I had the great honour of serving as the Student President for the Dental Society at my dental school (Barts and The London) during my third year of training.
It was one heck of an experience. I am incredibly honoured and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be in the role. After a hectic six months as President-Elect and one full year as President (12 months) – it is now over and I am enjoying my well-deserved summer break. Looking back on it now, I have the benefit of hindsight and can reflect on the whole experience, including all the good and bad aspects together.
Am I glad I went for it and took on the role?
The short answer is: “Absolutely“. But it was not an easy role, far from it in fact. And I had to make a lot of personal sacrifices for it. I will try my best to fully describe everything about it in this post, which is likely to be quite a long one (head up)!
There were many times during the year when my answer would have been very different. In the heat of the moment, when things were incredibly stressful, when there was too much work to do, when things didn’t go to plan, when the outcomes didn’t turn out as planned/hoped for the answer I would give to this question would have been the complete opposite – a straight up “NO!”
Looking back – I am quite proud of everything accomplished and can now appreciate all the lessons learned, all the successes achieved and the reputation I built for the Dental Society.
If you are considering going for it, I am sure you will also look back and be glad you did. There will always be times when it is difficult or stressful – or both – but you learn from all the experiences and as a result, will improve yourself. We regret the opportunities that we didn’t take more than those that we did. Remind yourself that this is a unique opportunity and very few people will think about doing it, and even fewer will get the chance to do it.
Who is this Blog Post for?
This might be an interesting post to read for any current dental students who may be considering becoming President, or, for any prospective dental students who are looking forward to their time at dental school and are interested in getting very involved!
One thing I would absolutely love to achieve through this blog post is to inspire some more students to go for the role of President, or, at least to consider it.
Every UK dental school has a Dental Society, and it is something great to be involved with. Being a part of the DentSoc at your school will allow you the opportunity to get more involved, to be in a position where you can make positive impacts that will benefit your fellow dental students and improve the dental school as a whole.
Like with all my blog posts, I always consider who is the intended audience. Who is likely to see this and choose to read it fully. Hopefully, if you have chosen to read this then you will find it interesting or helpful in some way. Please always remember that these are my own thoughts, opinions and shared experiences.
Why did I want to become the Student President?
There are a number of reasons WHY I wanted to go for it.
The generic, cliché (but completely real) answer is that I genuinely believed I was the right person for the role – I had plenty of great ideas and believed I was well suited to be a good President. My previous experiences as a university student, as a member of societies when I was at Imperial College, the skills/qualities I had from my time working and the maturity I had made me a perfect candidate.
I knew the role was a lot of work, I knew it wasn’t easy and whilst this did scare me a little, I was well-informed and prepared from the start. I had done my research, and after talking to many of the past Student Presidents, asking my friends (both dental and non-dental) as well as my family I confirmed that I should go for it at least.
It was really helpful to speak with a few of the past Presidents to hear about it from them, to get their opinions and find out what their experiences were like. This helped me to get a genuine idea of what it would be like for me, as opposed to just assuming what it would be like from my perspective. All the past Presidents seemed to have mixed opinions on whether they would choose to do it again if they could rewind time, but this honest feedback helped me appreciate just how stressful it can be at times.
I didn’t want to simply go through dental school and simply do the bare minimum – i.e. go to lectures, complete my exams and assessments, treat my patients and then qualify after five years. I wanted to get more involved. Especially for me, since this is my second time at university and having experienced full-time employment I appreciated even more so how special university is.
There are many selfish reasons too. I would not be completely honest if I didn’t mention these reasons. Of course, there was a lot to be gained for me from being the President. The obvious benefit (which I hope will help) is that it supposedly looks good on the CV. Being President clearly demonstrates many of the key qualities for an individual to have that will make them a great professional employee – things like time-management, communication, leadership etc. The other selfish benefit Presidency would have for me is that it would help me to boost the profile of dorkydentalstudent, and my hopes were that it would allow me to increase my presence online in order to allow my website to grow in popularity, to gain more followers and thereby allow me to help more prospective applicants and so I could connect with more dental students.
The role also offered a unique opportunity as a dental student to be a leader. As the President, you are chiefly responsible for all activities that the Dental Society does, you lead the committee and are a figurehead within the Dental Institute. I see myself as someone with great leadership skills and wanted to further increase my leadership experiences and improve on this important quality.
