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Opening doors for students

How is the new bursary scheme in Scotland benefitting dental students and what other support is available to them?

Georgia Halkett Fourth year dental student, Dundee

The COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on the lives of dental students in Scotland. Some are facing the prospect of having to repeat a year of training, many more have spent the last year worried about their financial stability and their futures.

Thankfully, a student bursary scheme was announced by the Scottish Government in February, following campaigning by the BDA. This financial assistance extends a lifeline to students and makes an enormous difference to students’ levels of debt, mental wellbeing and career options. Here I look at what supports are available to dental students in Scotland as we navigate this new normal together.

A shock to the system

Restarting training after eight months of lockdown was a real shock to the system, which caused a great deal of anxiety among dental students. We had received online teaching since being sent home in March and had sat exams, but many of us had had very little social interaction during this time, let alone any clinical experience. However, clinical staff and supervisors were incredibly supportive. They reminded us that de-skilling following a period of absence was to be expected. We also received a lot of individual attention and feedback, which helped build our confidence, even though there were reduced numbers of clinics and patients to treat.

Hearing that the bursaries were going to be provided was an enormous relief for me.

As we began to adjust to our new normal, there was still the gnawing worry about finances and whether we would receive any financial support. Most part-time jobs that were essential for students to help them manage were not an option due to the pandemic. Many students were forced to consider if they could even afford to remain in dental school. Without the bursary many of us would have had to drop out. Hearing that the bursaries were going to be provided was an enormous relief for me and so many other students.

What the bursary means

The bursary offers vital opportunities to students by reducing the enormous amount of debt that many of us graduate with. For me, this means that I can now consider a Core Training pathway to eventually work in a hospital setting rather than narrowing my options to what is most financially stable. Likewise, more of my peers will be able to afford to pursue further training and become experts in their desired fields.

It is so important for the sustainability and success of dentistry as a whole that students have the possibility to follow their desired career pathways. I hope that the fifth year students in England and the rest of the UK are offered a similar lifeline. It makes an enormous difference to my and other students’ mental wellbeing and ability to enjoy the learning experience. This is important in any year, but all the more vital after the stresses of the pandemic.

Creating a healthy balance

However, some of the changes over the past year have been very positive and I hope that they remain in place post-pandemic. Online pre-recorded lectures have been a gamechanger by providing students with more freedom and control over our days and offering the possibility to refer back to them at a later date. This more flexible timetable enables students to take part in clubs and sports more easily, which is beneficial for wellbeing and getting in the habit of creating a healthy work-life balance at the start of our careers.

Our mental health is extremely important, and help is available to students if they are struggling.

The pandemic has also caused many students to reach out and discover the services available to support them. The BDA Benevolent Fund for instance has supported record levels of dental students in financial hardship this year. Our mental health is extremely important, and help is available to students if they are struggling. Counselling and wellbeing support is provided free of charge to all members by the BDA’s Health Assured programme. Tell your classmates about these services, which can help us support ourselves and each other during this challenging time.

Looking ahead

It is difficult to be at the beginning of our careers and facing so much uncertainty. We are all concerned about reduction in available jobs, and many of us are worried about the future. Adapting to our new normal will continue to be a constantly evolving work in progress, and on the whole, I believe dental students are resilient and prepared for this.

The bursary scheme has given us a much-needed boost, both in practical financial terms and for our mental wellbeing. As we move forward, I urge you to reach out and learn more about the services that can support you. Students must also remain an active part of the BDA so that our voices can continue to be heard, and important campaigns, like the one for the bursary, can be fought and won.

Read about the benefits of student membership.