The next five years after dental school
Some thoughts from Michael Lessani on life after dental school.
I was delighted to accept the invitation to be one of the speakers at the 2013 Young Dentist Conference. In my presentation I tried to offer some advice and what follows is just a taste of that session.
When I was a student, there was always much debate about the 'odotological safari' that lay ahead of us. For many, the initial foray was as VDPs or DF1 in today's parlance. This was the safe house, sometimes called 'dentistry with stabilisers'; and many a good article has already been published on this daunting yet glorious period. What should our colleagues be aware of after that?
For this article, I wanted us to broaden our perspective; moving from the individual dentist outwards through various themes.
- What do you want?
- Changing world
- The future of dentistry
- Make the next decade yours
Dentistry always seems to be in a process of transition, sadly that is the world we live in. We may learn to swim in a nice warm pool; but, we are tested out in the cold sea and we have to adapt to the rough and tumble which that brings.
What do you want?
We each have our own way of doing things in dentistry; whether it is the choice of materials, our communication style, our philosophy or our abilities. Much is often made of our limitations as new graduates and how careful we must be with unfamiliar tasks and situations; however, this does not mean that we should lose sight of our individuality.
We are all different and those unique qualities extend beyond our dental work and into other life choices. You should not lose sight of yourself and your life as you focus on everything else.
Figure above provides a quick reminder of aspects of your career that you need to keep in mind going forward. The emphasis for each component of the diagram will vary between colleagues and we need to recognise those areas of difference within ourselves before going further.
There is no set order associated with these aspects of our needs and desires, Because they are intertwined they will tend to influence one another.
- Location: where we want to live and/or work, and why?
- Personal life: the role of partners, family, friends together with any plans to settle down, and have children as well as health issues for you or your loved ones.
- Professional achievements; personal interests within dentistry that you want to develop, together with the pathway to achieve them (including possible sacrifices)
- Financial achievements; this could range from buying a new car or a house, or starting your own practice to vastly different entrepreneurial dreams and business ventures,
- Social (interaction) and activities are imperative to remaining a healthy and happy dentist. Hobbies, travel, sporting activity or other interests provide a break from the pressures of clinical dentistry and introduce balance.
The dentistry you practise will change over this period as your confidence builds alongside increasing clinical competence. The five aspects of your life need to be considered in the context of the environment of which we are part.
Be sure to keep an eye on the world around you, because if you do not move with the times, you can easily become irrelevant. The path to obsolescence is hastened with a blinkered outlook.
It is all too easy to become wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to see the world moving on, but we need to keep abreast of such changes. I am not talking about CPD, I am talking about the news and changes in dentistry and the wider world.
Our workforce is changing. Figure 2 provides a snapshot of dentists working in England, The number of performers is rising as the number of practice owners falls. (The diagrams courtesy of BDA). What does this mean in your area? What does it mean to your career plans?
In addition, the average taxable income for associates is dropping across all four regions of the UK. What does this mean to your future?
Current issues affect us now and into the future. The BDA has always been a good source of information. They produce many information sheets but there are four hot topics that will directly or indirectly impact our future working lives
- the new dental pilots
- direct access
- tooth whitening
- NHS reforms.
Another way to be up to date on the current topics is to attend dental meetings, sign up to get involved as part of a professional committee and be part of the dental community. Completing CPD online is on the rise, but this can be isolating because it involves less contact with other colleagues.
When I recognised that risk, I decided that I wanted to be more involved and started to attend my local LDC and local BDA branch meetings. I subsequently became involved with the Young Dentists Committee. You can't have your say, unless you have a place at the table. I would encourage you to find a part of dentistry and dental politics with which you can be involved.
The future of dentistry
There is a degree of uncertainty ahead in all branches of dentistry. The majority of you will become associates and you might want to be alert to possible changes in the following aspects of that way of working:
- self-employed or employed status
- the role within the practice
- challenges for those aspiring aspiring to practice ownership
- job security
- increasing involvement of dental therapists and other DCPs.
The key is to be interested, informed and involved. If not, then the future of dentistry will shape you rather than you having the power to shape it.
Make the next decade yours
At the end of these 'next five years' it is quite possible that you could have laid the foundations for the decade that follows. It will define your working life and indirectly your life outside dentistry.
It is an exciting time, full of opportunity and potential. You currently have an opportunity to develop the good habits that might otherwise be eroded if we let everything get to us. As such, work hard while you can, or even better, 'work smart'. Be efficient and effective with your time. Identify where you are wasting time in the work place or in your own habits and tackle this.
Dentistry gives us an opportunity to be a professional person and a role model to the dental team and society at large. I was told that to obtain a place a dental school must mean you are in the top 1% of the academically gifted in the country. But if you find your self-esteem and confidence is ever under attack during a bad day, I want you to remember who we are: 'a calling requiring specialised knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation' (Merriam Webster). Don't let circumstances devalue your true worth and belief in your capability.
A great deal of trust is placed in us because of the personal and confidential nature of our work. With that trust comes other moral and ethical obligations.
The true test of character is how you treat people who can do nothing for you in return. If you respect yourself then you should show the same level of respect to your colleague, patient or fellow person.
I hope you will all make your mark in dentistry in these next five years and offer this thought to counter any negativity if it should arise.
When you do your dentistry you should:
- Do it for yourself
- Do it well
- Do it with confidence
- Do it with pride
- Do it with hope.
Michael Lessani BDS, MJDF undertook his undergraduate training in Bristol. He now works as a GDP after 5 years' experience working as an associate in North and East London in general NHS practice and in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Homerton Hospital.
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