No Complaints: This Journey Was Worth It

The future is bright, and I will always remember how I got there
illustration of student with diploma and sun breaking free of clouds
“Dental school has been the four hardest years of my life, but it has also helped me become the person I want to be,” says Lalita Nekkanti. Illustration: Marc Rosenthal
October 14, 2015

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Growing up near the ghetto, I watched my friends become dropouts, teenage parents, drug addicts and alcoholics. I left my hometown for a small liberal arts college in suburbia, where I met individuals with similar goals of becoming a health professional.

I was one of just two students in my graduating class to get accepted into a health professional school straight out of college. Everybody warned me that dental school would be the hardest years of my life, but I found it hard to listen.

I wonder if my classmates now remember when we were avid predentals applying to dental school and tearing open our acceptance letters, imagining people addressing us as doctors? Did we understand then about the hardships? I didn’t.

In the years since, however, I’ve seen fellow classmates drop out, fail out and even pass away. And I have spent countless hours complaining about my circumstance of privilege. I will admit it: the path I chose turned out to be more difficult than I ever would have imagined.

Yet now, in my fourth year of dental school, I am able to say that the regrets I have are not about the stressful times, but about the hours I wasted complaining about them. The way I see it, dental school is preparing us for a world where we sometimes have to accept situations and make the best of what we have. Sure, school is tough and expensive, but it is an investment in a good future.

Also, I often find myself reflecting that there are people in my life who have never been given such a wonderful opportunity.

Recently, I went on a dental outreach trip to Zambia with the nonprofit Options for Children in Zambia. I worked alongside Harold and James, two dental therapy students, in the remote village of Muchila. Their story is an amazing one.

Harold and James were farmers in Muchila with limited money and resources. They were barely making ends meet before Options sponsored them to attend dental therapy training school. The only catch was that they had to return to high school and bring their grades up.

At the Zambian Dental Training School, they were tackling a rigorous curriculum while living away from their families. It has taken them eight years to complete the program. Now in their late 30s, the two will return to their village and provide a sustainable oral health infrastructure that the community desperately needs after we foreigners leave.

In light of what they have gone through, and what they have achieved, I realize my own complaints about the trials of dental school were trivial.

We are all going to graduate, regardless of whether it takes some longer than others. We are all going to pay off our exorbitant student debt, regardless of whether it takes a few more years. We are all going to be licensed, practicing dentists, regardless of whether we fail a few times.

The worries we all share as dental students will be fleeting memories 10 years from now. So instead of complaining, why not show our gratitude for the opportunities that allow us to learn, transform and heal? While some may choose to forget their dental school experiences, I never will.

We all complain, and sometimes it feels impossible not to. But we should reflect back to our predental days and remind ourselves of how lucky we are to be in dental school.

Dental school has been the four hardest years of my life, but it has also helped me become the person I want to be. After all the sleepless nights and anxious days, I will always remember the journey.

Lalita Nekkanti, D15, is pursuing a one-year General Practice Residency at Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, and hopes to earn a master’s degree in public health at Tulane University. She would like to work in a group practice and a community health center after her residency.

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of ASDA News. It is reprinted with permission from the American Student Dental Association.