A few things you may not have learned in dental school

Dental school shapes us into the future clinicians we become.

BY Rick Workman, DMD

Dental school shapes us into the future clinicians we become. It stands as the launching point of our entire careers. This core education is vital, but as you know or will soon find out, not everything can be learned in dental school. Many things must still be learned afterward as our careers develop. So, no matter if you are a new grad or an experienced dentist, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Patient base is not important; patient care is. For their ideal plan, many dentists expect to graduate from dental school, work a few years with a group or as an associate to pay down student loans, open a practice of their own, make lots of money, and live the good life. I'm sure many envision working in a practice with a fee-for-service patient base with the means to pay for the dentistry they needed. With these lofty expectations, many dentists may feel a little disappointed to start their careers at an office where the patient base does not fit their ideal scenario. If this is your ideal plan or was your ideal plan, don't feel disappointed. The care you offer each patient is more important than the patient base you are offering it to.

By treating a variety of patients with care, regardless of their socioeconomic status, you can build up speed, perform more complicated procedures, learn to handle increased patient flow in your office, while becoming more cost-conscious and efficient. This will give you the self-confidence and experience needed to stand on your own and lead effectively.

There is no such thing as perfect schedule. The fact is that disruptions happen throughout the day, and constant focus is required to manage them. Once you realize that the ideal day doesn't exist, you will be much more relieved. Then, you can learn to stop being frustrated and instead deal with surprises quickly, efficiently, and with a positive attitude. This will help you understand the significance of converting emergencies to full exams involving both hygiene and doctor. Managing your time instead of wishing for a flawless routine will make a significant difference.

Don't be afraid of failure. Fear of failure is crippling. Many dentists may worry that if they make a mistake, their patients will not like them. Or if they tell them something they do not want to hear, patients may not return or may think badly of them. Coming face to face with your fear of failure - in any area, from public speaking to presenting a treatment plan to a patient - is very important. If you are not failing, you must not be challenging yourself enough. Constantly seeking challenges and learning not to fear failure will allow you to grow yourself, your team, and your office.

Communication is essential. To keep a practice thriving, communication is vital. When my office experienced a period of downturn, improving communication with both patients and team members was the single most important step in turning things around. Changing your communication methods can increase your patient pool and improve your first impression in general. This can also reduce no-shows and increase treatment plan acceptance. In addition, a team that communicates fluidly with one another will provide a higher, more organized level of care.

Leadership is spelled T-R-U-S-T. Ultimately, there is more to being a good dentist than growing a successful practice. As a leader, you have the opportunity to invest in those around you. This requires trust. I know many dentists who wish they had utilized their assistants more in the past instead of doing everything themselves. Show your team members that you trust them by delegating more responsibilities to them. Learn with your team, lend them a hand to help them up when they fall, and allow them to learn and grow. Everyone involved will benefit.

We all learned invaluable skills in dental school that allow us to change lives for the better each day. But some lessons can only be learned from real-life dental experience. While every day at your office may not always be perfect, keeping these five lessons in mind will go a long way in making your experience worthwhile.


Rick Workman, DMD, is founder and chief executive officer of Heartland Dental. After practicing full-time, Dr. Workman created Heartland Dental, a world-class dental support organization offering affiliated dentists nonclinical, administrative support. Heartland Dental has over 550 affiliated dental offices in 26 states. Dr. Workman may be reached at rworkman@heartland.com

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