Ask Kara RDH: How did you deal with stresses of dental hygiene school?

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I’m currently a dental hygiene student in my second semester of my first year. It’s starting to get really tough, and I’m feeling the pressure. We’re just starting to see patients, and I’m feeling really lost with everything and discouraged. Being a dental hygienist is something I want very badly but I’m getting nervous that I will fail. Did you have similar feelings? If you did, how did you cope with these feelings and what made you feel better? If you didn’t, any tips on how I can get more confidence? Thank you so much!

-A scared but determined student

It’s totally normal to feel that way! I sure did! I was super afraid of messing up or that I just wasn’t getting things quick enough (because it is a lot of information). Be patient with yourself. Your hygiene instructors wouldn’t let you see patients if you weren’t truly ready. And sometimes just throwing you in actually helps you learn better, even though you feel lost at the time. With every patient you see, you will become more confident.

What helped me was to really stay organized and on top of homework and reading. I found that if I did the reading, then the instructor went over it in class or clinic, it stuck better and eased my anxiety. I also found that with all of the information coming at me, I felt “out of control.” So I had to learn when to step back and do something that made me feel in control again. This is so random, but I was renting a tiny house with a tiny yard during hygiene school. So I would take breaks from my homework, blast the music, and do yard work. How the yard looked was something I could control. Plus it was a good exercise to get the anxiety out – I pulled those weeds like a boss! So my point is, take the time to step away, but don’t use it as a reason to procrastinate.

The biggest advice is really just to take each day at a time. Just because you are struggling today with scaling the distal of #18, doesn’t mean next week you will be. Notice and be aware of those small wins; this will help with confidence. And don’t forget that if you are struggling with something and its making you feel discouraged, work with your instructors. They are a great resource, use them while you can!

Again, be patient with yourself and be aware of those small wins. Remember how bad you want it and let that give you confidence too. Good luck!

P.S. I did write an article about tips I wished I could have told myself when I was in hygiene school. It may help you feel better:

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Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP
Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP, is a co-founder and the chief content officer of Today’s RDH, an independent educational publishing company for dental hygienists, encompassing articles, a podcast, virtual continuing education events, and self-study continuing education. Today’s RDH was launched in 2018 after Kara built her social media presence with her largest following on her Facebook page, Dental Hygiene with Kara RDH, which was created in 2013. An Oregon Institute of Technology graduate, Kara has a deep passion for spreading knowledge about the importance of oral health and its association with systemic health. Kara’s passion extends to helping other hygienists understand current protocols and evidence-based research – all with the goal of lifting dental hygienists and the dental hygiene profession. Kara was recognized in 2020 as one of the Top 100 Women in Media for her entrepreneurship as a co-founder of Today’s RDH. In 2022, she was recognized by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association for their Standout Seven Award in the Entrepreneur category. Kara lives in Vancouver, Washington, just outside Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Ben, and their four Chihuahuas. When she’s not working, Kara loves riding the Oregon Dunes on her quad, spoiling her Chihuahuas, and spending time with her close-knit family.