I wanted to be President to learn more about myself and to develop myself more in many respects. The role would allow me to improve my soft skills and offer me lots of learning opportunities that you don’t necessarily have the chance to develop simply by being a dental student.
Another cliché reason is that I had plenty of ideas and visions that I wanted the chance to implement to improve my dental school for the ultimate benefit of all my fellow dental students. As an outsider looking in, or in my case as a student considering the role of President, there were so many thoughts I had for how I could make changes that would make the Dental Society better. These ideas were all presented in my manifesto.
I also wanted to find out more about how the dental school runs, and have some influence on how it runs so I could make improvements or at least to properly represent the student body. As President, I knew I would be a part of many of the committees and meetings where the school’s operations and curriculum are discussed.
Everyone will have their own reasons. Perhaps you read this and realise that your reasons are very similar to mine. There is no right or wrong – we are all unique and will have our own motivation for doing whatever we do. Perhaps after reading this, you will be more inclined to consider going for it as you didn’t think about it before and now see it as a great opportunity for personal development, which it is. I can look back now and feel satisfied that I was able to accomplish so much and be content knowing that the reasons I had for wanting to do the role were good reasons.
How did I become the President?
At my dental school, there are leadership elections held formally through the Students’ Union and it is the process that we have to go through.
Once I had decided to go for it, I had to nominate myself as a candidate online and submit a portrait photograph along with a short, written manifesto (i.e. a paragraph about why I wanted to be the Dental President).
But, I was not satisfied with the manifesto I was able to write and submit via the Students’ Union, because it was too short and didn’t give me the opportunity to properly present myself as a candidate and it didn’t let me write about all my ideas fully. I wanted to prepare a fully detailed, well-designed manifesto that I could share with all students so they could get to know me, find out why I wanted to go for it and why they should consider voting for me. To do this, I prepared my own manifesto, which ended up being a 34-page PDF!
Although my manifesto contained all of my own ideas, presented in my way they were definitely not all ideas that I had come up with myself. As part of my preparation, I canvassed the students to find out what they would expect from their President and what they would like to see changed/improved/implemented. I set up various informal meetings with students in each year and just asked lots of questions, made notes and took inspiration for my manifesto from them – after all, the President is supposed to represent all students.
Once I had nominated myself, there was a dedicated two week period before voting opened for the campaigning. This was my chance to connect with as many dental students as I could to promote myself as a candidate for President. It was a busy period, but incredibly fun! There was only one other student who was going for it, so it was a ‘two-horse race’. To be honest, I was probably considered by many to be the ‘underdog’ – because the student going up against me was the previous Vice-President. But everyone loves an underdog story. I decided to make my campaign as fun as possible and I made a conscious decision to focus only on face-to-face interactions and the use of social media to promote myself – i.e. I did not print any posters and put them up around the dental school like most other candidates choose to. I decided to make my campaign only digital because, in this modern day, we all check our phones many times a day and open our social media apps constantly to see updates on our news feeds (e.g. Instagram and Facebook). Plus, I did not want to spend time printing off posters, spending money on colour printing and then walking around the campus and blue-tac-ing/sellotaping posters up – how effective is this approach?
I asked many of my dental student friends to help me film short videos to promote my campaign – with my silly but very catchy tagline.
"Don't Dilly Dally, Vote for Ali"
I realised that it is important to maintain a presence throughout the campaign period, as opposed to an initial spike in the promotion that then fades away. I wanted all the dental students (potential voters) to be constantly exposed to my campaign material so that when voting finally opened I had convinced them it was the best decision to choose to vote for me.
It was important for me to be clever with the campaigning, so I actively targeted different messages to different cohorts (i.e. first years/second years/…../final years etc). The students needed a good reason(s) to choose me as their candidate and I thought that I need the students to be satisfied with me as their President since I would rely on their support throughout the year (the support is reciprocal).
My manifesto was huge, and I went into detail about every promise I was making to elaborate fully so that the students felt confident I wasn’t just making empty promises, telling them what they wanted to hear. I wanted to hold myself accountable and make promises that I could deliver on. I am sure that if I were to have made empty/unrealistic manifesto promises the students would have seen right through me and chosen not to waste their vote on me. But because my manifesto was so long, I did expect only a minority to read through it all, so I made complimentary mini-posters to highlight various different points in a short-and-sweet style that anyone could see and read.
