Like any profession, stepping into the real world of dentistry after graduation can be intimidating. Building a plan for your development now will help set you up for a successful and rewarding dental career in the long term. While dental school provides you with a strong foundation, a significant proportion of the knowledge and skills you will need to be successful in dental practice are learned after graduation.
The following pieces of advice can help emerging clinicians navigate the professional world of dentistry.
1. Build your depth and breadth of skill. New grads definitely benefit from focusing on getting core skills, such as diagnostics and restorative dentistry, to an excellent standard as a first priority. Start by building your depth of skill so that you can handle complex general dentistry – it’s normal for it to take a few years to get completely comfortable. Once you have excelled in general treatment, then start working on breadth. This involves branching out into areas of interest – Ortho, Implants, Perio, Sedation, etc., which allow you to increase your scope of practice, meet more patient needs and increase your earning potential.
2. Work on your chairside manner. In addition to building on your clinical skills, it is also essential to continue to enhance your interpersonal communication skills. Patient experience and retention are anchored in the ability to make people feel safe, understood, and genuinely cared for. Patients cannot usually tell if your restoration is anatomically perfect, but they are certainly able to sense if you are looking out for their best interests.
3. Find a mentor. Many new grads will work in a practice with one or more other dentists, and many of your dental habits (good and bad) may be learned from these daily interactions. It is important to consider your practice philosophy and the type of care you intend to provide when joining a dental practice. If you do not have the opportunity to work with someone who encompasses your vision of the type of dentist you want to be, look for other opportunities for mentorship to help you along your journey.
4. Remain anchored in ethics and personal values. Always remember that no matter how skilled you are as a dental professional, you are treating patients, not just mouths. Your patients are always the ones who must decide what treatment option is right for them. Be sure to discuss all reasonable treatment options, including their risks, benefits and costs, and be aware of what patients value and what they can afford. Your treatment plans should be based on the individual patient needs, not necessarily the most profitable treatment or the one that you feel most comfortable performing.
5. Continuously seek new opportunities to learn. While there are continuing education requirements in place for dentists to adhere to, becoming a better dentist involves more than simply taking courses and reading journals. The opportunities for professional development are limitless – consider networking with other dental professionals, partaking in peer reviews, joining case study groups, returning to dental school as an instructor, etc. Also, each failure or challenge you face in daily practice is an opportunity to learn about yourself, your patients, and how you can improve outcomes in the future.
Remember, the dentist you are when you graduate is not the same dentist you will be years from now, and that’s exactly how it should be!
About the Authors
Dr. Michelle Budd works with dentalcorp’s Compliance & Risk Management team as a Patient Safety Consultant. She graduated from Western University with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. While running a busy dental practice, she also earned a Master of Public Health degree. Michelle has been a dental consultant for several insurance companies and government agencies and has travelled throughout Canada to help dental practices achieve and maintain professional compliance.
Nicola oversees dentalcorp’s overall human resources strategy, including the attraction, retention and development of top talent across the network’s Practice and Support Centre teams. She also leads the Human Resources, Talent and Training & Development teams. Nicola is a proven business leader with experience in high growth and large-scale businesses across financial services and media sectors, including organization development, HR consulting, people strategy, talent acquisition, systems implementation and analytics. She holds a Bachelor of Business from the University of Technology Sydney.