Management + Leadership

What a career in human resources taught me about dentistry

As a dental student, we’re often not confronted with the importance of experience in business settings. My work history as a human resources professional gave me firsthand insight into the key leadership and management skills that I can use as a practicing dentist.

In 2009, I graduated as a dentist in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, the country became engulfed in chaos and terrorism that impacted all aspects of life. A year later, I applied for a human resources position in an international development organization as an alternative to practicing dentistry. At this time, medical professionals and teachers were targeted communities since these two populations had the greatest influence in educating people and standing against violence. After one life-threatening year of residency, I made the decision to work in another field as a means of survival.

It was at this time that I discovered my interest in many new areas such as public speaking, leadership, critical thinking, people management, negotiation and emotional intelligence. I realized that these skills could also transfer to my career as a dentist. I continued to grow in the HR industry, eventually becoming the HR manager of my organization, but I decided to leave Iraq for the United States in 2013.

I began a new chapter of my journey in San Diego, California, where I started the reaccreditation process to practice dentistry in the United States. It was impossible to study without working, but I was unsure of whether I should work as a dental assistant or rely on my HR management experience. I ended up working in leadership and health care management while fulfilling the requirements to be accepted into an IDP program. I also started a Masters of Public Health program, but four months before graduation, I received a letter of acceptance into an IDP program in Mexico. I decided to hold my MPH position, resign from my job as a supervisor and head to Mexico in 2017 to begin my two-year IDP program.

During the years I worked in HR and management, I learned a lot about how important it is for dentists to possess strong leadership skills. In San Diego, I worked in a dental clinic and then a large community clinic, and I witnessed how difficult it is to manage staff problems, to select the right candidate, manage patient complaints and other issues that require strong leaders. I was able to help practices by setting workplace values, hiring the right people, mentoring and leading performance improvement planning. After a few months of applying these changes, the results were undeniable: Practice productivity was at its highest, staff turnover dropped and patient satisfaction rates were high. In the end, patients were satisfied with the level of professionalism they experienced as well as the result of the procedures they received.

In our dental practices today, we have many team members we have to lead: front office staff, benefits coordinators and office managers, dental assistants and hygienists. As a result of my HR training and experience, I will be able to apply the lessons I learned to get the best from my dental team. Creating and sharing your vision, effective listening, accepting and encouraging new ideas, and then supporting your staff to implement them will only empower your team. In addition, your appreciation and recognition will motivate them to keep doing a good job. Leading by example, positively engaging with your staff, and setting and evaluating goals will help ensure you maintain a prosperous dental practice.

~Mohlab Al Sammarraie, International Student, Universidad de La Salle Bajío, Mexico ’19

Mohlab Al Sammarraie

Mohlab Al Sammarraie graduated from University of Baghdad in Iraq with a BDS before moving to the United States. He is a class of 2019 DDS candidate in the international program at the Universidad de La Salle Bajío in Mexico. Mohlab has over nine years of experience in leadership and HR management positions with organizations such as United States Agency for International Development, Department of Health and Human Services, Mercy Corps, Neighborhood Healthcare and the UN.

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