The face-to-face aspect of my campaign involved me planning opportunities for me to go and speak with every year group individually. I did this as lecture shout-outs whereby I went to see each cohort at the end of one of their lectures and spoke to them all together just for a few minutes – this allowed me to present myself in person and introduce myself to all the students who wouldn’t have met me before or known who I was. I also got to promote myself as a candidate and asked them all to consider voting for me. This part of the campaign was great, but I would be lying if I said it was easy. I was nervous before each shout-out because I wasn’t sure how it would be received and I was speaking to many people who didn’t know who I was.
One of the big reasons why I wanted to have as much fun with it as I could is because I thought, if the campaign to be elected is stressful and unenjoyable then that doesn’t bode well for me if I were to win and be elected into the role.
Once voting opened, students had four days to cast their votes. And by this point, I had done as much as I could to present my true self. I did not pester anyone asking/reminding them to vote, I did not beg nor did I over-do it. Once voting closed, the election results were announced live in the Students’ Union bar. I decided not to go, because I had no idea whether I would win or not and did not want to be there if I had lost – not because I am a sore loser but I knew that it would be difficult to find I out that despite putting so much effort into the campaigning I was not successful. So I stayed at home (it was a Thursday evening) and kept refreshing my Twitter feed to find out the results. When the result for Dental President was announced, I was shocked and ecstatic to find out that not only had I won, I smashed it! The result was a landslide victory – it wasn’t close at all, to my surprise I had almost double the number of votes as the other candidate. The first person I told was my mum.
It is worth noting that the process for electing the Dental Society President at each dental school is probably quite different. The process will be very similar at all dental schools, with a campaign period and a voting period. It is a democratic process so it is best to remind all students to exercise their right to vote, regardless of who they choose to vote for. I also want to stress again how important it is to have fun with this – you should enjoy it and will learn a lot through the process. I would encourage you to rely on your close friends for support with your campaign and also for emotional support. If you want to see my manifesto or contact me with any questions or advice for your own campaigns then please feel free to send me an email. Spend time preparing your campaign materials, choosing a fun and catchy slogan and make sure you have made it clear for yourself the reasons WHY you want to do it and WHY you think you would be good for it. If you cannot clarify to yourself why you should be the President then no one else will be convinced to choose to vote for you.
Why did I choose to be President during my third year of training?
It made sense for me to decide to run for President to be in the role whilst a third-year dental student. This was the ideal time for a few reasons:
- I had been on the Dental Society committee for the previous year, i.e. as a second-year student in the role of BDS2 Representative meaning, I had experienced how the DentSoc runs and what being a part of it involves. This gave me the important background experience needed to do the role of President well.
- From what senior students had told me, the third year was quite chilled in that the course was not very intense, and there was quite a bit of free time in the form of ‘Self-Directed Study Days’. I knew that President would be a lot of work, and take a lot of my time so I definitely wanted to do it at the ideal time so that it wouldn’t affect my personal dental training too much.
- I would not have wanted to do it as a fourth-year student, because in BDS4 the course becomes more intense and I did not want the responsibilities and stresses of being President to affect my clinical experiences.
I should note that the system for electing a President is different at each dental school. Most dental schools in the UK require their Student President to be a BDS4 student, but here at Barts and The London, any student can choose to nominate themselves for the role at any time during their training. Interestingly, for the past five consecutive years the President at my school has always been a third-year student and the year before that (i.e. back in the 2013-2014 academic year) the President was a second-year student :O
Did the role match my expectations?
Yes, for the most part.
I had a very good idea of what the role would be like going into it because I had been on the Dental Society committee for a year previously and had spoken to many of the past-Presidents who told me all about it from their experiences.
I knew it would be super hectic, very stressful at times, lots of responsibility and fun.
But regardless of how much background knowledge you have on something, you can never be completely prepared or anticipate everything – you have to experience it first hand to know fully and two years are never the same.
The role exposed me to what the dental school’s operations are like to a certain extent. I did not quite appreciate how important the activities that the Dental Society is involved with are for the student body. I don’t think many students really understand how much input the DentSoc has to represent the best interests of the students to the faculty. On the surface, it is easy to just view the Dental Society as a group of students who organise social events, but there is so much more to it than that.
