Recently I have been enjoying a program on the BBC about "normal" people being put through astronaut training to highlight how demanding it is and probably drum up interest among the younger generation of potential space explorers. As always, everything I see/hear sparks off my brain thinking about how it could be applied to dentistry and there have been a few interesting ideas from this show. Either in terms of helping with teaching dental students or in relation to things that could be applied in general practice.
Here are a few examples from the show and ideas for how they could apply to dentistry:
Doing mental challenges at the same time as simple physical exercise.
You ideally want to avoid multitasking (The human brain really isn't good at multi-tasking) but it is often difficult in the real world and almost impossible for astronauts to avoid. In the show they got the applicants to do a simple repetitive step up and down movement while also engaging in a mental arithmetic challenge. These applicants are all very intelligent people, most with multiple degrees and yet they struggled with this. It really helps to highlight how our brains really aren't very good at multi-tasking. Where-ever possible we should try to avoid it but it is also useful to recognise that we struggle with it and try to train ourselves in this area. For instance I have a hand grip strengthener that I use to relax my hand muscles after extractions etc. I will be testing myself with using this at the same time as doing brain training with my dental anatomy cards. Hopefully this will improve my ability to do basic multitasking.
Calling for help appropriately. Not too late that you have got into major problems, not too early causing unnecessary disruption. In the show the applicants were wearing a fighter pilot oxygen mask and at an undisclosed time the oxygen supply was reduced while their blood oxygen saturation was monitored. They had to announce when they thought the oxygen flow had been turned off. The key is announcing a problem at an appropriate time. As an astronaut, calling an oxygen failure would end a space-walk with big implications. But if they didn't announce the problem early enough it could be a life-threatening situation. This made me think about times in the past when I have asked for help with something that I could have sorted myself if I was a bit more confident. This really isn't a major issue in practice but causes a bit of time disruption. However the opposite situation when people fail to ask for help at an appropriate time really can be serious.
Applying new skills after very stressful experiences.
E.g. Reading Russian (if you are not a native Russian speaker) after a rocket launch which is a very demanding physical experience. Or for many dentists early in their career perhaps assessing the situation and giving postop instructions after a challenging surgical procedure. Our job can be very demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. We need to learn to be able to come down from a high and pick ourselves up from a difficult situation quickly. This isn't always easy to do. One reason why having set ways in which you carry out many procedures can be so useful. For instance I always give my extraction postops in a set way that is now very routine. All pts also receive written post op instructions. Talking a pt through this takes a couple of minutes, long enough for me to unwind from the procedure and then I can be in a better mindset to assess the situation to make sure I am happy to let the pt go home.
Remember that dentistry is all around us, or at least lessons to be learnt that we can apply to dentistry. If you want to watch some of the BBC program have a look here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05bf1jt
Dr Chris Harper