First patient? Top 5 tips on preparing for your first patient!

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If you prefer videos, watch our youtube video where we also talk about our first patient experiences!

Seeing you first patient can be a very daunting process. It’s one of those things you always think you will look forward to. But just a few days before the appointment, reality hits, and suddenly you hope they DNA (do not attend). You start to panic and feel unprepared. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us and even sometimes happens to dentists who have seen plenty of patients. In this blog post we give you our top 5 tips on how to better prepare yourself for seeing patients.

The night before seeing your first patient!
The night before seeing your first patient!

Tip 1: Be aware of patient’s low expectations!

Your first patient will have low expectations. Your patients are aware they are been seen by students, so they won’t have some unrealistically high expectations of how the appointment will go. They know what they signed up for. So it’s ok to make mistakes at first or to stutter or for you to get stuck and not know what to do. The more patients you see, the smoother the whole process will be. Hopefully having this in the back of your mind will ease some of the stress you’re experiencing!

Tip 2: Be ahead of schedule

One of the biggest ways to reduce anxiety and to be better prepared for your first appointment is by looking through the patient notes a few days before seeing them. Hopefully they’ve been seen at the dental hospital before and this gives you a better understanding of what to expect and prepare for. Look at the medical history and see if this could effect your treatment plan. Think about what your supervisor might want to know when you’re presenting to them. I would familiarise myself with any drugs and their indications by looking in the BNF app. I would also look at their previous dental history to give me a better idea of the status of their mouth. Doing this will make it much easier to talk to the patient because you’re not required to process as much new information on the day.

After you’ve had a good look at what you are probably going to be doing that day, I advise setting up the bay well before they get in and that will also help to make the appointment run as smoothly as possible. Especially if you aren’t familiar with where things are, it just makes the process much more sleek if you don’t disappear every 5 minutes to get materials or equipment. The likelihood is that because this will be the first time you seeing them you’ll need to take a history, examination and do some further investigations. The things I would have ready in the bay are all the necessary paper work, the most recent radiographs, an exam kit, glasses, a bib, PPE, a filled up water cup and possibly an ultrasonic scaler in case I get that far.

Tip 3: Practice taking medical history

A lot of people struggle with taking a medical history and we’re going to be releasing a whole blog post/video about taking a full history next week, but if I had to give one advice, it would be to go to your clinic and take a medical history sheet home with you. Look at each category and come up with a sentence that you feel comfortable with asking. For example, for respiratory problems I ask “Do you have any problems with your breathing like asthma?”. This is especially important for the more awkward questions. Instead of asking “do you have any urinary tract problems, I say “do you have any problems going to the toilet?”. Instead of neurological problems: “Do you ever experience faints, fits or funny turns?”. Another way to get some of these sentences is by shadowing or assisting others. I know it sounds super nerdy and keen but if you ask some dentists at your hospital if you can shadow them, most of them will be up for it. Shadow them with a notebook and take notes on the sentences and phrases they use. To this day I use phrases that I heard another dentist say and it’s helped me loads because I can sometimes be awkward, but with patients it never shows.

And also, prepare yourself for surprising histories. Some patients are very honest, and will tell you confidential information like “I use crack cocaine or I smoke marijuana” and you need to learn to not react and be very professional and just jot it down. Also don’t just brush it off, you can ask more questions about it because sometimes it can affect their oral health. Too many times I’ve seen someone look scared after they find out their patient uses drugs and it really does change the vibe of the appointment.

Tip 4: Be Organised

Okay, this tip will feel really extra but it was one of the best things I started doing in my clinical years. I used to go in to clinics and my supervisors would give me some amazing tips and I would say to myself “don’t worry, 100% I’ll remember this”. Then forget it the next day. You HAVE to get a reflection diary and write down the main points of what you’ve learnt and also write what went wrong in an appointment and how you would do it differently next time. I would split this diary up into the main subjects like Restorative, Paediatrics, Oral Surgery and so on. This helped me learn from my mistakes so much faster and meant that I didn’t make the same mistake over and over again. Lets say my positioning was wrong while extracting a tooth but I can’t quite remember how it was wrong, I would open this book up to the Oral Surgery section and look at the mistakes I’ve previously made and all the tips I’ve been given. You can even do this in notes on your phone and by having a different folder for each subject and then as you learn, you add to it.

Having a reflection diary will help you prepare for your first patient
Ali’s reflection diary

Also in line with this tip is to have an availability diary, whether that’s in a physical book or your phone, it doesn’t matter. I think I would personally be so lost without one. It’s important to do 2 things right from the beginning: First is to figure out when your sessions are and write them down. Once you’ve written down your availability. You should ask if they can make it on a particular day, book them in and call them a couple days before to make sure they remember to come in. I started doing this when i found a lot of my patients DNA-ing. The 2nd point is to write down which patients you have and what treatment they require, crossing out whatever you’ve done so far so that I know what’s left. This helps in 2 ways, it lets me plan which patients I want to fit into each slot and it also helps me time the length of the appointment based on what I need to do.

Tip 5: Talk to others in your year

You want to see what their experience was like if they saw a patient before you. If you know this appointment will be taking primary impressions, then try and find someone in your group of friends whose already done that and ask them how the appointment went. They might be able to give you tips on what the supervisor expected them to know or what things tend to run out in dispensary.

Bonus tip: Iron your scrubs!

If you iron your scrubs and you look good and you feel good, the likelihood is that confidence will resonate and the patient would feel more comfortable in your care improving the overall patient experience.

If you found this blog post useful, check out some of the suggested blog posts below. If you have any questions please message us on Instagram @two.dentists !

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