A few of the perks of Presidency were getting my own large office on campus, getting 20% off at all student outlets (shops/cafes/restaurants) and getting a free gym membership. I know I would get these perks to enjoy but I didn’t appreciate how great they would be to have. I saved myself a lot of money with the discount and had access to an awesome gym with everyone you could need (although I stopped using this half-way through the year because I got too busy). Having my own secure office, with a desk, storage space and a sofa was the best perk. It was so nice to have this space on campus for me to use to store my belongings, to study in and hang out in. I am going to miss having an office…
My advice to any dental students to consider going for the role of President is to do your homework. Speak to as many previous Presidents as you can, and speak to other students who have been involved with the Dental Society in other roles on the committee. It is also very important, in my opinion, for whoever is the President to have served for at least one year prior on the committee in a different role so you get to learn how your DentSoc operates and what being a part of it involves. By preparing, you will go into the role with realistic expectations for what it is like and this will benefit you massively and keep the surprises you encounter to a minimum.
What did I achieve as President?
I am super proud of everything I was able to achieve, along with the support of a fantastic team serving with me on the Dental Society committee during my year as the President. It was hard work, and I gave it my all. I am a perfectionist by nature and would not have been satisfied to simply to the bare minimum – I wanted to make changes and improve the Dental Society.
The Dental Society is not a society like any other. It is a union of sorts for the dental students. Regardless of whether or not a student (dental student or hygiene & therapy student) chooses to join the DentSoc as a paying member, all will benefit from the work it does. We lobby with the institute to make changes to the course or suggest improvements that are in our interests. The Dental Society organises and hosts many social events, including many club nights, quiz nights etc. There are a number of fundamental expectations of the DentSoc each year, so these outputs are constant and must be delivered, but it is up to whomever is in charge of it to decide whether to do the bare minimum, or to aim for more, going above and beyond to make the DentSoc special – that’s what I aimed for.
Our hard work was recognised within the university as we became a multi-award winning Society:
- We won Society of the Year at the Association Awards
- We won the Gold Medal at the Excellence Awards
- I won Committee Person of the Year at the Union’s Societies Awards
Here is a list with some of my personal highlights:
SPEECH AT ST PAULS CATHEDRAL I had the great honour of giving a speech in St Paul’s Cathedral, one of London’s iconic landmarks to an audience of over 2000 people for the graduating doctors and dentists. I was so anxious before with it being the biggest public speaking engagement I have done so far but it went so well. I will treasure this moment and look forward to it being me graduating in a couple of years’ time.
E-NEWSLETTER Introducing a new electronic Newsletter for the Dental School that was released twice each term, sent out to almost one thousand people each time. It was so well received and had a nice impact on the Dental Institute.
SPONSORSHIPS Building a sponsorship portfolio with 32 sponsors and a total raised of over £20,000 – all this money allowed us to have a great year since it was money for me to spend on different events and initiatives. I got to use all my skills from my previous work before dentistry to help with this business development. I am certain this is the best year we have ever had with sponsorship and probably better than any other UK dental school’s DentSoc.
NEW CONSTITUTION Our Dental Society never used to have an official, formally pledged constitution. This is something I addressed by writing a new constitution that aligned with our mission, vision and values.
TRADE FAYRES The two dental trade fayres we hosted were better than ever before, with more sponsors attending and more engagement with the study body. The feedback from everyone was incredible and this was a special achievement for me.
MUNCH AND LEARNS Introducing a brand-new initiative called the Munch and Learn scheme which was done in collaboration with another society, Dentalks Society. We gave students in all years the opportunity to come together in a relaxed, informal environment to learn more about certain dental topics, such as clinical photography and enjoy plenty of free pizza. This initiative was possible thanks to the support from our partners, Dentinal Tubules. I am very proud that we are shortlisted at the Future of Dentistry Awards for “Dental Society Initiative of the Year” – fingers crossed we win!
CHARITY WORK I made the Dental Society more charitable by introducing a new role onto the DentSoc Committee: Charities Co-Ordinator. We hosted a number of fundraising events, including bake sales, Movember and a skydive. In total, we were able to raise ~£7,000 for charity! An amazing figure that will have a great impact on our chosen charities. We chose to support Dentaid as our ‘adopted’ charity.
