It is this time of the year that many dental students are graduating and it can be an exciting time for many. Finally, after years of education, endless nights of studying and much fumbling through clinical training, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Some students have asked me what advice I would give to a newly practicing dentist. And I started to think back what I was like when I just finished dental school.
I have to admit I was not a top student. I was a slow learner, and in fact, I was quite lost in dental school. Everything didn’t seem to make sense to me. I felt that I did not know what I was doing. I was not ready to work in private practice so I decided to pursue a year of hospital residency in Boston. I thought that would give me a year to put all the pieces together and to improve on my clinical skills.
That year of hospital residency was the best thing I have done for myself. During that year, I felt like I was going through dental school all over again. The reason: I was constantly exposed to new knowledge and acquiring new skills that I was not previously exposed to while I was in Toronto. It was during that year that I realized that dentistry has much regional variation depending on where you were trained. And luckily for me, things started to make sense again. I was able to put some of the missing pieces together. I feel smart again. But the truth is I felt that I had this spark in me that got re-ignited and my pursuit for further knowledge and learning has not stopped ever since.
And it is with this mindset that I would make the following recommendations:
- Keep learning! What you know in dental school is just the tip of the iceberg. Continue to take courses from different speakers from different parts of the world. Keep an open mind! Your understanding of dentistry will change as you develop more experience with different types of cases.
- Get outside your comfort zone: We often like to stick with what we know best. To try a new skill takes you out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to try a new technology and adopt a new skill. But expect to invest the time in learning and acquiring the new skill. Expect to make mistakes. There are many ways to skin a cat. Likewise, in dentistry, there are many ways to make your provisional restorations, to check occlusion, to take impressions. There are many materials out there for you to try.
- Connect with dentists who are willing to be your mentor. I believe dentistry is like any other trade requiring some form of apprenticeship, where the novice dentists can learn from the experienced. I am sure there are many dentists who “volunteered” their time at the university feel the same way. I always remembered and appreciated how my instructors took the time to show me their tricks of the trade, things that cannot be learned from textbooks. Those were always really valuable experiences for me.
- Focus on one small clinical goal for yourself each year: be it make better temporaries or do better endo. Focus on one thing or one skill at a time. Take courses and read about how to do that one thing differently. Try to use a new material. Before you know it, you would have accumulated different clinical experiences and got better through the exercise.
- Be patient: Rome was not built in one day. No one says you will be a master dentist in the first year. I am always learning. The difference in progress is how much you are willing to push yourself to be a better dentist than you were a year ago.
I am forever grateful to have found something I love doing as my career. Being a dentist becomes my hobby and I am constantly setting new goals for myself. I would like to congratulate all the dental students graduating this year. I hope to inspire you to be a better dentist every day. Please check out my other posts too. Thanks for reading!