I'm not sure any of us knew what our career was going to be like while we were in dental school. I certainly didn't and I didn't have any kind of plan back then. I had no idea that I would have worked in multiple government systems, private care, and be involved in dental politics.
Back then, dentistry to me just seemed to be a job where you went to work, saw patients and went home. A simple 9 to 5. How very wrong I was, and even though I suspect that now young newly-qualifieds are far more clued up than I ever was, I wonder how many students might still not really have thought very far ahead about where their career is going?
It seems the days of starting in a practice and looking forward to taking over from your principle when they retire are gone. There are fewer independently owned practices and fewer dentists are only working one job.
There are a plethora of options available. From working in practice to owning your own, the salaried service, through to the prison service, and even, the armed forces. You may not even choose to work clinically full-time, and become a dental entrepreneur.
Where can you go for careers support and advice?
The obvious place to go for support is close to home. Speak to your colleagues at work or other friends from dental school and see what their experience has been like.
Pop into one of your local BDA branch meetings and speak to some of the dentists there. You may not know them but you'd be surprised at how happy people are to talk about their own experiences, and maybe even tell you about some pitfalls to avoid – it's a great place to network and make valuable contacts. Sometimes you might want some formal advice.
The BDA holds a Careers Day every year, and this year it's taking place on 10 February. There will be talks from dentists who have specialised, worked abroad, and those who have chosen to work in different disciplines.
It can really pay to do a bit of research about all the options, before you make any set life-plan decision-making!
Flexible planning and resilience
But what we mustn't do is think that once we've made a plan that's it. Career planning should be something that you do and revise on a regular basis. The plan you make today will reflect your needs and aspirations from today, but five to ten years down the line, this will probably change.
Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth". Well life can certainly throw you many punches, and no one plan can help you foresee all of them. What's important is that you have the skills to deal with whatever life throws at you and you can change your original plan to fit in with what suits you now – it's important to develop resilience.
Maybe a career plan is the wrong label, maybe you should think bigger and call it your 'career ideal', something you want to strive for, and then you can outline how you plan to get there.
Your destination might stay the same as you get older, but how you get there might need to change. If there's one thing that I've seen dentists deal with very well it is change. Changing systems, changing procedures, changing practicing climate. It fascinates me how we as a profession deal with this and continue treat our patients with both professionalism and passion. It's something we should be proud of.
Chair BDA Young Dentists Committee
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