NEW LOGO I worked closely with a graphic designer and completely refreshed the Society’s branding image by creating a new, high-quality logo package. We now have a very identifiable logo that is instantly recognisable already. I am very passionate and excited by marketing so this was a really fun thing to do for the DentSoc that will have a long-term impact.
NEW WEBSITE We have a brand-new website, that I personally created and designed, then managed throughout the year by constantly updating it with new content. The website is already visited thousands of times each month and has great levels of engagement with the wider community – especially with potential sponsors and prospective dental applicants.
NETWORKING WITH OTHER DENTAL SCHOOLS One of the benefits of Presidency is that I was invited to the British Dental Association’s Head Offices on Wimpole Street in Central London, along with the Presidents and Vice-Presidents for all the other dental schools in the UK. We were able to learn from one another, support one another and develop a network that helped us all in the role and will serve as some good network building. I also developed a close partnership with the President at King’s College London since KCL are our closest neighbours as the only other undergraduate dental school in the City.
BOOSTED SOCIAL MEDIA A main focus of mine was to boost our presence and profile online by improving our social media activities. We have had a very engaged and increased following on Instagram and Facebook with over a 100% increase in followers. The DentSoc IG is now so active and very exciting with regular new posts and stories.
INCREASED MEMBERSHIPS I was able to boost the number of student members for the Dental Society significantly, with a ~250% increase in memberships. Any student at the dental school benefits from what the DentSoc does, but we rely on memberships in order to afford many of the activities we do, so this boost was very helpful and has helped increase student engagement with the Dental Society. At the same time, I increased the membership prices since I believe we were charging too little before – this helped boost our revenue significantly.
SOCIAL EVENTS It was a great experience to lead a team that organised all the social events for the dental school. The highlight of course, as it is every year was our Dental Dinner. The Dental Dinner is the annual ball where all students and staff dress fancy for a lovely evening of dinner and dancing – it was a huge success and a really special event. Below are photos of my giving my after-dinner speech.
STUDENT WELFARE One of the three aims of the Dental Society is to ensure the welfare of all dental students is a priority. I made sure that we didn’t neglect this aim and did my best to ensure the students felt well supported by their DentSoc peers. I am proud that we did this properly and for the efforts, I made through open mornings and representing the concerns of students about security in the dental hospital with the senior institute managers.
LOUPES GIVEAWAYS Through the partnerships I developed with external companies, I was able to organise a few competitions for dental students and we gave away three pairs of dental loupes to lucky winners. Anyone in dentistry will appreciate how expensive dental loupes can be, so it was my pleasure to benefit a few students with completely free pairs to enjoy.
DENTAL MERCHANDISE Something we have needed for a long time is dental merchandise. I developed a partnership with a clothing company and we now offer a range of products for purchase by any dental students. We started off with t-shirts and sweatshirts, which have sold very well – generating a nice income for the DentSoc and it is great to see students around campus wearing the gear! I also won a bid to purchase hundred of DentSoc branded canvas bags that we give out to students for free at all of our events – it is great seeing students around campus carrying library books/gym clothes etc in their DentSoc bags.
YOUTUBE CHANNEL I started a new YouTube channel for the Dental Society so we can start filming new video content for the DentSoc. We have started a number of different playlists, including a Staff Profiles program with fun interviews with the staff who look after us. I was also able to win a grant bid for hundreds of pounds for us to purchase professional filming equipment to keep and use for more video filming – I look forward to seeing how the channel grows in the next few years.
NEW FOUNDATIONS FOR GROWTH Whilst this isn’t a specific achievement, I am particularly proud of the new foundations that I have been able to lay for the Dental Society to build upon in the years to come so the DentSoc continuously improves. Everything new I introduced was carefully planned so that it is possible to maintain by future Presidents and expanded on. I look forward to seeing how the Dental Society builds in my final two years as a student and will always keep close tabs on the DentSoc even after I have graduated and left the university.
GAINING A MENTOR One of my first tasks as the Student President was to nominate a member of faculty to serve alongside me as the Staff President. I chose Dr Ali Nankali, who taught me operative dentistry when I was a second year student – he is someone I was close with, he was a great teacher and become my mentor too. I was lucky to have him supporting me and am glad I chose Dr Nankali. The similarities between us was also a factor in my decision: (1) like me he had a different career before dentistry, working as an engineer, (2) he is from Iran and I am from Iraq, we are neighbours, (3) we have the same name and same initials (A.N.), (4) we are the same height and (5) we have the same work ethic. We have become close professional friends now, and I feel like I can go to Dr Nankali for advice with anything whenever.
