I recently shared my story of how I became a dentist, from my early interest as a child to my journey through dental school. Along the way, I was lucky enough to have mentors who encouraged me and helped me succeed. They offered sound advice that was paramount in my decision to pursue dentistry and more so now as I run a successful dental practice.
Dentistry can be a great career, and I would highly recommend it to a young person who is interested in both art and science. It is both creative and analytic and provides a stable career where you can have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Looking back, I now have my own advice for people interested in a career in dentistry.
1) Spend time in dental offices before applying to dental school
If you’re interested in a career in dentistry, it’s important to explore the profession before you apply to dental school. This is a good way to ensure you can tolerate the procedures and the pace of the work. Local dentists will be more than happy to open their doors to an aspiring dentist.
I would recommend visiting several practices to get a well-rounded view of the profession and how an office can run. While one office may not seem like a good fit, another one may be more your speed. This is also a great time to ask questions and fully explore what a career in dentistry could look like.
2) Explore different specialties to see which is the right fit
Dentistry has several specialties – from oral surgery to orthodontics, endodontics, and cosmetic dentistry. Each requires a unique skillset and special schooling. Once you’ve decided that dentistry is the right path for you, take some time to understand the various specialties and what they entail.
Then, add the specialties you’re interested in to your list of dental practices to visit in your area. Again, it’s important to ensure you can tolerate the procedures and the pace of the work. While you’ll get a crash course in the various specialties in dental school, having a general idea of the course you’d like to pursue before clinics start will be helpful.
3) Understand your strengths and weaknesses before starting your career
While in dental school, it became very clear to me what my strengths and weaknesses were. I thrived when it came to the academics and hands-on experience but lacked discipline when it came to the administrative side of things. At times, I had no idea how many requirements I had left.
It became apparent that running my own practice would require a strong team to support me administratively. Knowing this early on allowed me to create a plan for my future success and limited my failures in the early years of working at a practice and then running one. Today, I’m proud to say I have one of the best teams around that supports me where I need it.
4) Determine what you want out of the profession and pursue it
The great thing about dentistry is you can operate as a business owner or as a provider – your level of involvement in the business can vary depending on your desire. If you want autonomy, I’d highly recommend opening your own practice. You decide whether you accept insurance, how your office operates, how many patients you see per week and what the tone of your office will be.
To be honest, if someone else were dictating those things, dentistry might not be for me. But for others, the practice of dentistry is what they want to focus on – not running a business. In that case, working for an office with several dentists or a strong partner may be a better fit. The great thing about dentistry is you get to decide.
More than 20 years later, I’m still passionate about the dental profession and would certainly choose this path all over again. I’m hopeful for the future of the profession and the talented young professionals that are pursuing a career in dentistry today.
If dentistry is something you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend connecting with a seasoned professional who can mentor you and offer you the same sound advice that I received as a young person. There’s always something we can learn from the people who have gone ahead of us.
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