Let’s talk transitions: From clinical work to academia

New dentists have had it rough this past year, am I right? Not to negate the struggles of ALL dentists, but those of us who are under five years in practice probably never envisioned a global pandemic drastically affecting our career goals. Job security felt like it was at an all-time low for us, with even some established new dentists being furloughed, and a daunting job market for those newly graduating.

Photo of Dr. Champion

Dr. Champion

If long standing practices were scaling down or even closing, how were us newbies going to fare? Colleagues of mine who started their own practices right out of dental school were in a panic. Practice overhead didn’t stop, nor did the mountains of recent school debt payments, but where were the patients required to keep the practices running? Home and quarantining.

Needless to say, we all had to take a step back and re-evaluate. What could we do to manage our current situations, and if they couldn’t be managed, then what should we do to change them?

For me, this past year meant taking a hard look at my values and goals and attempting to align those with my professional interests. I was an associate at a thriving practice pre-COVID-19, and then suddenly I found myself out of patients, out of integral necessity to the practice, and out of enthusiasm to keep my head up. I knew I had to make a change or I was going to be facing some serious mental struggles.

At that point, I was toying around with a dental business/educational idea that was outside of the typical private practice model, but I didn’t know where to turn to start the implementation process. I reached out to my dental school dean, and while she had enthusiasm for my project, she was also excited to let me know about a brand new dental school that was being built that she was the dean of, and wondered if I had ever considered academia?

At first I was apprehensive because clinical dentistry was all I’d known – what could I contribute to academics? She then encouraged me to apply to the Harvard Macy Institute’s Program for Medical Educators where I could both workshop my project idea as well as gain insight into the world of medical academics. I was accepted, started the course, and a whole new world seemed to open up for me.

Through the HMI program I realized that there is so much more to the dental educational process than I previously could have even conceived, and I realized I would be able to contribute my knowledge and skills to the next generation of dental professionals. It was also very exciting to think that I could help to build a new type of academic realm for dental students where mental wellbeing, comprehensive care, and integrated medicine were all prioritized. I was invigorated and felt a renewed sense of purpose that my previous clinical experience hadn’t afforded me.

I have started a position at Kansas City University’s College of Dental Medicine’s Joplin campus, where I am serving as the Director of Clinical Operations. The school has yet to break ground, and we anticipate the first incoming class to be in 2023, however there is still much to do behind the scenes to get a dental school up and running. It has been a learning curve for sure, but I am having fun learning the ropes alongside a great group of dental educators.

Transitioning from full-time clinical work to full-time academia is still somewhat intimidating to me, but I am thankful that I stepped out of my comfort zone and am trying new things within the world of dentistry. As a lover of all things education, a role in academics seems to fit my personality well, and I will still be able to be involved clinically with students, and with patients through faculty practice.

Before the pandemic, if you asked me where I saw myself in five years, I would have undoubtedly said “running my own practice.” However, after experiencing the changing dental climate through the pandemic, I believe there will be a shift towards more clinicians seeking non-traditional roles in dentistry. There are so many avenues to be explored that don’t require full-time clinical work, and I encourage anyone who is experiencing the type of burnout that I was (after only two years) to shift your perspective and think about what it is you really love about dentistry. It could be making the perfect set of veneers, or diagnosing oral cancer, or even continuing to fulfill your thirst for knowledge through educational roles. Whatever it may be, there are plenty of unexpected opportunities to be found if you just start looking for them.

Dr. Katie Champion is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up around dentistry her whole life, working in her mother’s dental practice until she went to college. She graduated from Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine in 2018. Katie is now the Director of Clinical Operations at Kansas City University College of Dental Medicine after having transitioned from a clinical career in Florida. She is passionate about all things dentistry, and enjoys spending time with her husband and three dogs now exploring their new home state of Missouri.


  • Katie, I am envious. I always thought that being in academics would be wonderful. You will be immersed in knowledge and experience in all things dentistry. Truly a gift. If the politics don’t kill you. LOL
    You have escaped the dog-eat-dog world of clinical practice. Great move.
    I love my clinical practice and wouldn’t change my decision, but the thought of doing what you’ve done always sneak in from time to time.

    • Hi Rick! I don’t think it’s ever too late to switch gears. If you have a dental school near you, see if they have opportunities for adjunct clinical faculty. That way you can get your foot in the door and see if it fits for you!

      Also, the beauty of a new school is that we can create the political environment and don’t have to reform one. It’s an exciting opportunity!


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  • Thank you for sharing Katie. I think it’s awesome that you had the courage to even consider a career path change. Most people just stay in a job that they hate. Dentistry has so many opportunities, many of them nonclinical. We just have to be bold enough to stand up to burnout and see what’s out there. Reading your story shows that it is possible, no matter how far out of dental school you are. We work so hard in this profession! Way too hard to dread the drive to work every morning. I wish you the best in this new venture. Exciting!

    • Hi Joe! Many thanks for your kind words! Burnout is real, and dentistry IS hard. I hope we can all find a niche in it that we love.

  • So glad you have found a life change that really excites you. I know you will do a great job and give much to the profession.

  • Thanks for sharing this wonderful article

  • Thank you for the article. I think it is important to have a diverse range of activities related to dentistry-rather than Clinical Dentistry alone.

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  • Hi Katie, thanks for sharing your experiences in your career, though it was tough but you choose to fulfill it. I know I will need to spend more years to achieve my chosen path but I truly believe that I am able to overcome it. Your story encouraged me to continue and be more resilient on the path that I want to walk on.

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  • Thank you so much Katie for sharing your experience with us. You are an inspiration to me and I hope you will continue to be an inspiration to others.

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