Balancing the Busy

Written by Dr. Lauren Kuhn, Edited by Amanda Waddle

Dr. Lauren Kuhn is a native of Aberdeen, Washington. She attended Gonzaga University for her undergraduate studies and attended the Harvard School of Dental Medicine for her dental education. During dental school, Lauren served as Miss Massachusetts and became 4th runner-up to Miss America 2015. In August 2019, she will graduate from the Medical University of South Carolina with a master’s degree and a certificate in endodontics.

Dr. Lauren Kuhn — DMD & Miss Massachusetts 2014

Dr. Lauren Kuhn — DMD & Miss Massachusetts 2014

Dental school is a time when every spare moment seems to count. So, when I became Miss Massachusetts at the end of my first year of dental school, I wasn’t sure how I was going to balance my pageant responsibilities with my education. During this challenging time, there were three key skills I learned: how to study when time is limited, how to communicate with professors/superiors, and how to engage the community for charitable events and sponsorships.

Study Techniques:

Imagine waking up early, memorizing a speech, spending time selecting the appropriate attire, and then realizing that you’re missing a button. Uh oh. Better move on to another option and make sure it’s not wrinkled. The car is parked about three city blocks away, it’s snowing, the traffic is at a standstill, and you’re going to be late to the event you need to attend this morning. Oh, and there’s a final exam at 1 pm. No problem, right?

Busy days like this seemed to occur nearly every day during my time as Miss Massachusetts. I was a second-year dental student living in a dorm on the Harvard Medical School campus. Space and time were at a premium and I realized that every moment was precious. I didn’t have family in the area to help me with household tasks—such as ironing my clothes, doing my laundry, cooking, etc.—or to help drive me to events. However, this taught me some valuable skills.

Here are three techniques I used to help me study while balancing a busy schedule of events:

1)    Listen to recordings of lectures: Whether you’re walking a couple of blocks, driving, taking public transportation, flying, or simply cleaning your apartment, you can often listen to audio recordings of professors discussing the very topics that you need to study for your exams. If you’re not walking or driving, you might even be able to watch lectures or YouTube videos that teach the concepts you’re aiming to master.

2)    Audio record your notes: Each night, re-read your notes from class and then audio record them on your phone. Just like with lecture recordings, you can listen to them when you’re on-the-go. Even if you’re walking five minutes to the grocery store, that’s five minutes of studying that you weren’t going to get otherwise. Give it a try! By re-reading and then audio recording your notes, you’re triggering your memory in multiple ways: writing (the notes), reading, speaking, and then listening. That’s a recipe for recollection.

3)    Use a flashcard app for your phone: Are you waiting five minutes for a meeting with your research advisor? Or waiting two minutes for your uber/bus/plane to arrive? During those moments of waiting, consider flipping through a few flashcards. Even if it’s only five flashcards while you’re waiting for your friends to meet you for dinner, that’s significantly more than zero. Each exposure to material is helpful and can help you feel proud of your time management rather than guilty about your busy life.

Communication:

This is a skill that we all believe we possess, but we don’t realize we need to nurture until a problem occurs. For example, when a person has multiple responsibilities—that both try to claim 100% of their energy—the person will have to make concessions. This led me to a personal mindset:

“If you don’t tell people what’s going on, they won’t know.”

            Let’s look at an example of how I utilized my personal philosophy of communication.

There’s no such thing as an “excused” absence.

Whether I was absent from class or events for pageant reasons, a conference, or medical appointments, I realized that even if an absence was for a legitimate reason, superiors and professors may not be aware of the circumstances. A lack of communication in these situations could have negative consequences. This is perfectly natural and is a phenomenon that we will all experience in our lives, whether they be educational, work-related, or personal. With time, I found that the best policy was to give plenty of advanced notice, explain the situation to the superior/professor (in-person, rather than solely through the official paperwork required), and do my best to go above and beyond in other ways.  

My first recollection of how I used my communication philosophy was when I missed one particular class twice in a row. The first absence was for a medical appointment and the second was for a conference. While these were independent events and both were important reasons for an absence, I did not want the professor to have a negative opinion of my dedication to their class. In that instance, I talked to the professor in advance and then emailed a summary of what I had learned from the required pre-class reading assignments. If I had not sent the summaries of what I learned from the pre-class readings, it is possible that the professor would have thought “She isn’t here and probably isn’t learning the material for this class.” I wanted to avoid this assumption.

