The ins and outs of moving a dental career

By | August 9, 2016

Dr. Eric Childs was looking for a fresh start.

Dr. Childs

Dr. Childs

Drs. Adriana and Emmanuel Zuniga were in search of better weather.

Dr. Lindsey Yates was seeking a better cost of living.

And Dr. Alexandra Barton just wanted to live in the same state as her husband-to-be.

Establishing a career isn’t just about finding a job — it’s also about finding a place to call home.

For more than five years, Dr. Eric Childs, a general dentist, lived and practiced in Battle Creek, Michigan. A 2007 graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy, he found during two years of owning a solo practice, he didn’t really enjoy the stresses of owning and running a business.

“I decided to relocate for a fresh start,” said Dr. Childs, a member of the New Dentist Committee who moved to Wisconsin in 2014. “As I searched for new jobs, I found that there were different types of practices everywhere, and that I needed to find the model that fit me best. I found that with my current practice.

Dr. Barton

Dr. Barton

Because Wisconsin and Michigan have licensure reciprocity, that part of the move was simplified since he already had the required five years of practice and current Michigan license. After paying his fees, the challenge was rounding up his North East Regional Board [now called the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments] and NBDE scores, a transcript from dental school and a letter from the State Board of Michigan acknowledging his dental license was in good standing and sending it to the Wisconsin licensing board.

“It’s not always seamless,” he said. “The last thing I had to do was take a jurisprudence exam in Wisconsin. It was offered online so I could complete it at my convenience.”

One thing he was grateful for was the way his state associations stepped up.

“The Michigan and Wisconsin dental associations worked out transfer of my ADA membership,” Dr. Childs said, adding that the two made sure he never had a gap in his malpractice insurance.

“Knowing dentists around the country makes a huge difference in searching out jobs in new or unfamiliar areas of the country.

General dentist Dr. Adriana Zuniga and her husband, endodontist Dr. Emmanuel Zuniga, have a three-state story.

For 10 years, Emmanuel owned a general dentistry practice in Chicago before selling the practice and enrolling in an endodontics residency at the University of Detroit Mercy. Adriana attended Detroit Mercy for dental school but after graduation completed a general practice residency at Chicago’s Loyola University Medical Center.

Following Emmanuel’s residency completion, they realized they wanted to live in a city with more opportunities and better weather. They found that in Denver, where they moved in 2013. The couple, who also have a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, were also looking for balance, both professionally and personally. He is now the owner of the Art of Endodontics and she is the general dentist for the Denver Indian Health and Family Services, an urban clinic that serves Native Americans.

Choosing Denver and finding employment were relatively easy but both found challenges in the length of time it took to get licensed.

Drs. Adriana and Emmanuel Zuniga

Drs. Adriana and Emmanuel Zuniga

“The process is extended in finding the time to get paperwork notarized, board scores mailed to the dental board and then there is a wait to have the application process,” explained Adriana.

Like Dr. Childs, she said organized dentistry made the transitions easier.

“It’s easier to meet people because you are working towards the same goal of improving your profession,” said Adriana, who also serves on the Community Outreach and Public Relations Committee for the Metro Denver Dental Society. “It’s easy to feel isolated when you move to a new place, because of the nature of dental work and the fact that you don’t know many people.”

For eight years Dr. Lindsey Yates practiced public health dentistry in Chicago. She enjoyed caring for the community’s underserved, but both she and her husband, a marketing director, worried about paying off student loan debt and still being able to buy a house and start a family. Enter Denver where they moved earlier this year.

“Even though neither of us had secured jobs in Colorado at the time of our move, we knew that Colorado offered a lower cost of living as well as an improved work-life balance that we couldn’t find in Chicago,” said Dr. Yates, also a member of the ADA New Dentist Committee.

She found the re-licensing part to be the most trying of the relocation process.

The most difficult part is identifying which states will accept your board exam and/or credentials,” Dr. Yates said. “Navigating each state’s board’s requirements is extremely tedious and time-consuming, because each one is unique!”

For dentists considering a move, she recommended they read the fine print of the licensing application thoroughly and making a spreadsheet to help decide which state is right for them and whether they satisfy its requirements.

Patience is key, she said.

“No matter what a state agency or insurance company says is the normal turnaround time for paperwork to be processed and approved, it is usually longer than that. So make sure you have some wiggle room, both in terms of time and finances.”

Dr. Yates tipped her hat to the ADA CareerCenter, which helped her begin her job search before landing at her current position.

Dr. Alexandra Barton moved from Denver earlier this year after her fiancé took a job in Dallas in 2015. The 2013 Virginia Commonwealth graduate and general dentist is now an associate at a dentist-owned and operated pediatric specialty group practice in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Despite not moving to Texas right away, she said she started working on her relocation efforts almost immediately.

“I wanted to get my license going and a job secured as quickly as I could as well,” said Dr. Barton, who continued living and working in Colorado until getting her sedation, insurance and Medicaid credentials in place.

“Luckily, my practice in Denver was incredibly understanding and flexible about this and allowed me to keep working,” she said.

One thing Dr. Barton said that made her transition easier was that Texas accepted her regional licensure exam. She received her Texas dental license about five weeks after submitting her application. She also reached out to staff at the local, state and national levels.

“The staff at the Colorado Dental Association and Texas Dental Association were both incredibly helpful with getting my membership transitioned quickly so that as soon as we moved here I was given a big Texas welcome into the TDA and Fort Worth District Dental Society,” Dr. Barton said.

Like many, Dr. Yates said she dreams of the day when universal licensure is a reality for dentists everywhere.

“One day, I hope these costly and onerous obstacles to true portability will be removed and a U.S. dentist’s license will be recognized regardless in which of the 50 states he/she decides to practice,” said Dr. Yates, who suggested fellow dentists consider volunteering with their state boards. “Twenty-eight dental boards accept all clinical exam results while protecting the public they serve. Hopefully, the rest of the licensing jurisdictions will soon do the same.”

Dr. Childs agreed, “It can be daunting to relocate. But it happens commonly in today’s world. Embrace the change and don’t be afraid to make that change.”

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