Dear Class of 2019,
We have a heavy and loaded question for you:
How’s it going?
I’m willing to bet you don’t get asked that question too often. You’re about six months into your new life as a dentist. After a couple of decades of being a student, it can be difficult to shed that student skin and gracefully step into the professional world of health care. Let’s now add a leadership role and quadrupling the patient load you were accustomed to in dental school. Oh, and isn’t your grace period for your student loans about to end?
Doctor, you’re in good company.
Let’s be honest. It’s tough being the new dentist on the block. While dental schools are doing their due diligence by providing you a strong foundation on which to build your clinical abilities, there are plenty of gaps left for you to figure out on your own when it comes to the practice of dentistry as a whole. I came across dozens of situations that made me want to retreat to my office and close the door in my first week of practicing. I want to reassure you that great days in dentistry are ahead and that the steep learning curve you’re riding is well traveled by many-a-dentist.
Today I’m talking about five common pain points that new dentists like you are up against and how to overcome them. Keep in mind that this practice of dentistry is just that— a practice. Each day will bring new lessons and opportunities to do better next time. It’s natural to feel frustrated when things don’t work out or if you had to learn the hard way. Every dentist who has ever gone before you understands that struggle.
I’m interested to know if you can resonate with any of these obstacles as a new dentist or if you have any solutions of your own— I’d love to hear from you and get your perspective. Send me an email— email@example.com with the subject “NEW GRAD.”
Five Common Struggles of Being a New Grad
1. Everyone is new (to you).
You will be shaking the hand of every patient, introducing yourself dozens of times a day, and wondering how you’ll ever remember the names and stories of so many patients. The people who work alongside of you are new and just as important, too. There’s a lot of getting to know one another in this first year of your career as a dentist, and it’s not without a bit of discomfort. Be friendly, polite, and warm to every person you encounter. Your priority is to make a great first impression and to get to know your patients and your team.
2. Gaining the trust of patients.
Don’t be surprised or offended if patients are a little nervous about having a dentist without much experience out of school. Some patients won’t give you any trouble, and some will downright question your ability to do dentistry. Resist the urge to get defensive—your patients don’t realize that their last dentist was once a new graduate, too. Do everything you can to gain their trust in other ways. Ask them questions and let them know you’re open to sharing more about yourself if it makes them feel more comfortable. Seek the relationship with patients first and foremost.
I will never forget the first time that one of my professors looked me square in the eyes while I got approval to start a procedure and asked, “what do you want to do here, doctor?”
Even as a fourth-year student, I wanted to have an anxiety attack. I realized that I had been doing dentistry without having to decide which dentistry to do. This will be your challenge multiple times a day, without the reassurance that you have a professor to ask for guidance. Large filling or crown? Send to the endodontist for evaluation or simply monitor the pain and follow up? Whatever it is, be confident in your decision, especially in the presence of your patient. When you’re unsure, recommend a consult with a specialist. Tell them that dentistry uses the support of several different specialties in order to provide the best and most thorough care for patients. Your confidence in your ability to make decisions quickly will come with time if you continue to sharpen that skill.
4. Presenting treatment
In dental school, new patient appointments required about four hours, and two of those hours were devoted to making about a dozen different treatment options for the patient. Please leave that skill behind in dental school where it belongs. Your patients don’t want more than two options presented to them and quite often, they want you to make the decision. After all, you are the doctor and they came to see you and seek your guidance.
When you’re first starting off in dentistry, unless your patient requires immediate and emergency treatment of several teeth, don’t throw too much at them regarding treatment. Pick one or two teeth that should be addressed immediately and let them know that other teeth will need to be monitored closely and perhaps treated in the future. Use an intraoral camera to take photos, which are much better and showing the patient what you’re describing than an x-ray. Don’t use dental jargon, either. Use language that a patient will easily understand such as crack, cavity, silver filling, or tooth-colored filling.
5. Running a smooth schedule
How many patients did you see in a typical day in dental school? I made three my max patient load for a typical 9am- 5pm clinic day. Three! That’s certainly not going to help me pay off my student loans now that I’m practicing on my own. As much as I wanted to bring home a solid paycheck, I didn’t want to feel flustered every day because I didn’t know how to properly work with a typical schedule of patients. I also didn’t want to be known as the dentist who chronically saw patients thirty minutes late.
Here’s the immediate solution: give yourself more time than you think you need for procedures at first. If you need to do exams for multiple hygienists, do the exams at the same time as opposed to when they are all finished with their cleanings, as this will save you from de-gloving and getting up multiple times. Ask your assistants to help take impressions and make temporaries for you so that you may move onto another patient or do another exam. Keep an eye on your time by having a small clock positioned behind the patient’s head, and if you’re running behind, have someone let your next patient know as a courtesy.
Like anything in life, starting out in dentistry will have its ups and downs. There will be moments that you long for the comfort of dental school. Keep a journal of all of the lessons you’re learning along the way. You won’t believe how much you’ll learn in this first year. And please—enjoy yourself and this exciting new time! This is what you’ve worked so hard for. Be kind and patient with yourself as you gain a little more experience every day.
To your great success,