Until recently, I was certain that someday I wanted to own a private practice. The idea of doing what you love on your own terms and managing your own time is desirable to many, regardless of career choice. I currently work as a dental assistant at UHS Binghamton General Hospital. I also have worked as a sterilization technician at a pediatric office and acquired hundreds of shadowing hours prior to this, working with pediatric dentists and Invisalign providers. This has exposed me to many areas within dentistry but left me confused as to which path is right for me.
When I shared these thoughts with my mentor and boss, Dr. Peter Hatala, a general dentist at UHS Binghamton General Hospital who began his career in private practice, he gave me insight into how each type of dental practice varies. His advice, along with a book titled “So You Want to be a Dentist? What You Must Know If You Want to Succeed in Dentistry,” has given me invaluable information that will help me make this decision when the time comes. While there is no magical algorithm that can make that choice for you, here is an outline of what you can expect in various practice settings.
Working in a solo private practice
- You are the owner and can execute your vision.
- No one tells you when to work. Your schedule can be flexible.
- You can determine which treatments you will provide and which ones you will refer to specialists. It is important to find the right balance. If you offer too little, patients may decide to go elsewhere because it will be more convenient.
- You pick your team. This can also be a drawback because choosing employees who are both team players and can help execute your vision can be challenging.
- You may be working long hours.
- You won’t just be performing dentistry; you also will be running a business, which can often take away from the physical aspect of practicing. It will be your responsibility to balance the two. This may be more difficult if you have student debt.
- As Dr. Hatala mentions, “One of my biggest mistakes was going into the practice without an established patient base. I had the knowledge and newest equipment available, but no patient base to compete with.”
Working as an associate
- You won’t have to handle the business operations of the practice (although you should learn as much as you can if you plan to start your own practice).
- You will not have a say in who is hired.
- If the office uses certain equipment or technology you’re not familiar with, you will need to quickly adjust.
- The owner chooses which treatment options will be made available. You will need to be accommodating.
- The patient base will already be established.
- This is a good option for new dentists. You can solely focus on dentistry and see which procedures and equipment you like, all while gaining valuable mentorship from your superiors.
Working in a partnership
- You share all of the responsibilities of a solo practice with your partner. When in doubt, you have someone to lean on and bounce ideas off of. However, this may cause issues if you have different plans for the direction of the practice.
- This could be a great opportunity to take on more responsibility without worrying about running a business alone.
- A senior dentist can help with the struggle of learning how to run the business due to his or her experience.
- The freedom of time off and vacations is there, as there will always be one other dentist in the office.
Working in a hospital setting
- Salary is lower than what you’d receive in private practice; however, you get paid for the hours you work, independent of the number of patients you see and the procedures you complete.
- A hospital offers benefits, often including health insurance and paid time off.
- You’ll typically work normal business hours (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday).
- It’s ideal for people planning on having families and provides job security.
There are a variety of options for the dentist in terms of the working environment they are looking for. Think about what kind of environment would work best for you, while keeping in mind that your career will grow and evolve throughout your working years. Some new dentists may feel more comfortable working as an associate or a partner at first, and eventually transition to opening their own practice when the time is right. Perhaps a dentist is comfortable working within a hospital setting right out of dental school for a few years, and then could transition into academia, research or private practice. There are many options available, so keep your mind open and do what feels right for you.
~Andzelika Gumieniak, Binghamton ’20, Predental