Most medical professionals enter healthcare because they want to help and care for those in need. Early on, I recognized that I had a passion for many aspects of dental care and knew this field was one I could excel and be happy in. However, after dental school and entering the professional world, I learned that there was a lot about being a dentist you just have to learn from doing the job. Here are five things I wish I would’ve known before entering dentistry:
1. Known what dental school was really going to be like
Dental school was a lot like I expected it to be – I knew it would be a lot of work. However, what surprised me was how outdated some of the information turned out to be. They taught us to pass the board exams and didn’t focus as much on teaching us how to practice in the modern world. Soon after graduation, I had to continue learning new things more applicable to the times. The learning doesn’t stop as soon as you leave school. Oftentimes it’s just beginning.
2. Known you have to have passion for dentistry
I truly believe that most of us are in medicine or healthcare because we really want to help people. Without that caregiving passion, it can be hard to succeed in this line of work. You have to find something you can be good at and happy with doing, which for me was dentistry.
If I had to choose, my favorite part of the job would have to be treating patients with sleep apnea. I find that I like to talk to my patients in depth and spend time with them, and treating those with this condition allowed me to best do that. Without the passion of caring for those who need help, you will get burnt out quickly. The old saying is true: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Find your passion, then pursue it boldly.
3. Known being a dentist will come with challenges
Though I’d like to tell you that the world of dentistry is all happy smiles all the time, that’s just not the case. Like every career, being a dentist comes with its own set of challenges. For me specifically, I didn’t realize that the biggest challenge of being a dentist would be working with insurance. Working with insurance companies is difficult, especially when they try and dictate the treatment for your patients. When this happens, it ends up coming down to money and not what is best for the patient. I always want my patients to leave my office healthier than when they entered, so for me this can be the most frustrating part.
Another challenge I didn’t anticipate is the employee dynamic. In our line of work, the entire team works closely together, so everyone has to be able to get along. When an employee leaves the practice, it can throw the dynamic off. Then, it’s difficult to replace them because you’re trying to find the best fit for the existing team. This can cause a domino effect because of the dynamic shift, and it can cause other employees to become resentful of the new environment and leave themselves. My best piece of advice? Hold onto your employees if you can! Make sure they’re working with you because they want to help patients too. When we all work towards that one common goal, the entire office benefits.
4. Known there are pros and cons to becoming a dental practice owner
When you want to become a dentist, you have to think about whether you want to own your own practice or not. As a practice owner now, I know that owning my own practice gives me the freedom to do things as I like, which is often the biggest benefit. However, as a practice owner, there’s a significantly larger amount to think about since you’re running a business.
If you join a preexisting team as one of their employees, you have far less to worry about. The biggest benefit here is that you get to do what you love – practice dentistry. You won’t have to worry about the business side of things. Another benefit of only being an employee is oftentimes having your malpractice insurance and continuing education covered by the employer, though this varies from practice to practice.
For me, I am grateful that I began my career as an employee early on. It helped me figure out what exactly I wanted to do, and it gave me the time to get faster and better in dentistry.
5. Known you need to know business
Like I briefly mentioned above, running your own practice means you need to be business savvy. If you’re a practice owner, you then handle the business side of things, like: management, hiring and firing, financials, marketing, operations, and more. If I could go back, I would take more business classes in college to better understand how to run a business correctly and not just how to be a good dentist.
Overall, I wouldn’t change a thing about becoming a dentist. I love what I do. I love that I get to help patients overcome their dental problems. There is a satisfaction that comes along with helping people find relief from their pain or conditions and love their smiles. As a dentist, there is no better feeling than knowing that you’ve increased a patient’s quality of life. Looking back, though I help the patients, I do feel that over the years they’ve given me more than I’ve given them — they’ve given me a purpose and have helped me live out my passion.
Although I wish I had known these five things before choosing dentistry as my career, I would do it all over again. If you’re considering being a dentist, you’ll be joining one of the most rewarding careers out there, and I don’t think you’ll regret it!