Graduating DDS class president reflects on unique time

Fourth-year class president Yazan Alkhatib graduates from the Doctor of Dental Surgery program this spring. He was asked to share his experiences over the last two months.

Q: How are you adapting to the new pandemic normal?

I’ve quickly learned that ‘normal’ is all about perspective. That was the first step in adjusting to the ‘new normal’. Instead of obsessing about the aspects of life that are beyond my control – such as the federal and state government, the economy, or the progression of the pandemic – I’m focused on everything I can control. Every single day, I have control over strengthening relationships, spending hours learning about advancements in dental technology, remaining informed on COVID-19 and how it impacts my profession. Additionally, during this stay-at-home time, there is more to life than solely obsessing about productivity. It is okay to take time to rest and recuperate by binge watching Netflix, snoozing the alarm 8 times, eating a sleeve of Oreos and lounging on the couch.  

What extracurricular activities do you typically participate in? What does this look like in the new social isolation environment?

I’ve been lucky to serve as our class president for the last four years. The majority of my free time recently has been spent focusing on the needs of my entire class alongside my close friends Matt Anderson and Frankie Munkwitz (the best vice presidents I could have hoped). With little warning, the perfect plan that our entire class spent eight years creating and dreaming of was thrown into question when clinical operations were suspended. We have an amazing team that we work with comprised of School of Dentistry administration, classmates, and class officers nationwide.

Together, we have become experts on all the logistical obstacles presented nationally to our being able to finally become dentists. As dental students, our challenges are more complex as we focus on issues such as graduation, completing our clinical requirements at a time when patient care is suspended, dental licensure reform, and our student debt burden.

Equally important, we also want to make sure everyone is emotionally and mentally okay. Our class has been a happy dental family for the last four years, and not even a pandemic can take that away from us. I’d like to thank our entire class for being so passionate and trusting. I’d also like to thank our deans and office of student affairs for being proactive and creative with addressing our needs. It’s been an honor to work alongside everyone at our school!

How are you staying active during this unique time?

Ooofda has this been challenging. For the last few years, I’ve made a habit of working out to stay healthy and as a form of stress relief. The U of M Recreation Center has tons of equipment, and fit, beautiful, hard-working people to keep me motivated. I quickly learned during the pandemic that this environment was weirdly critical to me working out.

I don’t think the Roman Gladiators had access to the U of M Rec Center, so I knew I could get by too. Now the world is my gym. I jog outside (to anyone who knows me, this is crazy, I know), I do high-intensity workouts with YouTube, I use the Peloton app in the living room, do online yoga, pull ups at a construction site, daily walks and more. Having a workout buddy to stay entertained, motivated and committed has been crucial!  Being active is way more important than just physical strength. My mental and emotional health are the biggest beneficiaries during these times.

Do you have any creative ways for staying connected with your peers?

The most important task on my to-do list each day is to Facetime, Zoom or call at least one person every single day. Not only has this allowed me to strengthen my friendships with my peers, but I’ve also used it as a time to rekindle old friendships. Weather permitting, I try to walk outside as I do this. I call these “Walk ‘n Talks”. We all have those people from high school, undergrad, or even summer camp that we fell out of touch with.

Talk about how you have adjusted your environment to accommodate your class/study needs.

Since undergrad, I have always tried to study away from home to ensure my home was a stress-free environment. I spent a lot of my time in coffee shops, libraries, study rooms. The first thing I did after we were asked to stay at home was get rid of this shackling expectation. I now can be productive at home and can have fun doing it. I started by cleaning my desk of unfolded laundry and knickknacks. This is my new “coffee shop, library, and study room.” Next to me, I always have a cup of coffee, study snacks, and school supplies. For me it has been critical to have a spot that I mentally associate with my academic needs. Most importantly, it is important that I am not facing my big comfy bed or refrigerator.

Anything else you want to share?

We need to keep smiling. Five out of five dentists agree that you look better with a smile.

Yazan Alkhatib
Yazan Alkhatib