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Extractions, emotions and me!

Life as a Clinical Fellow in Newcastle School of Dental Sciences

11 August 2021


My name is Emma Robinson and I am a Clinical Fellow at the School of Dental Sciences, Newcastle University.
Graduating in 2007 from Newcastle Dental School I couldn’t wait to get out into the ‘real world’, not for one second did I think I would be back teaching at the School on Oral Surgery and certainly not doing a PhD.

So how did I find myself here?

Good question because I did NOT like oral surgery as a student (cried all the time) and have always avoided academic work as I never felt I was very good at it (recently found out I am dyslexic). Some people might say I am a glutton for punishment but, I prefer to say I enjoy a challenge.

Emma Robinson, Clinical Fellow in Oral Surgery

After University...

After graduation I had initially taken junior positions in Oral Maxillofacial Surgery to address my lack of confidence but found that I grew to love the speciality and to my surprise I was actually pretty good at it. I am in no doubt that part of my love of oral surgery comes from the fact I did find it hard but I have managed to conquer my fears and progress. Despite loving oral surgery a couple of years ago, I was feeling static in my career and I happened to mention this to a colleague (who subsequently has become one of my PhD supervisors), she suggested I tried teaching and a PhD. With disturbingly little thought I jumped right in!
I had been involved with informal post graduate teaching in the past and I had really loved the opportunity to share my expertise with junior colleagues so I thought teaching undergraduates would be an extension of these skills….wrong! I had totally forgotten my own undergraduate experience, just how terrifying it is to take a tooth out for the first time on someone who is sleep deprived, in pain and ‘hates the dentist’. I could see on clinic the students going through some of the emotions I had experienced. I had managed to overcome my fears but it had taken some time and it had not always been the ‘nicest’ experience.
All of this gave me the idea for my PhD especially after I was introduced to the concept of Psychological Flexibility. Simply put this is our willingness to put ourselves in challenging situations in order to achieve our goals. Some people can do this easier than others and interestingly you can improve your ‘flexibility’ through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I wondered if the students who conquered their fears quickly were more flexible than those who seemed to struggle. Also having good ‘flexibility’ is known to be protective during challenging situations. Could principles of ACT be incorporated into our undergraduate teaching? Wouldn’t it be amazing to train dentists who can not only be technically proficient but also be equipped to navigate emotional aspects of a practising life?
I just need to remember all of this when I am struggling with the academic demands of a PhD!