You've Graduated! Now What? Tips for Starting Your Dentist Career 

DATE: Jul 19, 2018
AUTHOR: Lisa Knowles, D.D.S.

No more textbooks. No more board exams. Freedom!

I didn't have long to savor the moment between graduating dental school and starting my dentist career. Like many young professionals, I had debt to pay off. My loans were deferred during my general practice residency, but after that, the bills started to trickle in. Don't worry! There are many things to be positive about at the start of a fresh dental career. Because hindsight is so valuable, I want to share these tips for any new graduate's future success.

Learn Financial Planning

As a new graduate, I highly recommend learning everything you can about money. Whether you paid for your education or had help from family and scholarships, it's time to gain financial independence.

The good news is, as dentists, we have a high earning potential; however, we must know what to do with our money once we receive it. Reading books on financial planning and listening to money matters podcasts on your way to work may teach you the basics of how to save and spend your money.

Reading tips from financiers who are not dentists may also help you understand the basics of investing. I subscribe to dental financial newsletters for investing tips that are specific to our profession. Finally, I ask my accountants and friends in the finance industry all of my "stupid" money questions.

Save for Emergencies

Another one of my frugal dentist career recommendations is to resist the temptation to assume a lavish lifestyle upon graduation. Instead of splurging on a nice car, big home or expensive wedding, be patient. Spend less than you make, and save up for emergency costs.

Money in the bank is a safety net that provides priceless peace of mind and a pathway to financial independence. If you're economical now, you may have the flexibility to someday work part-time, take extra maternity or paternity leave, or move to a new practice or hometown.

Consider Office Purchases Carefully

Once you have a savings account for your practice, it's important not to spend it all at once. With a solid financial foundation, you will have more room for risk taking and a buffer for market changes. Avoid dipping into your savings; this will benefit you personally and in managing your office.

In 2007, a recession hit three years after I had purchased my first office. I had put off buying all but the basic equipment at first, which turned out to be good decision in the face of an unpredictable financial downturn. With money in the bank, I weathered the storm much better than some of my colleagues. My delay in equipment purchases paid off because I was not struggling to keep up with a slew of payment plans.

If possible, save up for the big purchases, and pay for things outright. Oftentimes, I realized after I saved up for something that I did not really want it after all, and I was glad to have avoided an impulsive purchase.

Care for Yourself

In addition to having tremendous financial discipline, I would recommend you make overall health and wellness a priority from the start. Maybe you sacrificed sleep during dental school or skipped workouts to study more. Those kinds of behaviors will catch up with you as you age. Dentistry is mentally fatiguing and physically challenging. Stretch at least three times a week, if not every day, and pay attention to ergonomic risks, such as carpal tunnel.

For your mental health, learn to find serenity. We are often competitive and over-achieving. Our bodies need to balance our fast-paced workdays with mental and physical recovery. Taking time to meditate, relaxing with a book or enjoying time with family and friends in your off hours may help you be more present when you're tending to patients.

Embrace Leadership

Lastly, always be thankful for the opportunities and abilities you have been given as a dentist. You will be called upon to lead others in your office and community because of your expertise, knowledge and critical thinking skills. Your position of influence should always be kept in check and used for the good of others. Networking with other dentists at events, such as dental conferences and continuing education classes, lets you trade tips with other young leaders in your shoes.

With these kinds of responsibilities, it's easy to develop super hero feelings, but try to remember: your white coat is just a coat, not a cape. Ask for help when you are frustrated, disenchanted or even burned out. Many older dentists have had these feelings, too, and we can help you find brighter pathways. Welcome to your new professional dental community, graduates!