Women’s History Month Profiles – Dr Farima Mehrabi

To celebrate Women’s History Month, Naomi Douglas and Chloe Poole (UBDSS), in collaboration with the ED&I Committee, asked some of our female staff to reflect on their careers, achievements, inspirations, and challenges they’ve overcome. This is just a small portion of the inspiring women that we work with at Bristol Dental School.

The next in our series is Dr Farima Mehrabi.

What advice would you give your dental student/younger self?
Don’t stress!
Throughout University, I sometimes forgot that teeth aren’t the be all and end all!
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and your time at dental school as well as focusing on getting through. You do get wrapped up into wanting to graduate as soon as possible- especially towards the end of final year when you’re bombarded with exams, but once you leave you realise just how good it actually was, and how much you miss seeing your friends on a daily basis. Adulting isn’t always what its cracked up to be, and once you leave the dental school bubble it can be a steep learning curve.
Look after yourself- don’t burn out.
Make sure you set time aside for you, away from teeth and CSL to relax and recoup! Dentistry can be stressful. Pace yourself when it comes to exams and learning new clinical skills and techniques. No one is born able to carry out the perfect Shillingburg prep! So be kind to yourself and absorb the knowledge and wealth of experience of the tutors guiding you, and when you are struggling, speak out- be it with personal or dental related matters, the people around you will support you.
How you make people feel is far more important than your exam results– communication and people skills is a more valuable attribute.
Spend time finding interests and hobbies outside of dentistry, have something to escape to even if you are a die-hard tooth fan. Being able to reassure a nervous patient, or communicate information clearly and concisely, and make a patient feel looked after will serve you well in the long run. Always take the time to listen and engage with your patients, treat them how you would want your mum to be treated.
Enjoy the journey and don’t compare yourself to others.
I think it’s always easy to give this advice in hindsight, but has become increasingly harder to act on. Given social media and your average Joe on Instagram being an apparent composite superstar! Try and not compare your journey to someone else’s, it may take you longer, you may have strengths in other clinical areas or you may just not spend every hour of the day obsessing over dentistry. Everyone is different and the individual struggles reflect that. Take it all with a pinch of salt!
Take the good days with the bad.
Some days you will come into dental school and smash it and other days you won’t be able to work out the patient’s age from their D.O.B. When you have a bad day, remember that you will always have better ones. That is life – just don’t take it to heart.

What’s the greatest achievement of your career so far?
Getting to join Bristol Dental School and teach you guys so early on in my career was a big achievement for me! I was only 2 years qualified when I came to teach at BDH and the experience has taught me a huge amount! I have loved every moment of it, and always try to use my own experience of dental school to help you guys get the most out of yours.
Since then, I find that the little wins are much better than singling out a ‘greatest achievement’. I set myself little goals and every time I’m successful I find that that in itself is a great enough achievement- papers published, posters presented, prizes won, and great feedback from patients! Having something to always work towards really helps!

Which women have inspired you in your career?
My mum and my sister are two very strong women and role models in my life. Both incredibly driven and supportive, and without them I wouldn’t have achieved the things I have so far. Having people you trust, constantly there for your good days and bad is so important. They are ultimately the people who put up with the stress tantrums before exams, anxiety of getting results, upset when things go wrong and hopefully get to see you graduate after it all. (Shout out to my dad too!)
During dental school, I surrounded myself with positive inspiring women and people (dental tutors/ clinical supervisors/ consultants) whom I strived to be like. It’s important that you find people who you trust, are comfortable with and who have followed a path, which you see yourself in. That way you can get all the advice you need and create networks to help you for the future!
During my Dental Foundation training year I had two educational supervisors, one of which was a lady called Sarah. She was incredible; I can easily say that she shaped my entire year. She was resilient, charming and ran a business as well as being a fabulous mother of four. She was the definition of girl power, and when I had a patient question “how can you possibly be a dentist as a woman, are you not the nurse” or ‘you can’t possibly pull this tooth out you’re just a girl”- she stepped up and showed me how to deal with difficult situations, and sexism.
I would say, find yourself a mentor, surround yourself with people who you find inspiring and learn from their mistakes/ journey. You would be surprised at how many people will want to help you if you just ask.

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic? (at work or personally)
I think one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic has been managing the anxiety towards the unknown, and dealing with circumstances outside of my control.
Being incredibly close to my family, any lengthy time apart or worry that they may get ill has been difficult. I have wanted to look after those around me, and as a result probably forgot to look after myself. I guess that’s what ‘unprecedented times’ can do.
I also changed jobs during the pandemic, and leaving one set of patients to look after and pick up another set was challenging.
Ultimately, the biggest triumph has been learning to adapt to the new normal, and understanding that not everything is in my control. Worrying about things that may or may not happen is exhausting, so I am taking each day at a time and enjoying the present moment, as this pandemic has made me appreciate how precious the time we have really is!

If you’d like to contribute to this blog series, simply email your answers (and an image of yourself) to ords-swan@bristol.ac.uk.

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