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“Senior Year” by Don Hull, 1964

The May 1964 issue of the Washington University Dental Journal was devoted to “A Future in Dentistry.”  Its purpose was to give the school’s alumni information that they could pass on to any patients who might be interested in dentistry as a career.  A series of articles, each written by a member of the four classes, explained “Life in Dental School.”  This article about Senior Year was written by Donald F. Hull, who graduated in the Class of 1964.

Don Hull ’64

A senior dental student can now start thinking and talking in retrospect – you know the kind of comments – “when I was in dental school,” because it is almost all over for him . . . or has it just now begun?  In just two short months we’re to be cast out into the “cold, cruel world,” an event, incidentally, we’ve looked toward for these past four years.

But let us not worry about the unknown; for a moment I’d like to consider what has made these four short years so memorable.

If my freshman year seemed somewhat frustrating, with the seemingly insurmountable quantities of studies meted out, the senior year by contrast loses much of this uncertainty.  I find using this acquired knowledge a pleasant experience.  I couldn’t “for the life of me” figure out why an aspiring young dentist would need biochemistry, bacteriology or some of the other basic sciences taught during the freshman or sophomore year.  What did they have to do with teeth and their repair?  Why waste time “racking” my brains over things I’d never need or use?  Well, I think now that I’m just beginning to appreciate and gain an insight into why these classes were taught to us.  I’m just now beginning to really see that as a part of the medical team we consider the person as a whole and not as a part.  Almost every day of a senior student’s school life he must use some of these hard-learned facts in diagnosing a person’s illnesses – not just a tooth.  I can now understand why our instructors insisted we learn anatomy of the human head and neck better than any other medical field, and why we must know the pathology of disease and the symptoms associated with it.  It’s this type of experience which has enabled dentists to diagnose more cancers in the mouth than any other of the medical teams.

I am not going to labor these points further, only to say that I’m very proud of the education and training I’ve received at Washington University School of Dentistry.

Part of this retrospective examination must of necessity include my family, as they are an integral part of it all.  I should consider questions of finances and living conditions.  Has our stay here been enjoyable, and if so, why?

When I arrived in St. Louis from Utah, I was single.  This condition only lasted six months for at Christmas time I was married to a Utah girl.  This type of event, I might add, has overtaken the majority of my classmates during these four years.

Annette, my wife, came back to St. Louis after completing her internship as a medical technician and immediately went to work in one of the many jobs to be found in this hospital-laden area.  St. Louis has ample jobs for wives wishing to put their husband through dental school and also many part time jobs for the dental student himself.

We found that a transfer of work from a technician to school teaching would provide a substantial boost in income, so at present Annette can be found five days a week teaching sixth grade math and science.

Since the summer of my sophomore year I’ve held a full-time job as a bacteriologist for a liquid sugar company.  We’ve found that this added income has provided us with a near debt free slate at graduation time.

Housing could be a problem in some cities, but St. Louis isn’t one of them.  Adequate low rent housing projects are convenient to our school, and most married students take advantage of this.  Annette and I have inherited, from a preceding senior, a seven-room apartment, very reasonable, and a short distance from school.  Along with our new daughter, we feel we have an excellent home.  Other similar facilities are to be found in this area convenient to the school.

As graduation approaches, it’s becoming more and more evident that the faculty now expects decisions to be made primarily by the senior student.  We seem to be free from the strict supervision which is so characteristic of the preceding years.  Some faculty members have stated that we are now more like associates than students, a feeling which will take some getting used to, at least for me.

A senior is expected to handle the more complex treatments, so you’ll find the typical senior prescribing treatment and following through in treatment similar to private practice.  As many of these cases are of interest to other students as teaching aids, seminars are prepared by students and presented to the class and some faculty members.  These cases may include anything from problems associated with an abscess or cyst on a tooth due to neglected decay, to technics in fashioning an artificial nose or dentures for someone who has had the jawbone or nose removed due to cancer.  Many times a student will give his classmates findings relative to the case and then ask each one to write his diagnosis and prescribed treatment.  This can be a thought-provoking situation.

Time is set aside in the senior curriculum for training in office management, to include methods of setting up bookkeeping systems and files.  Instruction in insurance needed, office assistants and their duties and many other related fields is also an integral part of our training.

The doctor-patient relationship is as important as some of the more technical aspects of our training if we are to be successful in private practice.  For this reason much time is spent individually and collectively by instructors making helpful suggestions in patient management.  After all we’re taught, “You may be best in diagnosing, planning treatment and restoring function, but you must gain the confidence of your patients to be successful.”  Certainly a patient must like you if good relationships are to exist.

After all of this schooling is over, what?  Many of my classmates find two years in the military service a welcome treat.  I say “treat” as it provides added training and also a ready source of income.  Of my class, I would say that close to seventy percent will be officers either in the Army, Navy or Air Force.  Some others are planning on specialization.  Oral surgery, oral pathology and orthodontics are some of the chosen fields.

Whether before our military service or after, we all must pass state dental examinations in order to practice.  As a matter of fact, we’re in the process of preparing ourselves for just such occasions.  Many states accept nationally given written tests as a requirement for entrance into their states for practice, but for the few states which don’t a written local state board examination must be passed.  Then, in either instance, the state gives a practical test consisting of actual work done on patients at a prescribed time at designated testing centers.  Once these hurdles are over, we can start our practice.

It’s then that we’ll be even more gratified for the fine training and education given to us in one of the best: Washington University School of Dentistry.


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