Medical students are seen as champions of memory, learning and usually breaking human limits of functioning on little or no sleep, dedicating most of their time to acquire knowledge that will at some point save a life or at least ease pain. Dental students are no exception to this rule as the tiny available workspace of the mouth forces them to pay even more attention to reading and practicing to perfection, much like musicians.
The learning pyramid shows that just going to lectures or reading won’t get you very far, so there arises a need to find new study methods, more applied ones, that engage the attention of the students, involve them in a debate, make them learn by doing and, ultimately transform them into teachers in their own right, forcing them to have a good enough grasp of what they are supposed to know to be able to transmit it to others.
For the first level of learning, memorizing there is good advice to be followed given by Kevin Horsley, holder of a World Record for memory:
“Over the years memory has been given a bad name. It has been associated with rote learning and cramming information into your brain. […]I discovered that we all have a choice: our memory is just a habit, and habits can be improved with the right kind of training and practice. I discovered that there are basic fundamentals to memory improvement and that if we apply them consistently we will get the same results that great memory masters do.”
For dental medical students that means they need to discipline themselves into practicing learning in an organized everyday way, much like a sport, eventually together with a partner or a study group which helps less-motivated individuals get up to speed and offers interactions opportunities.
Yet memory is just the first step in the learning odyssey. This complex process relies heavily on setting achievable goals, being good at time management in order not to panic over the volume of information that needs to be processed and, most importantly, self regulation of both emotions and the surrounding environment.
These ideas are described in a popular textbook about learning strategies for college students which states that motivation is the most powerful learning tool and that there is a process of learning, it doesn’t happen by accident:
“Successful students are not individuals who know more than others. They also have more effective and efficient learning strategies for accessing and using their knowledge, can motivate themselves and can monitor and change their behaviors when learning does not occur. […] The word regulation is a key term in understanding successful learners. They self-regulate or control the factors influencing their learning. They establish optimum conditions for learning and remove obstacles.”
When it comes to medical students, future dentists in particular, there is one more aspect that is crucial, namely practice, practice, practice.
We have spoken with a Licensed Dentist located near Bee Cave who takes on medical students as apprentice dentists during their mandatory practice period and the experts have told us that the feed-back they got from the young dentists was overwhelming. The students appreciate greatly the opportunity to learn hands on how to perform cavity fillings, dental surgery and what are the tips and tricks of distracting the patient’s attention from fear.
The group of students who were assigned to this practice has even started an informal seminar where they share with each other news and knowledge and they ask questions to the main dentists about best practices for difficult cases. The group has even broken the ultimate confidence barrier among each-other, as they use one another for testing what they have learned.