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Residency red flags! How to fix common roadblocks in residency


Nothing’s perfect. This holds true for your first dental assistant, your first practice, your first crown prep and even your first residency.  Setting expectations and learning about yourself is the best wisdom you can take away from your residency. Here are some red flags to look for and tips to deal with common issues. First, aim for excellence, not perfection. Also, residency is one of the best experiences you can have. These red flags will simply prepare you for roadblocks you might face and how to fix it!

Assistants: Four-handed dentistry is a fundamental task that you need to learn during your residency. Learning to work with your dental assistant is key and can be difficult if the leadership doesn’t promote teamwork.  Remember, your assistant basically has to relearn his/her job year after year with each new resident. Be understanding and communicate clearly to make the transition easier.

  • Tip: Team huddle every morning. In your team huddle you can summarize the goals for the day, the patients and the flow of each task. As a new resident, you can ask how you can help the day run more smoothly for your assistant. If you need bone, special instruments, extra supplies or anything out of the ordinary, the morning huddle is a time discuss with your assistant.

Vacation: Every assistant is going to have a certain number of vacation days that they are able to take off. Remember, many of them take the same vacation days each year and their families are a priority. However, this may be difficult for you if you don’t plan.

  • Tip:  In my operatory, we placed a calendar with my assistants and my planned days off in advance. That way when I scheduled patients that day, I could schedule removable appointments or deliveries that would be a little easier to do on my own without the help of an assistant.

Supplies: Low supplies are a huge issue in some residencies. This year, I went months without football burs, PVS impression material, and stone to pour up models.

  • Tips:
    • Ask the previous residents and see if supplies were an issue. Work as a team to keep inventory, and let your supervisor know when you are short on supplies months in advance.
    • You may work alone many times in your residency. Take a day to organize your room with all of the supplies YOU need and place it in a cart behind your operatory. This way, you don’t have to get up from procedures multiple times.
    • Note Cards: During the first few weeks, I wrote note cards for each procedure that I was going to do with the supplies that are required for that procedure. This helps your assistant know your needs

No Show Rate: I interviewed at one residency that had a no show rate higher than 50%.

  • Tips:
    • Have your assistant confirm all large appointments 1-2 days in advance.
    • Call your patients after large procedures (this helps establish rapport and shows that you care).
    • If patients are continually late or a no show, schedule an appointment when you simply talk to the patient about the expectations.

Team Dynamic: Residency works best when everyone works together as a team. However, you can imagine the difficulties in melding 20-30 personalities and different leadership styles.

  • Tip: I entered into a residency that had very few team-building practices established. We decided as a residency group to implement some events. We have potlucks on holidays, share call when events come up, celebrate birthdays with the assistants and the residents. This helps our group focus on gratitude, and work well as a trusting team.

Scheduling: Your schedule can be a nightmare. I have seen ghost patients (patients that aren’t actually scheduled), overbooking, and appointments entered on the wrong day and time.

  • Tips:
    • Always have a list stating the length you need for each procedure. This ensures that when they book your appointment, you will have enough time.
    • Review your schedule 1 week in advance.
    • COMMUNICATE!!! Be kind, be proactive and work as a team.

Read other blog posts written by Dr. Erinne Kennedy in her series “Crushing Residency.”

~ Dr. Erinne Kennedy, 2014 – 2015 Contributing Editor 

Erinne Kennedy

Dr. Erinne Kennedy is an Ohio State University graduate and comes from Middleport, Ohio. She graduated from the Nova Southeastern University’s College of Dental Medicine in 2015. Dr. Kennedy loved everything about dental school, especially being involved in organized dentistry. While in dental school, she was involved with ASDA as a local vice president and national contributing editor. After dental school, Erinne attended a one-year general practice residency at the VA Hospital in Baltimore, MD. Erinne has a passion for giving back and is currently working toward a dental public health specialty at Harvard University in Boston, MA. Her love for writing and communicating continued after dental school when she became a blogger for igniteDDS and alumna writer for ASDA. Currently she serves as a contributing editor for Dental Product Review and is on the junior editorial board for DeW.

In her free time, Dr. Kennedy enjoys exercise in all forms: yoga, weight lifting, group exercise classes and running. Dr. Kennedy‘s professional affiliations include: The American Dental Association, The Massachusetts Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry.

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