By Sharon Perelman, DDS
We go through rigorous schooling and training to become dentists. It takes years to acquire the knowledge and experience to treat patients' oral health care needs and desires. Over time, we improve our skills and enhance our capabilities in treating patients, managing our teams, and running successful practices. It feels great knowing that we have grown as professionals and attained our dreams. Eventually, you might find yourself settling into a routine while running your practice and caring for patients. Once you've established your practice, what is the next big step in your career? Now what will you set your sights on?
It is vital to keep yourself motivated, not only in regard to your commitment to your staff and patients, but also in continuing to grow and develop as a dental professional. Dentistry is a profession that calls on many disciplines — science, business, and communication, to name a few — so there are always topics to explore and ways to improve yourself, your staff, and your practice. There are endless opportunities to ensure your career and practice keep moving in the direction you want them to go. Consider some of the following ideas if you want to grow and enhance your abilities personally and professionally.
Set goals, look ahead, and think big
Set goals for your personal and professional endeavors. Maybe you have one of each, and they might be related or the same. Setting goals can motivate and inspire you to keep moving toward the next step in your career. Goals give you something to strive for and look forward to accomplishing. Setting attainable objectives in relation to your goal will help you get there. Perhaps your goal is large, such as starting your own practice, or smaller, such as implementing a new mode of technology into your practice. A goal I knew would serve my practice well was eliminating virtually all paper records. This occurred gradually, with the implementation of Patterson EagleSoft clinical and practice-management software. My staff and I got comfortable with the system through training before tackling the addition of digital radiography and CAESY patient-education software. Our goal — a paperless office — was no longer an unattainable dream, but a manageable goal when we broke it into smaller tasks.
I began my career working as an intensive care nurse for 10 years. I enjoyed the exciting, fast-paced nature of the job, the interaction with the residents, physicians, and patients, and the challenge each day brought. Additionally, there were many new forms of technology and I relished the opportunity to learn about them, gain experience with them, and use them to care for patients. As my nursing career neared the decade mark, I began to think that it was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I aspired to expand my educational background, although I struggled with where that might take me. I pictured my life to include marriage and a family and decided I would be most happy with a job that allowed me flexibility, the ability to be hands-on with people, and daily interaction with patients.
My science background and experience treating patients gave me the confidence to enter dental school. Dentistry was an exciting, intimidating aspiration, but I envisioned how rewarding it would be once I attained it, and that served as my motivation.
Apply your experience
As you seek new opportunities, apply your experience in other areas to the task. Likely, you have passions that can speak to your work in the dental industry. Perhaps while reading for pleasure, you came across an interesting business model or idea. Recruit your staff to brainstorm ways that you could implement it into your practice. Maybe you enjoy public speaking and can assist your staff in outlining communication objectives for your office. As you leave experiences behind and pursue new ones, it is likely that the things you learned can enrich your practice and your staff and patients' experiences.
As I made the transition from nursing to dentistry, I used the knowledge and skills I had gained in several areas to provide the best care to my dental patients. Coming from the nursing profession, I was already comfortable interviewing and communicating with patients. I also knew of pathology, anatomy, and pharmacology, among other subjects, which assisted me in diagnosing and caring for patients. I try to use this background to assist in patient care, inquiring about possible medical conditions and explaining their relevance to oral health. Many issues in the mouth have systemic repercussions, and my knowledge of the body and health sciences helps me diagnose and treat these conditions safely and effectively.
Put "me" first, now and then
Dentistry requires you to be concerned constantly about others. Your business is based on providing care to patients and maintaining the satisfaction and optimal performance of your staff. Set aside some time to commit to an activity that is for your own personal benefit. Become a member of a community organization that speaks to an interest. You will be amazed how refreshing it can be to meet people with similar interests, discuss ideas and issues, and network with them. Enroll in a night class, attend a seminar, volunteer —: all of these are opportunities that may relate to dentistry if you desire, but they may also relate to other interests or passions you have.
I have completed several courses offered by the Hornbrook Group to advance my dental education. Of course, this directly affects my patients, but it is something I do for personal satisfaction. I am also an active member of several organizations, for example, the Chicago Dental Society and the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. My involvement allows me to broaden my horizons outside of the dental office and help further the goals of the dental profession. As I offer my efforts and ideas to these organizations, I gain and enhance a variety of skills while staying involved and up to date on the industry. But avoid too much. Committing to one outside activity or organization might be all you have the time and energy for. No matter how rare or frequent your involvement or large or small your contributions, it is still beneficial to your development to network and broaden your experiences.
Dentistry is a rewarding and challenging profession. We must do our best to balance our personal and professional lives. Often, we encounter something in our personal lives that is applicable to our professional lives, and vice versa. Maximize the opportunities to do both, and stay mindful of that next step you want to pursue. Your earnestness in continually seeking new ways to learn and grow will help you maintain your success and contribute to your commitment to being a well-rounded professional.
Dr. Sharon Perelman earned her undergraduate degree at Rush University in Chicago, where she majored in nursing. She practiced as an intensive-care nurse for 10 years, then returned to school and received her DDS degree from Loyola University in 1992. She went to extensive post-graduate clinical training in cosmetic and reconstructive dentistry from the Hornbrook Group for Advanced Dental Education. After practicing in Rochester, Minn., she established a dental practice in the Oak Lawn area in 1994, and recently has expanded her practice to downtown Chicago at Lake Point Tower. She resides in Burr Ridge with her husband and two daughters. Reach her at [email protected] or (708) 425-1811.