Fall 2017

What I Learned My First Year in Practice

Communication and confidence are key. And keep laughing.

By Jeremy Clover, D15

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Illustration: Cristina Spanò

Six months before graduating from Tufts School of Dental Medicine, I began searching for an associate position in a private practice. I wanted to join a practice where I would be given opportunities to succeed and also to stretch myself. As I interviewed, I made sure to express the need for someone willing to take the time to coach me through the ups and downs of perfecting my craft. I found the perfect opportunity in southern Vermont with fellow Tufts alums, Tyler and Betsy Carmack, both D09, who became my mentors and helped me thrive. As I reflect back on my first year of treating patients, here is some advice for new dentists entering private practice:

Communication is key. When I am explaining to patients what to expect before, during and following a procedure, I take time to make sure they truly understand what the treatment will entail. I find that when I put in the extra time to communicate effectively, the patient more readily accepts the treatment plan and has a more positive experience.

If the staff is not happy, no one is happy. It is crucial that my staff understands what our expectations are for each other. Praise should follow success and a dialogue should follow any mistakes. It is important to keep the whole team accountable, myself included.

Get good at dentistry and then get fast. Do not rush through procedures. Take your time and focus on the details. With repetition, those details become second nature, part of your muscle memory, and gradually your speed increases.

Be confident in your ability and expertise. Don’t let patients dictate what treatment will occur. Before presenting a treatment plan to a patient in my first year, I would review X-rays in my office and practice presenting the plan to my assistant. Practicing would better prepare me to effectively present the options to the patients. When I came prepared with a plan, the patients could sense my confidence and they were much more willing to trust me and my abilities. When patients could sense a lack of confidence, I found they tried to dictate treatment and pursue options that were below the standard of care. This led to a much more difficult discussion.

Know your limits so, you can slowly stretch them. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. When I first started, the Carmacks helped put me in situations where I knew I would succeed and gain confidence. I was gradually introduced into new situations where I learned to push myself and help turn my weaknesses into strengths.

Dentistry can be stressful, so learn how to have fun while doing it. Being a dentist implies we will have a certain level of stress in our lives. I learned very quickly that if I didn’t find times to laugh and have fun, I very quickly became frustrated and stressed. But when the dentist is relaxed and having fun, everyone else does, too. Finding the perfect balance of professionalism and laughter makes for a better overall experience for all.

Jeremy Clover is an associate at Shaftsbury Dental Center in Shaftsbury, Vermont. He is a member of the American Dental Association and the Vermont State Dental Society.

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