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.
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.