Thriving as a D1

Congratulations! You’ve made it to University of Washington Dental School, and you’re ready to begin your classes and be one step closer to becoming a dentist! However, dental school isn’t all academics -- the most important factor of your success is...YOU!

Specifically, we’re talking about your mental health. This is a tricky topic to discuss because mental health looks different for everyone, but when you let your mental health fall on the back burner it will always lead to one thing - burnout. I wanted to use this opportunity to share some of my own experiences with the hope that you can gain some insight and perspective to help you navigate through your first year of dental school. If you’re able to keep the next six things in mind, I can guarantee you will survive D1 and every year to follow!

  1. Have a life outside of dental school

Seriously? The top advice on surviving dental school is to have a life outside school?!?!!? Yup, that’s true. Believe me, it’s easy to find yourself in D1 waxing up the perfect cusp of carabelli at 3am. However, without balance, you’ll be trading in much needed sleep for a hatred for waxing, and in the worst case, dentistry itself. Take breaks from school and work on developing yourself.

Take breaks from school, and learn how to check out when you have to. I promise you will return to your pathology textbook feeling revived after a hike over the weekend, a romantic dinner with bae, helping your parents build a deck, or volunteering on an outreach trip.

2. Build a circle of trust

This circle of trust includes your friends, family, dental school colleagues, partners, mentors, faculty, staff, and anyone you share pictures of your cat with!!! To be honest, you need a circle of people you trust to open up to when you’re stressed out, to ask for advice when you need it, or to call you out when you won’t shut up about the importance of flossing! These people, whoever they may be, will always be there for you, and you need to identify them and let them know you trust them, because it honestly takes a team to get someone through dental school. Getting through dental school alone is difficult to do alone, and you will need to reach out to your team at some point..  

3. Don’t stay quiet

When you’re stressed, tell someone. When you’re tired, tell someone. When you’re feeling overworked, tell someone. When you’re scared, tell someone. The odds are someone else is feeling the same way, and you should always remember you’re never alone. There are 60-something other people going through literally the same thing as you! Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional counselor or therapist if you feel that you’re struggling. Hall Health offers many different types of counseling and therapy services. Their phone number is (206) 583-1551.

4. Learn to schedule         

You’re going to have a lot of things going on this first year, and literally every year after that. You might feel like you’re drinking from a fire hydrant, and learning how to schedule your day will allow you to keep track of everything. Make time for things like studying, working out, personal time, socializing, and other things. You don’t have to make a crazy calendar with 50 colors, but make a conscious effort to make time during the day for all the things you need. It can be easy to get lost in the details, but as a dentist your job will require you to be detail oriented, and you’ll have to figure out sooner or later how to get a little more organized.

5. Be honest

Be honest with yourself. If you fail an exam, if you forget an assignment, or if you ever mess up. Be honest with yourself and try to learn from the situation. Dental school has a steep learning curve, but it’s nothing you can’t overcome. The key is to be honest with the things you know you struggle with and try to grow as an individual. Also, be honest with yourself about why you’re here and in dental school. On days that are difficult or discouraging, your reason for going to dental school will be what motivates you to keep going.

6. Don’t give up     

Seriously, you made it this far, don’t give up over one hard class, one bad grade, or bad interaction. You owe it to yourself, and everyone that helped you get here to finish, and to finish strong. Quitting isn’t an option. You will experience failure at some point in dental school - that is inevitable. Look at any setback as a learning experience, express gratitude for the opportunity to be in dental school, and keep going. I believe in you <3


Dental school won’t be easy; nothing worth doing ever is. If you’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue, dental school can make it worse. However, you need to know that here at UW, you have the tools at your disposal to get help and work through anything you may be experiencing. Your peers will notice when you act different, and they will mention it. The important thing is to know your own strength, and know you have a lot of it! You made it this far, let’s finish strong, together.

Meet the Author: By Dilkaranjot Singh Grewal

Karan is a D3 at UW. He is also on the ASDA Executive Board as the Advocacy Chair!