The biggest challenge as a new dentist: my age

One of the dentists in my office, Dr. Danny Hearrean, and I both have something in common with Howie Mandel. Dr. Hearrean styles his hair the same way as Howie, and I hate to shake people’s hands.

Dr. Sowa

Dr. Sowa

Nevermind the fact when I was ASDA editor-in-chief, I assisted in the creation of this video on how to properly shake hands at a networking event. I simply feel awkward shaking hands. I venture outside my comfort zone when I have somebody from the baby boomer generation in the chair, mainly because I was once told they like traditional approaches to interaction. Which brings me to the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my 97 days as a licensed dentist: my age.

A majority of the patients at our practice don’t seem to mind which dentist they see during their visit. A large number of patients see me and say a variation of “you look like you just graduated high school.” Every week there will be that one new patient who mostly identifies with the female side of baby boomer generation who takes one look at me and says “NOPE.”

The fact is I’m almost 30, and a large number of my classmates were at least three years younger than me. Maybe I have awesome genetics (thanks, Mom) that make me appear younger than my age. Or maybe the fact I wear my hair in a ponytail (with a sometimes sparkly headband) to keep it out of the patient’s mouth makes me look much younger than I am. As I mentioned, it’s typically a non-issue with the exception of the one patient who assumes my age makes me much less competent than other dentists.

The glory of Welch Dental Group is the patient actually does have a choice. They can see another young person who has been practicing for three years or a dentist a dentist who has at least 30 years on me. This is probably not the case for many new dentists.

How do we manage to make sure the patient looks past our seemingly baby face (I swear I have wrinkles, I guess they don’t see them)? Howie Mandel’s hair twin, Dr. Hearrean, gave me a valuable lesson in confidence when this first happened to me. Dr. Hearrean explained he was still told that he was too young multiple years out of school. He gained trust with patients through his unwavering knowledge of solving their problem and is now typically the most requested doc in our office today. I know the solution to my problem is not to shave my head, but to assert confidence.

My involvement in organized dentistry has afforded me many opportunities to gain skills necessary to speak confidently. As a dental student, I attended conferences like the National Leadership Conference, where I honed my speaking and self-presentation skills. As a new dentist, I seek opportunities within Greater Houston Dental Society and the Texas Dental Association to share my voice. The encouragement from more seasoned dentists in these situations allows my overall level of confidence to increase, thus relaying to my every day practice in speaking with patients.

Someday I’ll be wishing for my patients to call me young. But in the meantime, I’ll continue to use this challenge as a learning experience.

And maybe shake a few hands in the process.

Dr. Katie Sowa is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Houston and recently graduated from The University of Texas School of Dentistry in 2015. Katie is a general dentist in a large group practice in Katy, Texas (a quick 25 minute commute from Houston). When she’s not working or staying involved with the Greater Houston Dental Society and the Texas Dental Association, she’s usually posting pictures of her miniature Australian shepherd puppy or her CrossFit workouts.

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