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Managing Stress/Anxiety in Dental School: Concept Mapping

Updated: Mar 21

Dental school truth: success or caliber of a dental school is quantified by tangible measures such as board pass rates and matching into specialties. While these quantitative factors are a requirement for schools to support each student to obtain licensure, there is a huge void in personal development during dental school leading to common neglect in student mental health and wellness along the way. Looking back on my four years at UCSF, I wish I had the tools to manage my racing thoughts about my sim lab class 2 practical and anatomy test. This blog post is dedicated to nurturing a skill that is best benefited by starting early on in your career. My goal in this blog post is to help you find comfort in a cloud of uncertainty, which is truly a realm of open opportunities for you to carve your path in dentistry! 

I asked guest writer, Charlie Cage, DDS, MS  who has over 13 years of clinical experience and 5 years in advanced dental education, “How can dentists improve their mental health and avoid burnout?” After a thorough conversation, she graciously offers a tool to organize our racing thoughts, concept mapping. Enjoy this short four-minute read below or short video tutorial


Unlocking Clarity: How Concept Mapping Transformed My Life

The overthinking dentist.

Dental professionals can be known to be chronic over thinkers! We obsess about the tiniest details from the restoration marginal opening to the shade of the incisal embrasures. We do this because we understand and honor the complexity of restoring form and function.

This all-consuming nature can also spill into our personal lives and career goals. Life is filled with variables out of our control which can be difficult for some with concerns ranging from how to own a dental practice to balancing family and work. 

As many of us who pursue dentistry are goal oriented and over achievers, the first step towards resolving the challenge of having multiple goals lies in acknowledging the dilemma. It's perfectly okay not to have all the answers right away. Embrace the uncertainty and view it as an opportunity for growth and exploration.

It's not uncommon to find ourselves standing at a crossroads, surrounded by numerous goals, each pulling us in a different direction. Even the thought of having to choose what the right path should be can be a daunting task! 


What to do to get clarity on your thoughts?

I’d like to offer you an exercise that I have found helpful in juggling my responsibilities as a dentist, Naval officer, mother, and wife called concept mapping or sometimes called mind mapping. Concept mapping can provide clarity and direction as you embark on your journey of self-discovery and goal-setting.

When I was deciding on how I wanted to share with fellow dentists the techniques I learned over the years, I lacked direction. Here is how concept mapping helped.

Where to begin with concept mapping?

  1. Identify the main topic: What is the main goal or thought that is consuming? 

  2. Branch Out: With the main goal identified, use keywords or brief phrases to branch out into specific goals or areas of interest. 

  3. Make Connections: Draw lines or arrows between related goals to visualize the connections. This will help serve as a visual tool to determine how the different parts complement or conflict with one another.

  4. Prioritize: This is an eye-opening step. It is determining levels of importance to each goal. This step will guide you in identifying which goals to take action on, understanding that all goals cannot be accomplished at this point. 

  5. Assessment: This is the reflection point. Determine an execution plan, what skills are required, resources needed, potential roadblocks, and how to overcome them.

  6. Re-evaluation: After formulating your plan, circle back to it. We are all highly educated individuals, there is much to gain from having the ‘ah ha’ moment from reflecting on our concept maps. Re-assessments are key to evaluating progress, identifying areas to change, and most importantly getting some clarity again.

Concept mapping is a necessary tool for clarity.

Concept mapping can be your compass, guiding you through the terrain of possibilities. It can guide you on your journey to clarity. I have included some aesthetic templates you can edit to your needs here. Here are some prompts to get you started with creating an effective map. The map will not be perfect but it is a useful guide to assist with making informed decisions about your goals. This process is dynamic and as you grow, so will your concept map. 

With your plan to execute, understand pivoting may be needed, and always remember to celebrate the small victories along the way. Your goals are within reach – map out your path and take the first step toward the life you’ve always envisioned!

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out more dental school application tips and wellness advice on instagram @dr.jennygiao and @dr.charliecage. #dental school #interview #admissions #ucsf


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