So you've graduated from dental school; all those years of hard work have paid off! After all that hard work, what do you do now that you've graduated into the world that COVID-19 has sculpted for us?
What were your options pre-COVID-19?
Prior to the pandemic, dental grads entered the dental workforce with excellent job prospects. The majority of dentists go on to work in a practice or office where they will run a business in addition to applying the clinical skills learned in dental school. Fewer chose to go on to further training, residencies or internships, often in hospitals.
How has the pandemic changed things?
COVID-19 has shaken up every aspect of life, including plans for after graduation.
Many dental offices have been closed during the pandemic, or seeing only urgent patients to reduce the risk of viral transmission. In addition, where dental offices have slowly reopened, fewer patients are being seen than before and the types of treatment being provided is more limited. Together with the uncertainty of some dental offices' future as businesses, that means that openings for new dental positions are in short supply right now and it will be more difficult to find one.
With the suspension of face-to-face patient appointments in dental hospitals and other postgraduate dental schools, or reductions in the number of patients being seen, the number of positions available to work in hospitals and institutions may be reduced.
Opportunities during the pandemic
There are still opportunities, it's not all doom and gloom.
Emergency and urgent care has continued to be provided, even during closures. Some offices and institutions are focused on providing this care. While new dental school graduates would be limited in the procedures they could perform compared to specialists, there may be opportunities in this area.
Other options include applying for a postgraduate training/residency position in a specialty. While it may not be clear how many positions there will be or when training commences, this would provide further education and skills for the future if you can obtain a position that you can then use as the outlook improves.
This may be a good time to consider a career in research, or a public health position. These will build on your education and skills, and often provide opportunities for interprofessional collaboration. Some research opportunities are available with awards and scholarships for training programs. Outreach programs are another area still worth exploring.
Dental professionals retire just like everyone else, and while some dentists will continue beyond a typical retirement age there are some that may now decide to retire early under the current circumstances. If you can find a transitional position in such an office, you could later build on this. Networking opportunities could include virtual meetings and study clubs, and talking to individuals in the industry who may hear of an opportunity. If your goal is to practice in a dental office setting, you can also explore a position with a DSO rather than a solo practice.
While it is hard to predict the future, things will change. Recent reports show that patients are returning for dental care where offices are reopening and that the number of patients returning is also gradually increasing. There will also be a backlog of patients wanting non-urgent and elective care.
We have all been adjusting to using technology more to keep in touch with our family and friends, and we can do the same professionally. Teledentistry is growing in this unprecedented time and we can use this to help patients in caring for their oral health, delivering prevention messages and providing patient consultations. This creates additional opportunities, especially if you are tech-savvy and comfortable with remote communication.
The pandemic has created challenges in every element of our lives. With these challenges, an open mind and flexibility, there can be opportunities to grow and stand out from the crowd.