This week is my official two year anniversary of being licensed in the state of New York. I know that’s not long at all, but it feels like a lifetime to me. When I first finished with residency and started looking for a way to make money with this degree, I had no idea what I was in for. Job hunting in dentistry is less formal and traditional than I ever thought it would be. There were few guidelines and no guarantees. I hope this post will provide you recent grads some helpful advice as you embark on your journey of seeking employment.
As a dental student, you cannot wait to be done. You dream about free time, the end of crazy patients (ha!), and most importantly, getting that hard-earned paycheck. This is it, after what feels like a million years of school. Finding a job should be a lot easier, right? Not so fast.
You know what? Let me give you some good news. Even in this economy, you WILL find a job. You may have to be willing to make compromises on location, but as far as I know, everyone finds employment eventually. I have friends and neighbors in various professional fields outside of dentistry that have been unemployed for months. You made the right decision to attend dental school. The bad news, however is that not all jobs in dentistry are created equal. How you start out initially may play a significant role in where and how you will practice for the rest of your career. You may not know what type of dentist you want to become yet, so now is time to figure it out.
Location is important. If you are flexible and do not necessarily have a preference for where you want to live and work, this will put you at a great advantage. You may find that there are better opportunities if you are willing to relocate, so keep an open mind. However, you want to stay in a specific place due to family or other personal obligations. By all means, do not let job saturation deter you from practicing in your dream location. You can make all the money in the world and still be unhappy if your personal life is suffering.
When I first started job hunting, I knew I wanted to stay in New York City. My husband had a great job here. We both grew up in the area, and all our friends and family are here. The challenge was that I was not the only person that loved this city. I trolled employment sites (mostly Craigslist), and found many job listings. I emailed resumes and went on many interviews. I tried to utilize what little connections I had, but it was tough. All the decent offices wanted experience, and all the others were not places I imagined myself working in. Eventually, I took the first job I could get. I could not afford to waste time sitting around waiting for my perfect job.
I learned a lot that first summer, working as a dentist. I learned that just because your employer promises you something does not mean that it will happen. I learned that no one is looking out for my best interests except me. I learned that performing root canal treatment without a rubber dam is not uncommon and that disinfection techniques were questionable at best at some of these places, This taught me to always inspect the office before making a commitment to treat patients!
Apparently, the first year of employment can be this way. Try to stay positive and think of every situation as a learning experience. I think I worked in eight or nine different offices that first year. Some for a few weeks, some for a few months. I never stopped looking for jobs because I was not happy where I was working, and this cycle continued for the duration of year one.
Aside from online classifieds, there are many great job resources out there; you just have to get creative. Networking is not just for people in the business world. The single most important thing in my opinion is to join your local dental society. As soon as I completed residency, I joined the New York County Dental Society, which is the one affiliated with dentists practicing in the borough of Manhattan. I attended their networking events, and it was there where I met the owner of the office I am currently working in. Since then, even though I am happy with my current job and have stopped looking for employment, I continue to meet new people. I constantly hear about all kinds of potential job opportunities, ones that are not likely to show up on Craigslist. If there is a dental-related networking event in your area and you are still on the hunt, make it an absolute priority to attend! Avoid the temptation to comfort yourself after a day of unruly patients with takeout and a bottle of wine. Put on some nice clothes and pull yourself together: you never know who you may meet.
Another great resource is dental sales reps. They know all the local dentists in the area and will know if someone is hiring for a potential associate. Do not be shy to put the word out there if you are looking. The more people you meet and talk to, the more chances you have with connecting to a link for what may be your potential dream job. Looking at myself and my classmates, everyone that managed to find a job opportunity in what is considered to be a good office did so through direct networking, as opposed to sending out resumes on the Internet.
The most important thing I can stress is do not give up. Do not stay at an office where you are unhappy. Keep looking for that next opportunity. If you cannot find it, it may be time to start your own practice on your own terms. Being an associate can have some great benefits like not worrying about managing a business, but you also give up a lot of creative control in how the practice runs. Stay away from negative people. I used to work in an office where the head dentist was always negatively talking about our profession and how the worst thing you can do is try to open a new practice. This is not a place that you will grow in professionally.
The thing that frustrated me the most was when I was asked about my experience on interviews. Clearly, I did not have much. I agree that when you have been practicing for a long time, you do learn to perform certain procedures more efficiently. But let’s be honest: if you compare a 30-year-old dentist to a 65-year-old, each will have certain strengths and weaknesses. It is important to acknowledge both.
Keep an open mind about offices and employers. Everyone has different preferences. I learned early on that I would much rather have an understanding boss and a supportive working environment than a brand new office where all they care about is production. It may take a few weeks or months to decide if you like working at the practice, so do not jump to sign any agreements or contracts. If possible, try to work at several different jobs. In case one does not work out, you still have a few days a week at which you will be employed until you find an office you are ready to commit to. Since I am in NYC, I do not know much about the corporate dental chains that are present in most other states. Their incentives and offers seem very enticing to a recent grad and they are aggressive! (At a recent meeting, a big dental chain was luring us in with a VIP lounge at the welcome reception). Remember that once you sign on, you may have a hard time getting out of that contract. If any of you have interviewed or worked at these places, please share your experience.
I hope this post helps all you recent grads or dental students who are about to start job hunting. I have met dentists with decades of experience under their belt: there are those that absolutely love their jobs and some that hate them. The latter feel this way because they did not start practicing the way they wanted to and fell into a routine. For them, their job is a way to produce income and nothing more. The ones that love it practice on their own terms, and take pride in it. They get excited about the work that they do. This is who I am trying to model myself after. I hope that I can be as excited about dentistry in 20 years as I am today. If you are a more experienced practice owner reading this, don’t be afraid to take a chance on a recent grad. Keep an open mind: they just might be able to teach you some new things.
Have a great weekend!
Lilya Horowitz, DDS