The time you’ve been waiting for has come. You have finished dental school and are starting your career as a bona fide dentist associate who is employed by an established dentist. You look forward to going to work every day. You are excited about receiving a regular paycheck while doing the work you have been trained to do.There may be pitfalls along the way, though. One dentist reflects on his first associate position following graduation from dental school. He had 18 interviews and job offers and turned down 17 of them. It did not take him long to realize he had made a big mistake; the job he took was not the one for him.
He had the misfortune of beginning his career where the owner of the practice was dishonest. In addition to this major flaw, the owner did not provide the new associate with any guidance concerning how to run a dental practice. What this dentist learned, he learned from the dental assistant and office manager.
The dentist quit this job after three months and moved on. The experience inspired him to share his tips about how new dental graduates should spend the first few months in their new job.
He believes that your first job is the most important. It can mold you into the kind of dentist you will be for the rest of your career. For help along the way, check out The Strategic Dentist Dental – B School. You will find resources, including videos and courses on topics that can guide you through your first few months as a new dentist.
Tip 1: Finding the Right Job
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2020 and 2030, the practice of dentistry will grow by 8 percent, which is as fast as average. This means dentists are once again in demand, and you have some control over choosing a position that works for you. Before making your choice, consider:
Tip 2: Be Willing to Learn
You need to be willing to learn as you begin your dental practice career. Learn from other dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants. They have “seen it all.”
Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s difficult sometimes to admit you don’t know something, but asking questions is part of the learning process. You can be confident in what you do know and still ask about and seek clarification of those things you don’t know.
Be open to all possibilities. You may discover your niche. If you are in a general practice, strive to learn what type of dentistry suits you best. This will help you later when you decide to open your own practice, buy a dental practice, or become a partner in the practice in which you are working.
Tip 3: Find a Mentor
Hopefully, your mentor is the owner of the practice where you have your first job. In fact, when you are looking for that first job, in addition to wanting one that has a good salary and benefits package, note whether the owner or any partners appear to have the qualities you are looking for in a mentor.
Ask to have a short morning and afternoon meeting with your mentor. In the morning, discuss upcoming cases and ask questions about them if you have any. Start each day fresh no matter what may have happened the day before.
In the afternoon, talk about any challenges you may have met during the day and whether you handled them appropriately. Ask for advice about what to do if the same problem arises again. During the first few months as a new dentist, you will likely make many mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. Just work to figure out what went wrong and how to do it better the next time.
Tip 4: Join Your Local Professional Organization
Go to your local dental society meetings. Mingle with the other dentists. You will form a network of friends and colleagues who will support you as you find your way.
Ask your new dentist friends about what experiences they had when they were new to their dental practice. Ask them what, if anything, they would have done differently.
Attend alumni functions. Over coffee, or via Zoom meetings, you can share your experiences with each other and learn what and what not to do.
Tip 5: Use Available Resources
Take advantage of what the ADA has to offer new dentists. For example, the ADA Accelerator Series offers educational “webinars and other resources dedicated to giving advice on financial, leadership, and work-life balance.” Another amazing resource for you, specifically if you live in California, is the CDA organization, our closest partner. Career opportunities, community events, & resources are just a fraction of what they have to offer!
Tip 6: Be Willing to Move On
The job may have seemed perfect after your interview. You and the practice owner hit it off perfectly. The office was modern and met all your expectations. Even though it doesn’t take long for you to feel uncomfortable and learn that it is not a good fit for you, after all, you stick it out for weeks, maybe even months.
Finally, you realize you are just not happy and the practice, the way it is conducted does not fit your style like you thought it would. You dread going to work every day.
Go ahead and cut your losses and be willing to move on. Life is too short to stay where you are unhappy.
One experienced dentist who gives tips to newly qualified dentists states that “dental practices are like families with their own personality. If you’re not happy in a practice it’s unlikely to be you, it’s just you’ve been placed in the wrong foster family.”
Change, even positive change, is stressful. As one counselor expressed it, even when you get a cast off your broken leg, you kind of miss it for a bit as you learn to take steps without its security helping you balance. The same is true of transitioning from dental school to dentist. It is a good thing, but you may feel a little shaky for a while.
There will be stress in your new life as a practicing dentist as you face new challenges every day. You must make time for self-care. You cannot take care of others unless you first take care of yourself.
You need to take time every day, every week, every month, to take care of yourself. Add activities that inspire you and take your mind off dentistry. Read, go to the gym, swim, get a massage.
Journal. Go out to dinner with friends. Make time for your spouse and your children.
If you do not have a work-life balance, you will soon not even enjoy your dental practice and will eventually suffer burnout.
We Can Help
Beginning your new job as a dentist is challenging. As soon as you feel comfortable, you may be met with a new challenge.