thought it would be very challenging to juggle both didactics and clinic, but for the most part I was relieved to find it quite manageable. Another surprise that I encountered D3 year was the amount of time it took to get acclimated to the computer system and managing all our patients. It takes a lot of work, and this experience gave me a great appreciation for what the front office staff does every day. It was an adjustment learning how to properly schedule patients, reserve chairs in clinic, enter the correct codes, and know what to get “swiped” by faculty. Of course, this all got much easier over time and faculty was really helpful. 

What did a typical day look like during the Fall Semester?

In the fall, we saw patients Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There were two sessions each day which were two and half hours long. Tuesday and Thursdays consisted mainly of classwork or labs, and optional evening clinic sessions. We didn’t treat patients every session because certain days/times were reserved for select students, so everyone had equal opportunities to schedule patients. Some days consisted of having an exam at 8am, patient scheduled at 9am, lunch at noon, patient at 1pm, home to workout, shower, study, dinner, sleep, repeat.

Exams in D3 were almost always at 8am and clinic would start right after, so our schedules were pretty busy.  I remember the first month of fall semester going to bed really early because, mentally, I was exhausted. Like everything though, we adjusted, and the routine was nice and became second nature.

What did a typical day look like during the Spring Semester?

The spring semester was similar to Fall, but more time was spent in clinic and less time in classes/labs. The pace in clinic also seemed to pick up as we honed our skills and learned how to make the best use of our time with patients. 

What can a rising D3 do to be successful?

My advice for students preparing for third year would be to learn how to best manage your time. Imagine your schedule being 8-4pm and block out chunks of time around that when you will study, workout, go out with friends, schedule patients, complete lab work, etc. I think creating a system that works for you and staying organized is really beneficial to success in third year.

Some tips I would recommend to rising D3s to be successful in clinic are to print out the list of competencies and requirements needed to graduate. When treatment planning, pull out the list of requirements and compare it with what treatments your patient needs. Check this regularly and you’ll stay focused on what treatment your patient needs and what you have to accomplish to graduate on time. Don’t be afraid to meet with faculty and ask questions if you need help. Every student learns what works best for them in clinic and if you’re having a difficult time, talk to other classmates about what they’re doing to succeed! 

What can a rising D3 do to set themselves apart from their classmates?

Come to clinic prepared and have a good work ethic. No one is perfect and every student is there to learn, so show up ready but aware that mistakes do happen and you’re there to learn from them. The more prepared you are before an appointment, the less likely mistakes will happen, and you’ll feel more confident in the care you’re providing. This sets a student apart because when a faculty member sees that a student put in the work on their own time to best prepare for their patient’s treatment, it shows they care about their work, their patient and they are respectful of people’s time. Secondly, be friendly and get to know every person you “work” with every day. Be involved in school clubs, volunteering or any way you can be a part of the community. 

Looking back on your year, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Sure! It’s really easy to get caught up in the stress of dental school. The pandemic allowed me to press pause on the day-to-day stress of school and reminded me why I love (and miss) practicing dentistry. If I could have done things differently, I would have tried to appreciate clinic more and stopped stressing about the little things.

Do you have any additional advice for D3’s?

Have fun in clinic! It’s an opportunity to learn from mistakes before you get out in practice. Things may seem overwhelming when first starting clinic, so my advice is to try to break up tasks into chunks to make it more manageable. It gets easier and it’s a lot of fun getting to know your patients! Find hobbies or activities you enjoy and people you love hanging out with, because making time for yourself is equally as important as taking care of others.

[NOTE: Amen! You can’t pour from an empty cup!]

Dr. Amaro’s D3 year:

What do you remember about your D3 year? What advice do you having for rising D3’s? Comment below!


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