Working Life: The First Semester
in Working Life
Thomas Graydon graduated from the University of Western Australia in 2014. After graduating he moved to Bunbury, two hours south of Perth, to work as an associate dentist in a private practice.
The first six months of my career as a dentist have been an absolute whirlwind. I have had great days, I have had some not so great days and I have had some absolutely horrendous days. It has amazed me how fast this time has gone, and looking back now and thinking about my experience is a great opportunity for me to reflect on how far I’ve come, what I have learnt and where I am yet to go. Talking with my seniors, the first six months of a dentist’s career are often the most intense and most difficult; so much is learnt in this period and the skills and techniques developed in this time will serve as a foundation for one’s 30-plus year career. I hope sharing my experiences with you is beneficial and reading this as a dental student, a new graduate or even an experienced dentist provides you with a different perspective on working life.
My technical ability
Any dentist will tell you that their year of working life as a new graduate improved their technical skills a great deal and for me it has been no different. I graduated dental school with what I felt was a pretty normal, albeit limited, amount of experience – a few dozen extractions, a few endodontic cases (no rotary), four crowns and five dentures – relatively little compared with what was about to come. Working in the environment I am, extraction experience has been easy to come by and my ability to take out a tooth has improved a great deal. I have been lucky enough to be able to do a lot of fixed pros and I have been able to learn a lot about and use rotary endodontic, and soon I will be restoring my first implant. I have been fortunate to be working with some exceptional dentists willing to teach and pass on their knowledge, and I feel every technical aspect of my dentistry has come a long way thanks to my interactions with these colleagues. My ability to treatment plan a case has come a long way, and having mentors present to ask questions has taught me a huge amount. I have also had very experienced and knowledgeable technicians to discuss cases with from a lab perspective; I would recommend any dentist to build a good rapport with the technicians you work with as their input and advice is priceless.
My first complaint
My first lesson in handling patient complaints came earlier than I had hoped. I received word from the admin staff at work only a few weeks into the job that a patient had called to complain about some treatment I had given from my very first day of work. Caught up in the nerves of my first day I had accidentally nicked a patient’s tongue as I was polishing a restoration. I had done the right things to cover myself; I had informed the patient of what had happen on the day and ensured everything was fine after the incident, calling her a few days after the appointment to ensure she was okay, and all of this was documented in the patient notes. Having been drilled into my head to ‘practice defensively’ from my time in dental school, I did everything necessary to cover myself. The complaint was eventually resolved and I had learnt first-hand the importance of having good notes to protect yourself - and the value of a rubber dam to shield the tongue from your bur!
My greatest asset – communication
Dental school teaches a lot about the technical and theoretical side of clinical dentistry, but these are just a small part of a magnitude of skills one has to master as a dentist. In my short time as a dentist I have grown to appreciate the value and skill of patient interaction; listening to the patient, understanding their desires and working with them to achieve an optimal goal from both yours and their perspectives. Graduating from dental school I felt confident that communication would never be an issue for me. As a fairly confident and loquacious bloke I believed that telling a patient what dental treatment they need and why they need it would come naturally and patients would readily accept what I offered, but on multiple occasions I found myself struggling to find the right words or the right way to express the importance or risks of a particular treatment option, and as a result, the patient would decline the proposed treatment or disregard the advice given. Like other technical aspects of dentistry, communication is a skill that takes time to master, and its importance should not be undervalued. I feel that my communication skills have definitely improved, but I still have a lot to learn about speaking and interacting with patients.
Where to from here?
On the whole, the one major realisation that I have made so far in my time working is that I have a heck of a lot more to learn. The technical side of dentistry – doing beautiful composite fillings, using rotary endodontic systems and surgically extracting impacted wisdom teeth are all skills that I will develop over time through experience. The thinking side of dentistry – treatment planning and deciding what do to and when to do it will also come through experience and talking with mentors and colleagues. Communication, not only with patients but with other practitioners such as specialists and technicians, is in my opinion the most important skill of the lot, and one I hope to master sooner rather than later.
The learning curve of the first six months has been incredibly steep but I look back now and am amazed and proud of how far I have come. I hope the next six months and beyond are as rewarding as the last six have been and I look forward to continuing this journey of learning and becoming an excellent general practitioner.
Dr. Thomas Graydon
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