This special edition of Dentaltown magazine is distributed to third- and fourth-year dental students as well as dentists who have graduated in the past three years. It’s also my opportunity to share some of the wisdom and observations I’ve collected over the past 25 years in practice.
Dentistry is hard
This has been true since the beginning of the profession, but anything worth doing is usually hard. So if you’re frustrated, stressed or having second thoughts, be patient—the ill feelings will pass.
Realistically, those feelings may return at different times throughout your career. At some point you’ll wonder why so many people wanted to do this! But you also might start thinking you’re glad not to be in a cubicle or traveling every week, living out of a suitcase. Managing this reality takes a combination of outside interests, good mentors and an occasional reality check.
Early in my career, when I was faced with stress, I’d go through the exercise of considering my alternatives. If I left the dental profession, what would I do? Go to law school? Become an architect? Get a degree in accounting?
Connecting with other dental professionals on Dentaltown.com has saved more dental careers than anything else, in my opinion. For the past 20 years, this online community has existed with the sole purpose that “no dentist will practice solo again.”
The debt is real
This harsh reality has reached a potential tipping point where some intervention will be required, or the previously rising interest in dental education will lead to a sharp decline and closing schools.
How could I dare predict that schools will close? I’ve seen it before: In the late 1980s, 65 dental schools had a capacity of 6,000 students per class year, which proved to be “too many dentists” and some schools shut their doors. When I was in school in the early ’90s, applications were down, and the number of schools had been reduced by about 10. Today we’re back to 66 dental schools and 6,000+ students per class year.
We love to be wanted, and even more than that, we love to live in the same places as other people. The problem is not too many dentists—it’s an uneven distribution of them. As you begin on your career path, consider the saturation of dentists in your area. Living in a smaller town or in the country has become attractive for many people who are tired of crowded cities. People in those smaller areas need a dentist like you.
Success will come
Malcolm Gladwell is famous for the concept of putting in 10,000 hours before you can be a success at something. If you work full time when you graduate, that’s approximately five to six years before you’ve accumulated enough experience to be a “success.”
The pursuit of knowledge beyond the practice of dentistry counts extra, in my opinion, so if you’re the type who wants a faster path, put in some additional hours taking CE courses. I’m also a strong believer in the power of a hospital GPR or school-based AEGD. Many graduates forgo these opportunities because they feel the need to start paying down debt.
I think this can be a great opportunity to get that early experience. Some may turn this into a career with ownership stakes, and others may find a home in a small practice or strike out on their own.
I hope you’ll take advantage of all the resources that Dentaltown has to offer. You can have conversations with thousands of dental professionals 24/7/365, take CE courses from the comfort of your home, browse hundreds of clinical or practice management articles, and more.
If you have a need for advice, feel free to leave a comment or question under this article. I’m on Twitter @ddsTom.