There were many other achievements in my time with the Dental Society, but I have not included everything here. I made many big promises at the start of the year, during my campaign to be elected and was able to deliver on everything. The measure of our success should always be based on the impact it has on the student body, because after all, the Dental Society is a student-led group that focusses on serving the students to ensure they all progress through the course (academically and clinically), have lots of fun in the process through all the social events and are well looked after to feel supported and comfortable.
None of this is written to show-off at all. I simply wanted to share this to give you reading this an idea of what my team and I accomplished and what a Dental Society gets up to. At the start of the year, many senior students, including past-Presidents, told me either directly/indirectly that my ambitions were too unrealistic and did not believe in me, so being able to enjoy many successes was a great feeling. I would encourage anyone who is going to take on the role of President to aim big. If you have ideas for what you can do to improve your DentSoc, make plans and go for it – you will surprise yourself with what is possible!
What did I learn from this experience?
I learnt so much and am fortunate for the lessons that my year as President taught me. It allowed me to continue developing myself and improving my soft skills. There are very few if any, similar opportunities that one can experience whilst a dental student.
As the President, you are essentially the formally the leader of the Dental Society committee, so I had a team of 24 people working with me. But beyond this, to a certain extent, you can also be considered the lead student for the whole dental school given how much responsibility there is on you. My leadership was tested and improved massively as a result. This is something I can take with me and will hopefully be of great benefit for me in the future as I do want to own my dental clinic and be a practice principal, leading my team of employees and guiding the vision of my dentistry. I learnt a lot about my leadership style through the year and had opportunities to be humbled by feedback and make changes to improve my style. I am a perfectionist, and this sometimes meant I would micro-manage or be too involved in every aspect of the DentSoc’s business. Leading a team for an extended period of time is not easy, so keeping everyone, myself included motivated to keep working hard was a challenge – I learnt that leading by example and putting in hard graft myself was important, but it was equally important to be passionate about what we were doing since this passion is infectious, if genuine and can inspire/motivate others.
I would like to think I am very good at public speaking. Before Presidency I had done lots of public speaking and have become confident with my own effective style. But there were so many additional public speaking responsibilities associated with Presidency so I believe I am now even better with delivering presentations and talks.
An unavoidable daily task involved me sending and replying to thousands of emails. In my previous full-time employment I had to email constantly, and managing a busy inbox is not easy, nor is it enjoyable – but it is a skill that you can develop and I have become very good at writing professional emails and being effective through electronic communication. So many of the Dental Society’s achievements were based upon long email chains between myself and others. Honestly, I believe skills like email communication are so important that they should be taught to all students (not just dental students) because inevitably most of us will rely hugely in our future careers on email. A poorly worded email can have disastrous results, and conversely, a well-written email can allow the sender to make huge impacts, secure deals, win friends, build a network, be respected and get the outcome they want.
Being so involved allowed me to learn all about what happens ‘behind the scenes’ within a dental school. It was interesting to find out about, but I was surprised to know that it is still a lot of politics in the leadership and rules for what can and cannot be changed/introduced. My insight has given me a greater appreciation for the efforts made to ensure we have a smooth ride through dental school as students but I also now realise why there are things that frustrate students which cannot be changed. As President, you have a seat at the table and this was great! I had regular one-on-one meetings with the Dean of the Dental School (see photos below – there were two different deans during the year: Prof Ferranti Wong, then Prof Irene Leigh).
Multi-tasking effectively over extended periods of time can be very challenging. Again, I believe this is a skill that can be developed with experience. As the President, I had many different responsibilities throughout the year, many of which would overlap, meaning my team and I would have to deal with many things simultaneously. The skills needed to multi-task properly also include time management, delegation and effective communication.
As well as being the leader for the dental students and representing their best interests within the Dental Institute, I was also on the Student Presidents’ Council (SPC). The SPC is a small committee made up the student leaders for the whole university (Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry). So, my responsibilities also included making decisions for all medical students and allied course students too – this allowed me to learn all about how the medical school runs!
