Coming into the finish line for dental school can be daunting. And maybe it should be. There are a lot of life decisions to be made in a very short, very busy year. Am I going to specialize? Where should I move to? AEGD, GPR, or straight to practice? To make it even more complex, all of these questions have several subsequent decisions alongside them. Getting the ball rolling starts a lot earlier than the 4th year though. I found it useful to reach a decision through a process, not an impulse.
Dental school is a great way to find out how to do things, but actually doing them autonomously is a completely different ball game. I realized a great and understanding mentor was my primary concern, and this became the focus of my post-graduation planning. Many school faculty and administration would suggest that a residency is the only real option to gain an extra year of mentorship. I will not deny that AEGD’s and GPR’s are uniquely capable vessels to continue education while getting more experience in current general dentistry skills. I’ve heard great experiences from many programs and the close supervision they offer is exactly what many of us need coming out of school to be comfortable in “the real world”. That being said, the most important part of my leap out of school was finding a great mentor and work environment, not just finding a great residency.
I was introduced to my boss through my hometown dentist, and I was instantly impressed at the importance she places on continuing education as well as the flow of her practice. She is busy, but she does not rush. She does not over-reach her abilities but takes courses to learn how to expand her skill set. She also told me she was ready for someone to come in and learn, not just to punch their time-card. A lot of employers will feign these opportunities, so asking for details about CE, scheduling procedures you’re not comfortable with yet with them (hands-on training), and 1-on-1 meetings to discuss the business aspects of the practice is important to make sure you will get tangible benefits from these offers.
Since I’ve started practicing, my boss has hopped into my op several times to bail me out of extractions that were over my head, tweak treatment planning for complex cases, and look at how to approach a patient completely differently than what school felt like. She checks preps and impressions until we’re both comfortable with lending more independence. She reviews materials, lab information, and most treatment planning with me.
She has also taught me skills that I did not get a chance to practice in school.
None of this is just saving me from struggling. It came with advice and ideas on how to improve the next time.
Again, this is not to say a residency isn’t the best option for any single person. It’s just important to realize what the benefits are for any given situation right out of school. Finding an understanding mentor, continuing your education, expanding your skillset, and not being thrown into an uncomfortable or dangerous environment are key features of successful ventures out of school. If you can find the perfect combination of these in a residency, you will be able to grow tremendously. But if you’re able to find a great opportunity in private practice, do not write off the potential of this position simply because it’s not a residency. The leap out of school is hectic, regardless of how you choose to leave. Make sure your leap is set up with a clear set of points that are focused on how to make you succeed. Ready, set, go!