“The Reward of a Goal Achieved” – Leading Edge Student Essay

By Ashleigh O’Brien  

Ashleigh O’Brien 

As graduation approaches, I began to reflect on my time at Detroit Mercy Dental. Thinking about where I started and who I’ve become throughout this journey is very humbling. The first two years were filled with countless hours of studying and navigating the course load. The skills I thought I mastered while achieving my bachelor’s degree quickly became ways of the past. Although I’ve always excelled in my studies, learning and comprehending new information has never come easy. When comparing myself to my colleagues, I’ve always felt a sense of imposter syndrome. The overpowering feeling of personal incompetence persists despite my education and accomplishments. I would often hold myself to a higher standard and work myself to the point of exhaustion. The course load of dental school along with the constant thoughts of self-doubt made it unnecessarily difficult. Throughout my time at Detroit Mercy Dental, I’ve seized every opportunity to critically think, increase my knowledge about the dental field and become more confident in my skills. 

Along with the challenges of school, the quote “life doesn’t stop just because you’re in dental school” quickly became my reality. Unfortunately, over the last few years, I’ve mourned multiple deaths of close relatives and friends as well as navigated through dental school as a new mom in a pandemic, which has made it clear that the road to success is far from a straight line. With every challenge in my personal and professional life, I was grateful to have the faculty and staff at Detroit Mercy Dental to encourage me and provide support along the way. 

As I entered clinic in my third year, I knew it would bring both rewarding and terrifying experiences. Adding the additional element of patient management and real-life patients was sure to add an additional level of stress and anxiety. With words of encouragement from faculty and staff, my confidence grew and I became more proud of the work I was doing. Seeing and hearing feedback from patients made me realize that I was where I belonged. All the self-doubt and criticism was holding me back from flourishing. Each day, I put my foundational knowledge to the test and apply it to each patient’s case. Walking into clinic, I thought I needed to have “mastered” dentistry to be able to perform well. This was far from true. I began working on having a growth mindset and knew my ability to perform would increase through effort, perseverance and practice.  

As my time at Detroit Mercy Dental ends, I know that my education does not stop here. With the guidance and mentorship throughout the years, I know there is always more to learn even beyond the scope of hands-on skills. My biggest take away is that what you get by achieving your goals is far less important than who you become by achieving them. Not only have I gained knowledge about the dental field, I’ve succeeded in improving my confidence, communication, and ability to think critically and I am beyond thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been offered.