Perhaps the most significant lesson for me from this was something I am only now able to properly consider, after stepping down from the role. Throughout the year, I was constantly stressed, there was just too much work to do and so much pressure associated with it all. I didn’t have any breakdowns but I came close on countless occasions – it would be foolish of me to write this long post and ignore the mega stress it was. There is no time off from the BDS for whoever is the President, so I had all of my own studies to keep on top of too. The experience taught me that a work-life balance is so critical. I learnt that I do not want to have a career that will cause me this much stress and affect my personal life or mental well-being. I would rather be slightly less busy with work if it means I am happier and less stressed as opposed to an unbalanced lifestyle.
I learnt so much more than what I have written about here. There are too many lessons to include, and the truth is that I am sure there are many experiences that I do not yet even realise I have learnt from, but I have. If you choose to be President at your dental school, I can almost guarantee that you will become a better person as a result, a better leader, a better communicator, more confident, more professional and have a huge head start for your future career. Any experience, whether it seems positive or negative to your immediate life will be beneficial for you in the bigger picture – it all depends on what your outlook is, think positive.
What were the negative aspects of being President?
There are many negative aspects. You will have to make sacrifices for the role. But once you’ve reached the finish line and get to see the bigger picture, looking back on what you have been through and accomplished you will be able to realise that it was all worth it. You will be a better person because of it. You will compromise a lot by choosing to be the President of your Dental School.
I will not elaborate on these negatives listed below:
- A lot less time to study dentistry
- A lot less time to spend doing what you enjoy
- A lot less time to spend with your friends
- Thousands of emails to send. You will never have an empty inbox
- Long days at dental school – so many long meetings to attend
- So much responsibility, the weight on your shoulders can be crushing at times
- People can easily make you a scapegoat
- Feeling of guilt and failure if things don’t go to plan
- Always a thousand things on your mind
- You often have to act as a middleman – people will ‘shoot’ you
- Managing a team can be very challenging at times
- You will be stressed and it will cause you to be unhealthy
I am so glad to be done with the role. Not because I didn’t enjoy it or appreciate the opportunity but because it means I am no longer affected by the above-listed negatives.
Unfortunately, I think the role caused me to have some mild situational depression. I am not so great at opening up and so I hardly told anyone about what I was suffering with. We all have struggles in life, and mine from the Presidency were self-imposed. I chose to make the role difficult by aiming for greatness and doing so much. My health deteriorated, I ate badly and exercised less – this resulted in me putting on twelve kilograms of fat, which in turn made me feel more depressed. I cried twice during the year when things didn’t go easy and I was crushed by the responsibility. Because so few have been the President of the Dental Society, there are not many people who can empathise directly with me on this – something I will do my best to work on by proactively catching up with the new President to make sure they are well supported and doing alright.
I put myself under unnecessary additional hardships by failing to compatmentalise my thoughts, failing to delegate more tasks to my team and over-thinking everything. Looking back I realise that a lot of the stress I put myself under was for silly little things, which aren’t important in the bigger picture. I’ve learnt from this and hopefully moving forward will be able to handle my heavy workload better and be more efficient with my mental and physical outputs.
I am including this to hopefully provide insight that is important for any students considering becoming President of the dental school. The truth is, these struggles are not exclusive to a student role and are affecting millions of people in all walks of life. I am writing about my own experiences here only. My advice to anyone would be to always be open with how you feel, let those close to you know what is going on and by sharing your feelings you will have some support systems and a form of therapy. You may find it impossible to at times, but make sure you make time to do what you love, what makes you happy and peaceful. For me, my personal time is when I am running or in the gym – I stopped going to the gym because ‘i didn’t have the time for it’ and this was a big mistake because the mindfulness and precious time in the gym usually helps clarify and clear my mind.
What would my advice be to any students considering becoming their Dental Society President?
If you decide to go for it, and I would recommend you consider doing so, my advice would be:
Do it properly. Do not do it half-arsed. If you decide to commit then give it everything you can and aim to achieve great things. Remind yourself WHY you chose to go for it when the times are tough and when the good times roll, you won’t need reminding. Your efforts will be recognised and appreciated, and the lasting impact you have will be something to look back on with pride. There’s almost no point going for it if you won’t work hard and do it with passion.
