New dentists share their experiences practicing in a rural community

By | July 21, 2022

Kristen Sciolino, D.M.D., is an owner-dentist in Lincoln, Maine — population 4,853.

As a dentist in a small, rural community, Dr. Sciolino said her family wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dr. Sciolino

She is just one of many new dentists who have chosen to practice in a rural setting, whether it be in public health or at a private practice or dental service organization.

“The pressure and pace of life in rural areas is different from urban ones,” said Dr. Sciolino, a 2020 graduate of the University of New England College of Dental Medicine in Portland, Maine. “People work hard and play hard here. My husband loves the small-town feel here and has been more relaxed than when we lived closer to a larger city. I like to think our blood pressure has improved as well.”

She found the practice that was right for her through ADA Practice Transitions, which linked her to Joe Thibodeau, D.M.D., a practice owner in Lincoln who was looking for a successor after decades of practicing dentistry.

“I knew that when it came to find a job, I would like something that was not in the cities, since I am from a fairly small town originally, Dr. Sciolino said.

Dr. Sciolino is sold on being a practice owner in a rural area. After a year of working together, she purchased Dr. Thibodeau’s practice in 2021.

“I think the advantages to being a rural dentist is that the community knows you and trusts you,” Dr. Sciolino said. “They bring their families to you and their friends. You become a part of the community in a meaningful and fulfilling way. People in small towns trust word of mouth more than online reviews and like a personal feel and to feel valued. I find fulfillment in knowing I am bringing access of care to people who need it.”

She is also grateful to ADAPT for helping her find the perfect match.

“By looking at what interests you, your personality and practice skills, ADAPT works to find the best options for you, not just the closest or most expensive,” Dr. Sciolino said. “I personally feel that is what makes you excited to go to work and your positivity then spreads to your team and community. I have been thanked countless times by patients for being willing to move to a small rural town to take over a practice so they don’t have to search for a new provider.”

Dr. Boynes

Sean Boynes, D.M.D., is president of Dental Medicine Consulting who also serves as the science and research adviser to the American Institute of Dental Public Health.

He is a big proponent of dentists, particularly new ones, working in rural areas when they graduate.

“Rural dentists often tout their ability to practice the way one want, while maintaining a quality work-life balance that allows an individual to enjoy the fruits of their labor and take pride in what they do for a living,” said Dr. Boynes. “The rural environment allows dentists to tap into their inner-entrepreneur and to build a business from the ground-up. A young dentist would have a better opportunity to develop a personal brand that is meaningful. Beyond the fresh air and ability to pay off debt at a quicker pace because personal real estate, taxes, and overall cost of living is [typically] less, there is the ability to be that old-fashioned traditional dentist leader in your community.”

Dr. Boynes added: “There really is something to be said for sponsoring little league sports, having your ad in the school newspaper and getting a good table with the best food at the local restaurant. Reports and reviews consistently point to this having very positive effects on mental well-being and happiness. These types of things [may be] difficult to achieve in the urban setting.”

Working in a rural area can make additional financial sense, he said.

“There are now more ways to pay off student debt for rural dentists, as many states tackle dentist shortages with loan repayment programs,” Dr. Boynes said. “Many state agencies and national programs, like the National Health Service Corpsthrough the Health Resources Services Administration, offer loan re- payment in exchange for practicing in a dental Health Professional Shortage Area. These programs offer a range of options and can provide $40,000-$120,000 in untaxed funds.”

Dr. Monopoli

Michael Monopoli, D.M.D., vice president for grant strategy for CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, said that dentists are attracted to rural settings if they have experience working in rural settings through their dental education or by growing up there.

“Dentists in rural settings [may] have a closer relationship to their patients, tend to be community leaders with broad influence and enjoy a trusted status in their communities,” Dr. Monopoli said. “They also are able to provide a broad range of dental care services. In that regard, access to specialty referral and support may be difficult.”

Jessica M. Sikora, D.M.D., is another 2020 graduate of the University of New England College of Dental Medicine whose desire to practice dentistry in a rural locale led her to use ADAPT to match with Shanna Gagnon, D.M.D., in Farmingdale, Maine (population: 2,995).

“I think there are many advantages to being a dentist in a rural area compared to a more urban area, with the most important to me being your interaction with the community,” Dr. Sikora said. “I love that where I work as everyone knows everyone in some way or another. Everyone is always so friendly and [I’ve] even have patients inviting me over to their houses for dinner.”

Dr. Sikora

Dr. Sikora grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and always knew that she would prefer to work and raise a family in a similar situation.

“When I came to dental school in Maine and decided we wanted to stay here, I wanted to ensure I could replicate what I had back in Pennsylvania where there was such a tight-knit community,” she said.

Dr. Sikora said that ADAPT helped her find the perfect place to her to practice.

“This community was everything I was looking for,” she said. “I love that I live in an area where I know all my neighbors on the street we live on and that everyone is so welcoming and willing to help out with anything you need. I love the privacy that also comes with living out in the country but also that we live close enough to bigger cities that it is not a far drive to go run errands or go out to dinner. We have also learned to take advantage of all the outdoor activities around us all year long such as hiking, skiing, ice fishing, and paddle boarding which have all been wonderful ways to spend our weekends.”

Powered by the ADA, ADA Practice Transitions supports  the future of dentistry by helping dentists buy or sell a practice, hire an associate or find a job. ADAPT matches dentists who are looking to join a practice with owners who are seeking an associate or someone to purchase their practice.

— David Burger

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