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Tips for a good start to your dental career (#1)

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Below is the first response I received to my recent Oasis post asking about the smartest and dumbest decisions readers made during their first five years after graduation from dental school. I hold the colleague whose message appears below in very high esteem, as a result of positive collaborations over a number of years. Here goes:

Hi John,

This is a subject about which I have strong feelings. In no way shape or form were we prepared for the emotional and business side of dentistry which can make or break people. I’m sure you also witnessed colleagues going down bad paths of alcoholism, depression and fraud which they have never recovered from.

I will never forget how lost I felt as a new graduate in my first associateship working for a terrible crook. My real mentors in that situation were the much older dental assistant and receptionist (both were 32!). They were good and kind and honest and enabled me to learn my trade honestly without the boss knowing we weren’t making a whole pile of money.

Before landing that job, I did 18 interviews and turned 17 down as I was uncomfortable with the sterilization process in the practice. This was back in the early 90s when we were all going to get AIDS from just our thoughts! Three months into that job, I realized that all was not rosy it that garden either.

It would have been great to have had a mentor or go-to somebody to guide me through my first two years. Almost like a help line. There’s an idea! Your first job is the most important. Choose with care because often that’s the type of dentist you are going to be for the rest of your career.

Here are just a few tips I regularly pass on to newly qualified dentists.

  1. Prepare for a little time of grieving following the years of debauchery in dental school. Dental practice is very different. Can be equally enjoyable but it can be a lonely place too.
  2. Join your professional organization. The best thing I ever did was join my association and get involved. Offer to make the tea. You will form a network of new friends of different age groups who can be a great support when you’re finding your way.
  3. A dental degree is a license to continue learning throughout your career. You never will know everything. We evolve as dentists and find our own niche. Be open to this evolution.
  4. 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. Life’s too short to be unhappy. Leave any practice that is filling you with dread.
  5. Play music in the operatory to enhance your day and that of the patients. Many a patient has bonded over a shared enjoyment of music. The dentistry is just something that happens during an album. It’s a great way to work. Very few jobs enable this.
  6. Develop an ability to reflect on your days work, figure what and how you could do better. Dust yourself down after any disasters and start the following day afresh. New dentists make endless mistakes and cock-ups. Thankfully we are forgiven by our patients but forgive yourself and learn. Don’t be too proud or afraid to look for help.

All the best,

T.A. (I have withheld the name of my correspondent – JO’K)

To get the ball rolling on gathering your wise advice for our newest colleagues, let me pose the following questions to you:

  1. In the professional context, what was the smartest thing you did during your first five years after graduation?
  2. In the professional context, what was the dumbest thing you did during that formative period?

I would love to hear how you would answer these questions. Please contact me through the response box below or directly by voice mail at 1-800-267-6354 ext. 5000. I promise your privacy will be respected and guarded by me. Your responses come directly to me and they remain private until we decide together what to do with them.

You are also welcome to reach me on my video conference space at https://zoom.us/j/6136144798 to discuss this issue or any other that is pertinent to dentists across Canada.

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