Have fun. Enjoy the role – there are so many great moments. It is a special role and you’re aim is to make the dental school a better place – that should make you happy! Take a step back at times to enjoy what you’ve been working so hard on – it is easy to be so engrossed with the actual work that you forget that you are allowed to enjoy it yourself too! If it isn’t lots of fun then you are doing something wrong – time to reassess.
Create habits and stick to them as much as possible. There is so much work to do, and it is an additional workload to what you are already doing in life and with your dental students. So, it is so important that you have structure and plan how to manage your time effectively. Set yourself a period of time each day when you will focus on DentSoc work – for me I would try to only respond to emails between the hours of 7:30pm-9pm (on weekdays only). I actively decided not to immediately reply to WhatsApp messages that were not urgent, instead, I would dedicate ~45 minutes (when commuting to university on the London Underground) to reply to any messages received – but I told everyone that if there is something urgent, call or TEXT me (i.e. text as opposed to WhatsApp) and I will reply promptly. There will, of course, be times when you need to break out of habits to get a big job done etc or address something urgent – that is fine, be flexible.
Work with a good team, lead them well. You have to appreciate that the team of students working with you on the Dental Society Committee are all there to help collectively work to support the dental school. Lead them and delegate task appropriately – do not micro-manage (even though I did). Share your vision with the team from the start of the year and then trust others to work on the tasks needed to complete. Find out what your own strengths and weaknesses are, and also find out what the strengths/weaknesses are for your team then delegate according to who can do what (and who wants to do what). One of the key aspects of leadership is to do this well – the skills will come to you with time.
Do not be afraid to make changes. Put your stamp on the DentSoc – make decisions you believe are correct. Trust your instincts – the role of President is a fantastic opportunity to make changes for the better. Just because DentSoc has always done X, Y, Z – that doesn’t mean you have to follow the same path, change it up! I made many changes and introduced lots of new initiatives – all of which have turned out brilliantly. People will look at the new DentSoc and associate it with you, but accept that not everything may work out – this shouldn’t put you off trying. If you want to make changes, you need to start early. By this I mean that you need to work on your new ideas as soon as you can, the later in the year you leave it, the more likely it is that you won’t do anything new. The day-to-day responsibilities will swallow up your motivation and time, so you need to make the new ideas reality within the first few months. When you’ve reached halfway through the year, your focus (and every other students’) will turn to exams etc.
Be open and honest with yourself. Don’t bottle up how you feel, share your emotions with those close to you. Express your fears, hesitations and let others know what you think – if you don’t then no one can help you or support your vision. It is easy to let pride or workload prevent you from being open, I definitely let this affect me and it was counter-productive. There’s a famous saying that goes something like: “It’s lonely at the top” – I think that is easily true but it is lonely because leaders make it that way for themselves.
Make time for yourself. Stay healthy in however you prefer to. I love to run and gym, but didn’t do as much of these activities as I should have – this led to my self-destruction (weight gain and mild depression). I would come home after a long day on an empty tank (low on physical and emotional energy) so would choose an unhealthy ready meal/takeaway far more often than I should have. Make time also to spend with your friends and family – don’t let yourself get lonely by saying no to socialising or just hanging out with friends. It’s not worth letting the responsibilities of Presidency take over your personal life.
We rise by lifting others. Find yourself a mentor/counsel – this could be a close dental student friend and ideally also a previous Student President who can relate with your journey. This goes both ways too – you should actively aim to inspire the next generation of students who will be involved with the Dental Society as its leaders. Often you will notice that there are one or two students who are on the DentSoc committee with you who you can see being great leaders to succeed you – take them under your wing and keep them closely involved. Not only will they help you lead by taking some workload off but they will be learning from you and be inspired to go for the role. To me, it was obvious that many students would be excellent leaders and I am pleased to see them now in these positions. You can only hope that they will go on to be the same and inspire the next generation.
Thanks for reading this post. I hope that this was interesting and helpful to you. I would highly recommend you consider getting more involved in your Dental Society, or with other societies whilst at dental school.
We are training for five years, but it goes so quickly and you will not get this precious student-life back. You will learn and develop so much – all of the positives totally outweigh the negatives. We will always have struggles in life, but it is important to ride these waves – we become better for it.
I would absolutely love to know what your thoughts are, so please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me if you want to chat.
Happy to speak with students wanting to contact me for advice!
I’m looking forward to starting my fourth year of training in a few weeks – especially because I will have lots more free-time for myself.