The second time I honed my communication skills was when I was struggling in a particular class. This course was challenging and took up a great deal of my time. I noticed my classmates staying late at school—often past 10 pm—to study for this course. As Miss Massachusetts, I wasn’t able to stay late most days due to other obligations. This put a major damper on my studying. In an effort to maintain communication and take ownership of my challenges, I spoke with the professor and explained that I was struggling. I described my study techniques, clarified that I was studying on the weekends, and let the professor know that I had chosen to cancel my trip for an upcoming ASDA conference so that I could spend more time focusing on the course. While it was unfortunate that I cancel my participation in that conference, I wanted my professor to understand that I was making sacrifices and taking the academic course seriously. Again, the goal of maintaining communication during challenging times is to avoid assumptions. An assumption I wanted to avoid in this case was “She is too busy and might not be prioritizing my class.”

The same principle held true if I was running late for an event because of educational obligations. For example, if I was scheduled to be a keynote speaker for a scholarship fundraiser an hour away and then class ran late, jeopardizing my on-time arrival, I immediately called the contact person for the fundraiser. I would let her know my ETA (estimated time of arrival) and I would briefly explain the situation about class running late. Instead of the contact person assuming that I was simply late or had poor time management skills, she would be able to understand that I was a dedicated student who wanted to give her a heads-up about a timing issue. This type of proactive communication approach tended to prevent issues before they occurred.

Charitable Events and Sponsorships:

During my busiest times, I’ve learned to ask for help and support. Whether I was looking for additional scholarship donors or sponsors for a dental-related event, I reminded myself that:

“If you don’t ask, you’ll never know the answer.” 

and

“The worst thing they can say is “No.” 

When I was looking for sponsors for school and pageant-related causes, my mentality was the same. I assumed that most potential sponsors would be either unresponsive or would decline to participate. I also assumed that letters and emails would likely be ignored, so in-person requests for sponsorships would probably be most successful. If an in-person visit wasn’t possible, I did my best to follow-up my emails with a phone call a few days later.

You might wonder, how did I get sponsors to say “Yes”?

During in-person visits to businesses, I explained who I was and why I was passionate about the cause I was working on. Then, I did my best to express my knowledge of the particular business I was visiting. I researched their mission and their past philanthropic work. Finally, I explained how together, we could partner for a win-win situation: With their sponsorship, they could contribute directly to an important cause and build their reputation. 

When I went to businesses to ask for sponsorships or donations, I also brought a one-page handout with me. In the top right corner, I included a photo (i.e. a photo of the pediatric dental clinic’s volunteers). At the beginning of the handout, I would give background on me and why I was passionate about the cause. This would help potential sponsors see that I was strongly invested and a longer-term contact person, rather than a one-time sponsorship-seeking volunteer who was simply going door-to-door. In the next section, I would provide 2-3 facts about the charitable cause (i.e. the number of children in the greater Boston area that did not have a dental home or did not have access to affordable dental care). I would also provide a sentence or two explaining why this was important (i.e. how affordable dental care is relevant to their business). Then, in the final section, I explained how the upcoming event—in this example, a charity auction—was aiming to make a difference. I would include the number of projected attendees at the auction and how much money we aimed to raise for the clinic. How many children would be helped if we raise $X? How many children would benefit from a single sponsorship? Then, I would explain the amount of exposure the business would get from making a donation to the auction, including on social media and at the auction itself. Finally, I included a sentence asking for the specific donation, such as a $50 gift card or item donation of a certain value. I would staple my business card to the handout and after an in-person discussion with the manager or business owner, I would hand them the information. I would ask for the contact information of the person I spoke with and ask permission to follow-up in a few days. I typically followed-up by phone.

This approach to obtaining sponsors for charitable causes helped me obtain innumerable sponsors during my year as Miss Massachusetts and afterward. This helped me obtain thousands of toothbrushes to donate to charity, raise funds for the Children’s Miracle Network, and increase scholarships and awards for Miss Massachusetts participants. 

While busy times can feel challenging, they can also be a time for growth. The year I spent juggling my education and my pageant responsibilities was challenging, but I hope that these lessons will help us all to be more successful and ultimately make an even greater impact on the patients and communities we serve.

Lauren E. Kuhn, DMD

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