You don’t know what you don’t know. Over the years, I have heard this more times than I can count. So simple but says so much. I look back in my rear view mirror at myself as a dental school applicant, a dental student, a new graduate in her first job. Each stage has brought new challenges, new growth and new insight. Along the way, I was learning things I didn’t even know I needed to learn. I still find myself on that kind of journey everyday.
After double majoring in English and Biology at Tufts University, I received my DMD at Boston University. Over the next three years, I worked in many different practice settings: group practice, corporate dentistry, and boutique private practice. I have practiced in city and suburban neighborhoods in Massachusetts and Southern California. Until moving to Northern Virginia and finding a full time private practice associateship, I had always worked two part-time jobs at once. This gave me an incredibly varied work experience straight out of school. The amount I learned about dentistry in the first three years after graduating was exponentially more than I had learned in four years of dental school.
While in Los Angeles, I started thinking how I wished I would have had a resource that condensed down the major lessons that I could have used to prepare myself for the real world. From the first day of my practice, I kept an Evernote journal to record all important lessons, information, diagrams, materials, personal contacts, and CE resources I had come across and found useful. After three years, it was nearly 50 pages long and full of information that I would have thrived from had I received it on graduation day. It would have given me a three year head start to launch my career. That is what inspired me to write my book – to try to give young dentists that same boost.
I told myself that I would try to write the first chapter and then re-evaluate the book’s value-add. Before I knew it, within a matter of weeks – 160 pages had written itself. The book covers many topics including searching for a job, licensing, legal coverage, the interview process, clinical tips, most commonly made mistakes, stress and health, communication, patient and practice management, financial tips, CEREC 101, continuing education resources, people to follow on social media and much more. This is a book I wished I had when I graduated and will hopefully help make your transition from school to the real world a little smoother.
My advice to new dentists is simple. Graduation day is just the green light to start the real learning. Dentistry is so much more than ideal GV Black outline forms, perfect crown tapers and Kennedy classifications. It is a behavioral science and one that relies on a people skills, communication, leadership, planning and vision, organization, and work life balance. Dental school gives you the foundation to practice clinical dentistry. It’s up to you to hone the rest of those skills.
One of my favorite sections of the book is the one on Continuing Education. I list all the books, magazines, online publications, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, free and paid CE courses, and message boards that have helped me the most along the way. They cover all areas of professional improvement: clinical, financial, lifestyle, management, and more. It took three years for me to gather these resources, it doesn’t have to take you that long if you know where to look and look early.
The other advice is to not let yourself become isolated. Dentistry can get lonely, and it’s a lot of pressure sometimes. Pressure to perform, pressure to produce, pressure to please, pressure to achieve perfection. On tough days, it helps to be surrounded by people who understand your struggle. Start building a professional network that you can rely on. Mentors and peers will give you a balanced perspective on where you are and where you’re heading.
Another piece of advice would be to start thinking about your financial well-being now. Too many new graduates don’t think about their financial future early enough. Start planning early and often. This means different things to different people, but it’s important to think about as soon as possible. There is an entire chapter just dedicated to financial management in The New Dentist’s Guide.
And finally, take experience over money when you are just beginning. The money comes, but you’ll never truly be successful without a great foundation. Learn as much about what you don’t know as you can. Don’t trap yourself into a job that forces you to work under suboptimal conditions, doesn’t set you up for real success, or causes you to start establishing bad habits early on in your career. It often takes a few tries to get it right, just don’t stay in something that doesn’t feel right.
I was recently at a national ASDA meeting and was so overwhelmed by the awesome young dentists I met. Their enthusiasm and energy was infectious. If that is the future of our profession, I think it’s going to be in great hands. I am so excited to call you all my colleagues soon. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or just to chat. I was in your shoes not too long ago, you’re in for quite a ride… and you’re ready. Good luck!
Books – How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Magazines – DentistryToday, DentalTown, Dental Entrepreneur
Equipment – Isolite, Sonicfil, Garrison Ring System
Scrubs – Jaanuu and Figs
Podcast – DentalTown and The Thriving Dentist Show
CE I’ve Taken – Anything Invisalign related
Neha Garge, DMD