The most important piece of advice I give to new dental graduates is simple: Commit to knowing yourself. This may sound elementary, but understanding your priorities, preferences, and goals is key to connecting with the right employer and beginning to build your career path.
My road to dentistry was not a traditional one. I am a bioengineer by trade, and when I was an undergraduate at Lehigh University, I was planning to be a vaccine researcher. As I questioned myself and spoke to seasoned executives at biopharmaceutical companies, I realized I wanted to be in a more social health-care setting, interacting with patients.
My aunt and uncle are dentists, and I decided to start exploring it as a possible career path. I shadowed in a pediatric dental office and fell in love with it. It was an opportunity for me to interact patients, apply my passion for science, and be a part of a team. Once I understood what I wanted to be, I had to set my road map and determine how to get there.
Asking yourself hard questions is just the first step—you also need to ask them of your potential employer. As a new graduate, there are four important questions you should ask when evaluating any job opportunity to ensure you’re choosing the best fit.
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What expectations do you have of me?
Job descriptions only show a piece of the picture. To truly understand what a job entails, you need to know what’s expected of you daily. Does your potential employer expect you to lead a team? To order your own supplies? To teach? To hold meetings? To participate in volunteer work?
There are many possible answers to these questions, and those answers vary widely between private practice and dental service organization (DSO) settings. By getting into the details of what potential employers expect, you can better determine the best fit for you and your strengths.
What does work-life balance look like here?
Work-life balance looks different to everyone. Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about four-day workweeks in other countries, the importance of mental health, and giving workers time to recharge. You need to find out if a potential employer’s definition of work-life balance aligns with yours. How many hours per week are you expected to work? What does vacation time look like? Can you be part- or full-time? Is there flexibility within your schedule?
This was a crucial factor for me, especially knowing the burnout that many within the health-care industry face. For my needs, the work-life balance offered at Aspen was ideal. There’s a focus on tailoring your experiences so you have what you need to feel valued, respected, and accomplished. I have the breathing room I need to recharge outside of work, I can flex my schedule when necessary, and I know there is a supportive team behind me to ensure I can provide the best possible care to my patients. Your vision for work-life balance may be different than mine, and that’s fine. What’s most important is to know what you need, and make sure that aligns with your future employer’s values.
Are there mentorship opportunities?
Everyone benefits from mentorship. Especially as a new graduate, having a mentor you can trust to show you the ropes and answer your questions honestly is empowering. Plus, an environment with a mentorship mindset helps lift you up, guide, and educate everyone.
When I was considering potential employers, I was looking for mentorship and a supportive network of expertise to continue to grow and expand my skills base. I also knew I wanted to be a mentor to new dentists, and in choosing Aspen, I knew I’d be able to benefit both from having a mentor and from being a mentor myself one day.
Is there opportunity and room to grow?
As a new graduate, it can feel daunting to choose a career path, especially when that decision could be long-term. The choice is made easier by understanding what a typical career path looks like with your potential employer, and whether there’s room to grow and change. Some new graduates might be interested in being an associate, others might want to become a partner or owner, while others might want to move into a research or corporate leadership role. Carefully consider if what you’re looking for is truly attainable with the employer you’re evaluating.
I knew I wanted to have an ownership opportunity, and Aspen offered the chance for me to grow into that role at an accelerated pace. I graduated in 2020, and, a year-and-a-half later, I’m running my own office and seeing 15-20 patients a day, seven of which are new patients. The opportunity to expand my abilities and challenge myself while feeling supported and having the necessary tools and resources at my disposal represented the ideal scenario for me.
Clear is kind
This has been my mantra (thanks to a supportive colleague), and I think it’s especially helpful advice for new graduates. When you approach a new job opportunity, you need to be very clear with yourself and your potential employer. If something is unclear or unsaid, it can wind up causing a disconnect—and disappointment—down the road.
Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage by staying quiet. Be vocal, communicate your needs, ask the questions, and reach out and advocate for yourself. When you find that perfect career fit, you’re doing yourself, your patients, and your community a great service.
That’s what it all comes down to, ultimately: providing the best possible care. As I was choosing my postgraduate career path, I made sure that not only were all my questions answered, but that I found an employer whose mission aligned with my personal values. At Aspen, I’m able to provide care to patients who might not be able to get care elsewhere. When you are aligned with your employer’s values, and when you share in a common mission, coming to work is worthwhile and exciting. Most of all, a shared mission changes what you do from just a job to a fulfilling way of life.Editor’s note: Aspen Dental is a financial supporter of Dental Economics. This article appeared in the May 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.