My New Dentist Life: First year lessons

Editor’s note: This is the final article in a New Dentist Now blog series, My New Dentist Life, following a new dentist’s first year experiences out of dental school. The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and are not intended to reflect the views, positions or policies of the ADA or the New Dentist Committee. To read previous articles in the series, visit ADA.org/mynewdentistlife.

Dr. Hobart

Dr. Hobart

The year has come to an end and I can no longer call myself a “first year dentist”. I “celebrated” my one-year anniversary of working at my current job on Aug. 3. I want to thank the ADA for being interested enough in my story to allow me to broadcast it to the masses – the highs and especially the lows. I think back to when I received an email from them just before graduation. As a soon-to-be-graduating dental student, I jumped at the opportunity, full of hopes and dreams and alive with the possibility of sharing how completely amazing my first year was going to be.

Well, we both know that did not happen. Although they have frequently praised me for being honest with my blog posts over the past year, I fear that I have not been honest enough. My first year experience has been – for lack of a better word – horrible. I left my job on Aug. 31. If there is one thing that the past 13 months have taught me, it is what I do not want – for my career or for my life. That is the silver lining. Here are five musings from my first year out of dental school to hopefully enlighten those who will be experiencing theirs soon:

Top 5 Things I Learned My First Year Out of Dental School:

1. Corporate dentistry is just as bad as they say it is. Maybe even worse.

Without getting into too much detail… Seeing up to 30 patients a day, always feeling rushed and stressed, not getting an actual lunch break, dealing with materials that are not up to my expectations or standards, being praised and evaluated on production only and not on patient care, relationships, or skill, that’s real life. It is hard to put your heart and soul into an environment that is at its core soulless and heartless. Focusing on my patients first and everything else second is how I got through. I joined a dentist-owned group practice because in the area to which I was moving, all of the experienced dentists would not hire a new graduate. They all turned me away for not having 3-5 years of experience. How was I supposed to get that experience? It seems that the same dentists who say how terrible corporate dentistry is are also not willing to take on a newbie. How do we deal with this problem? According to a speaker at the Academy of General Dentistry meeting in Boston that I asked – “Keep the faith!” That is all that she could say. Meanwhile another speaker basically said that I chose money over mentoring, which is not true. How do we support our new dentists with this changing approach to dentistry? My biggest fear is that this is dentistry’s future.

2. Pettiness never ends. No matter what age, level of education or level of professionalism you reach, deep down we are all still living that uncomfortable middle school life.

Office drama happens. People at their core are petty. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been surprised this year by the actions of older adults, as well as people my own age. The trick, it seems, is to not be surprised anymore. But the most important thing to remember is to rise above it and never engage them. Being a dentist, I had hoped to be involved in the building of my team – hiring and training staff. Being an employee, I was not involved in this at all. In the future, that will be one of my priorities.

3. It’s hard out there for a new dentist. Getting involved and engaged in organized dentistry can be tough.

Transitioning from an involved dental student to an involved new dentist was extremely hard for me. I often felt unseen and unheard. It is a very strange feeling to go from the American Student Dental Association, where you feel as though your voice is heard and things are extremely well run and everything gets done, to not really knowing your place. Engaging new dentists was something that I was passionate about as an ASDA member and I was extremely disappointed to find that being a new dentist in organized dentistry was exactly how I thought it was going to be. I want to make this a better transition for future new dentists! Having said that, I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the events that I did this year and I look forward to being even more involved this next year!

4. It is important to have something in your life besides your career. This is especially helpful when your career isn’t going how you had hoped.

Moving to a new state where I had few friends and no family nearby was hard in itself. Add in the fact that I went to bed almost every night dreading going to work the next day and I woke up every morning dreaming of calling in sick, and it was pretty hard to get through. You can’t let your relationships, your hobbies, the things that you truly love slip away for your new career. It simply isn’t that important. Dentistry is what I love to do, but it is worthless without a good life to go along with it.

5. You can’t compare your journey to someone else’s.

I was so disappointed at how my first year experience turned out. I thought that it was a reflection on me that I thoroughly researched all of my job opportunities and had several people – including a lawyer – look over my contract and thought that it would be amazing and it was still terrible. I obviously wouldn’t have picked the job that I picked if I didn’t think that it would be wonderful. It did seem great at first. I got unlucky. Or maybe I was just naïve. The thing that made it worse though, was talking to my friends about their job experiences or looking on social media and being jealous that my situation was not like that. To be fair, there were several others who had terrible experiences – worse than mine. The most important thing is that you are happy in your position, not how many full-mouth reconstructions you are doing on day one.

It has been a pleasure being a part of the ADA’s New Dentist Now blog this past year. Thank you to those who shared this journey with me. As much as this past year has been different than what I thought it would be, and as much as I hoped that I would have some amazing success story to share, I appreciate the opportunity to be real. Sorry if I depressed anybody! I will be moving to Washington State to continue my journey in the Pacific Northwest. I look forward and have hope for better things ahead!

For other new dentists who joined a similar group practice, what have been your experiences? Do they differ from mine? What can more established dentists do to help new dentists?

Dr. Emily Hobart is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and a member of the American Dental Association, the South Carolina Dental Association and Central District Dental Society. She is an estranged Canadian who grew up in Glendale, Arizona, where she attended dental school at Midwestern University. In her free time, she loves running, rock climbing, pub trivia, karaoke and traveling!

6 comments

  • Chelsea Rajagopalan

    Thank you for your incredibly candid recount of your experiences and the advice for fellow new dentists (and those soon-to-be), Dr. Hobart! Your honesty is courageous and so helpful to those of us who are about to embark on this next step in dentistry. For those who are under the very false preconceived notion that graduation is “the end of the hard times,” it’s an excellent reminder that there will certainly be great struggles ahead, hopefully sprinkled with small successes and some smiles along the way. There is no “perfect situation,” (for anyone in any profession) but we can constantly work towards a work/life balance (or integration) that allows for healthy amounts of both challenge and happiness. I’ve appreciated hearing about your experiences and wish you all the best in WA!

  • Very insightfull to hear your story and first hand experiences in the real word of dentistry. Best of luck in your career. For us patients, most of dentistry is just brushing teet with a soft toothbrush and flossing occasionaly up until a visit to a dentist comes along.

  • Yeah, I agree with you, it is very hard to begin your career, when every employer wants to hire only an experienced dentist. But with the lapse of time, you will be drawn into this sphere, and in a blink of an eye, you’ll become this very experienced dentist. We can handle everything.
    Good luck!

  • Hey, Thanks for great article. Tips are really innovative and effective. We truly respect this profession. I am friendly and outgoing and operate well and get together with pretty much everyone. In today’s ever-changing economy, choosing the right career is more important than ever. For many people looking for a career in healthcare, a job as a dental hygienist is very appealing. It’s one of the fastest-growing careers in today’s job market and it requires typically no more than two years of college.

  • As a prospective employer for an associate, the problem that an established dentist has with new grads has nothing to do with skill level. That can be mentored and improved upon if the associate is willing to accept the mentorship. It is more about the financial demands of the new grad who has a large student loan balance. It is one thing to accept that a new grad will take 2 1/2 hours to get a crown appt done, but something else to see the same grad expect to be paid like a seasoned vet just because of their loans. There are great associateship opportunities out there in offices like mine, but the associate has to be able to withstand a period of time where there will not be a lot of income coming in as they hone their craft.

    I have learned from my own period as an associate years ago, and three years of having an associate. There is a lot more that goes making a good opportunity than just signing a contract. Hard work does have it’s own rewards- and anyone who expects to merely clock in and clock out is going to be greatly disappointed in their career.

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