Most of the time we think of January first as being the start of the year. Most of our practices operate on a fiscal or financial start and finish on the calendar year. We start our goals, diets, and new outlooks on the start of a new year. One exception is the academic school year. You start school around September of one year and finish that school year in May of the next. Over the last few weeks, I spent about two hours listening to various high school, college, and graduate school commencement speeches delivered by the Valedictorian of each class. I even listened to old recordings I had of my own high school and college commencement speeches. They were kind of a wishful future look at the impact these graduates would make on the world in the form of a TED Talk. I must admit they were emotionally stirring, filled with naiveté and whimsy. So welcome to another graduation year for every dental school in the U.S. If you are a recent graduate, welcome to the greatest career that I know of.
A dentist’s career begins about 4-6 weeks after graduation from dental school when that long awaited license arrives signifying that you are a doctor now allowed to practice your profession. This year 6,500 plus graduates as well as foreign doctors entered the dental market place. Next year there will be more graduates and certainly more “for profit” dental schools. Hopefully, each new graduate will have ferreted out a job prior to actually receiving their diploma, but based on the number of calls from desperate young doctors, that too is no longer a certainty. Most of the graduates will enter our profession by working for a corporate office where over 50% of each graduating class will remain as employees for the entirety of their careers. Fewer and fewer graduates are choosing ownership during their time in dentistry. The increase in graduates along with a trend to employment rather than ownership is changing the face of dentistry.
We each graduated with some preconceived outlook on what life after dental school would look like. These images of our future were formed during our academic careers and were fostered in part from our past experiences and the tutelage and relationships with our dental professors and schools. Based on the feedback from graduates after one to two years of practice, I am seeing a disconnect from their perceptions of dentistry at graduation, and the realities of real world, rubber meets the road dental practices they find themselves in. Having been in dentistry for almost 50 years, I am also surprised at the feedback I get from doctors who are reaching the end of their career. Why are we seeing disappointment from those starting out and those finishing up? Like most things, success hangs on your ability to ask the right questions and act on the reality of the answers you get. Here is the question that I am toying with: Why is there such a radical departure from what we thought life and practice would look like at graduation, and why after 30-40 years in our profession did we did not alter the course of our daily goals and actions to achieve the results we wanted?
- “Life happens” is merely an excuse for a life misspent and an opportunity missed. You always have had and will always have the ability to change your outcome “if” you are willing to accept being accountable for your results and act on improving them. This is the “engagement” commitment we always thought we would have, but often times come up short on its implementation.
- “I wasn’t taught how to practice dentistry in dental school.” Absolutely, that is true. Dental schools have a short period of time to hopefully get you to a point of semi-competence where you are just barely not dangerous. That diploma was merely a learner’s permit. Your real education should be based on a hunger to learn more each day by taking three times the amount of continuing education that your state board requires for continued licensure. Dental school hopefully helps you learn to think and reason. But they have not given you all the answers you will need for a successful career.
- “I never learned the business of dentistry or finance.” Once again, true. You have to find advisors, mentors, teachers, books, seminars and spend the time to learn and apply business, leadership, and finance skills to the practice of dentistry. This has never been easier with all of the on-line learning programs at little or no cost. Give me a break. Put on your big girl/boy panties and deal with this. You have to own your performance and results regardless of any and all external distractions. The bad news is that you need to start the minute you leave dental school. From the doctors I have interacted with who have been in practice for decades, they never took the time or admitted their shortfall in knowledge nor did they ever do anything about it.
- “I am not sure that dentistry is the right profession for me.” Assuming that the only reason you actually got into dental school is that you made better grades than someone else, it is not surprising that after graduation many find that what it takes to succeed are not their strengths. There is no way to know ahead of time whether or not this is our life’s calling. For many, it is not. You still have the power to come up with a plan B. NOTE: You were one of the students with the highest grades in college. I give you permission to start over.
- “I don’t know where to start.” Classes, books, Internet, mentor, and seminars come to mind. It would be my honor to take your phone call, to help you have the practice you always wanted. It only takes a simple phone call. If you’re a student or recent graduate, I would be glad to help you understand your employment contracts. For the seasoned doctor, I would be happy to help you understand where you are and what the next step would be in order to take your practice where you want it to go.
From this point on, going forward with your eyes wide open is key to creating choices in your future. I would like to reprint a piece of an article I wrote several years ago. At the time it spoke to me and I hope it helps you.
Life in Five Short Chapters
- I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. I can’t believe I’m in this place. It takes me forever to find my way out.
- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I didn’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It is a habit. My eyes are open. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
- I walk down another street.
Start your journey by choosing that different street. This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” T.S. Eliot