If you’re like us, you’ve always wanted to be a health care provider because of the desire to care for others. While that may be the answer to why you chose to practice dentistry, you also have to decide how and where you will practice. Once you’ve made these decisions, you will have the roadmap to your future — or your vision.
But making these choices might be difficult. To start, think about where your passion, as well as your ability to sustain yourself and contribute to society merge. Herein lies your vision.
To dig a little deeper, let’s start with determining how you want to practice. While you’re in dental school, you’re presented with many opportunities to explore all facets of dentistry. Can’t figure out if you want to specialize? Rotate through the post-graduate clinics on your own time. Not sure if you’re interested in community outreach? Volunteer with a program or start one of your own. If you don’t know whether private practice or corporate dentistry would work best for you, shadow a dentist in these different settings.
You will need to make some lifestyle decisions as well. Do you want to focus on productivity, or is your goal to have more free time? Do you want to be a team leader? Or would you rather join a team? Now’s the time to decide what your definition of personal fulfillment entails. And if you’re not sure, just think about decisions you’ve made in the past and how you felt once you made those decisions. Remember that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so if you were uneasy with decisions you’ve made before, it might be time to rethink them.
What else can you do? Visit hospital residency programs before applying. Speak to your colleagues and senior peers, and ask for their opinions about whether or not their goals were met in their program and if they enjoyed the environment. Ask what they liked about their program and what they found challenging.
In addition, refine your thoughts and plans with your mentors and advisers. Try your best to form a plan. Record this plan so you can track your progress and determine if you need to make adjustments as issues arise (and they most likely will). It also might be helpful to keep a journal of your dental school experiences and the emotions they elicited. Most dental schools have incorporated this into their curriculum in the format of formal self-reflective entries in e-portfolios.
Where you want to practice is easier to figure out than how you want to practice. You will most likely be able to conduct a simple process of elimination. For example, do you want to be close to your family? Is your licensing exam only accepted in certain states? For those with few limiting factors, the decision of where to practice can be based more heavily on demographics such as dentist-to-patient ratio, cost of living, job opportunities, etc.
One of the most important considerations in defining your vision is determining how you measure success. If your measure of success is having free time to spend with your family and enjoying your life outside of work, you will make different decisions about your future than someone who measures success by the accumulation of material goods and wealth. These decisions must be based on your value system and what is best for yourself and your family.
Why you want to practice is what got you into the profession in the first place. Perhaps you want autonomy. Maybe it was the ranking of the dental profession as one of the best professions in the United States. Most likely (and hopefully) it had something to do with caring for others. Whatever your why, keeping your original motivating factors in mind will help ground you when you need it.
We ask our dental students in practice management lectures to raise their hands if the reason they entered the profession was to help people. Nearly all hands are raised. Then we ask them to raise their hands if they’re worried about making enough money to pay their debt and nearly all hands are raised again. Once the pressures of life outside of school set in and you are faced with ethical dilemmas, it’s important to remember why you chose this esteemed profession.
Once you have your how, where and why, you’ve defined your vision. And with planning and determination, your vision will become your future.
~Drs. Ivy Peltz and Eric Studley, Doccupations