My four years of dental school flew by. When I was trying to survive dental school, it seemed long and arduous — unending. However, when I stood on the stage to receive my doctoral hooding earlier this year, I couldn’t believe how fast those years came and went. It seemed like just yesterday I started my dental school journey and looking back on it now as a prosthodontics resident, I realize there are a few things I learned throughout the process.
1. The journey for knowledge and understanding has just begun.
One would think four years of education is enough to start working as a dentist and that school would teach you everything you needed to know. Yet I started to realize in my D3 and D4 years while treating patients that my knowledge-building journey was just beginning. I extracted over 200 teeth including more than 100 root tips, filled over 200 fillings, delivered 13 arches of complete dentures, cemented 48 full and partial coverage crowns including implants, provided nine RPDs and more. I thought it would give me the knowledge to treat most patients, except in my last months of being a D4, I kept realizing my dentistry was not as good as it needed to be.
My understanding, tips and tricks, and approach to treating patients may not be the best compared to some clinicians who have been learning and practicing for decades. I understood dental school gave us the foundation to treat patients without negligence, but it is up to us to become the best dentists we can be by committing to never stop learning.
2. The amount of time we spend trying to be a comprehensive and open-minded dentist matters more than the money.
Early in my dental school career, I thought spending $250,000 for school was excessive. Going through clinic, I started to realize this $250,000 opened doors for me to further myself. I learned that no one will spoon-feed me anything in a professional setting. No one is going to grab my hand and walk with me. If I wanted to learn, I had to search for that opportunity. As dental students, we have so much access to free educational videos, seminars, conferences and handouts through ASDA and other sources. Make use of these amazing resources.
3. It’s important to know how to relax and have fun.
Going through dental school, we are constantly informed that we are professionals and leaders in the community. We are put in situations that require us to be professional. Yet I encourage you to have fun, relax and crack a few jokes. Having laughter and smiles can move your relationships with people even further. It also allows you to enjoy your life more. Dentistry is stressful. Patients can sometimes be frustrating. Why not have some fun along the way?
4. Dentistry is a business.
I’m sure everyone knows that dentistry is a business. This is so true when you consider the costs associated with running a dental office with staff, providing continuing education courses to your team, ordering inventory, obtaining licenses and controlled substance permits, and more. As a prosthodontic resident, I’ve had the unique opportunity to understand more about the “hidden” costs of dentistry. I’ve been surprised at the wide range of fees associated with different dental laboratories, and by the fact that based on the philosophy of practice, a dentist can choose to spend a few hundreds of dollars on crowns or almost a thousand dollars per crown. Depending on where the practice is located, patients can either pay the laboratory fees directly to the lab, or the fees could be combined in the crown fee for the practice. Consider the business side of dentistry with the patient in mind.
5. Patients are the No. 1 priority as a dentist.
Without patients, you would not be a dentist. Remember that patients are people first, and sometimes you need to spend extra time and energy with them instead of thinking every minute that you’re losing money by talking with them. Patients will refer (or will not refer) others to you based on their experience.
At the beginning of my residency program, I was surprised that some of my patients were referred to me by some of my former faculty members. I asked why and the common response was that I took care of my patients and cared about the dentistry I did. Treating the patient is most important in dentistry.
Our profession has a lot of offer us in terms of a good, solid career as well as opportunities to help improve the quality of life for our patients, to challenge the level of excellence we can offer our patients, practice a spectrum of procedures and own our own. I encourage everyone to enjoy their career as a patient-centered dentist. The journey has just begun for us.
~Dr. Bright Chang, Alabama ’19, Prosthodontics Resident