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New dentist: Class of '75

It has been many years since I could call myself a new dentist, but my memories of those days are still vivid in my mind even after 30 years—an indication of how stressful this period in my life was.

I didn't have a true understanding of what dentistry was about before being accepted into dental school, or even upon graduation. To be honest, the need to obtain an F-2 deferment to avoid Vietnam was my primary incentive for applying and toughing out those four years.

Surviving the course curriculum was not an easy endeavor. I was most envious of my fellow classmates who set the curves on tests, and anything they touched with their hands seemed better than anything my hands would ever produce. Fortunately, I made it through, but the experience left less than a pleasant memory.

Upon graduation I was ambivalent as to whether or not I really wanted to continue in dentistry. My thought was, if the real world of dentistry was as unfulfilling as my years in school then I didn't want to continue with more of the same. Already owing a sizable amount of debt, I wasn't enthused about adding to the load by setting up a new practice or purchasing an existing practice.

So, what to do? I was somewhat jealous of my classmates who were eagerly looking forward to returning to their hometowns and joining an established practice, certain that this was what they wanted. I, on the other hand, was at a crossroads.

The answer to the dilemma I faced came in the form of a salaried position with a federally funded program in a disadvantaged area of the state. If I didn't like the job I could leave any time I wanted, and if they didn't like me they could ask me to leave any time they wanted. That was the deal. For me, it sounded like the right level of commitment!

But then, during the following year and a half, I discovered I really enjoyed practicing dentistry. The satisfaction of working with people who were really nice and the realization that my hands, with practice, could produce work that I was proud of made the prospect of spending the rest of my life practicing dentistry very appealing.

Through the years I have come to realize just how lucky I am to have found a profession that is rewarding in so many ways.

I guess the lesson I learned is that there are many "fits" for the different needs of each graduate. I hope the new dentists out there persevere until they find the practice model that suits their needs and wishes. Few professions offer the financial rewards, personal satisfaction, flexibility and sense of personal fulfillment as dentistry.

I'm not much on giving advice, but one nugget I can pass on is this: The keys to lifelong fulfillment are always learning new skills and becoming involved in making the profession of dentistry the best it can be.

If you're a new graduate, or about to be one, feel good about yourself and your new profession. Find the practice mode that fits your style, and enjoy the ride!

Dr. Carter is a member of the Michigan Dental Association's Board of Trustees and a general dentist who has been in practice for 33 years. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the April issue of the Journal of the Michigan Dental Association.

Editor's note: New dentists can learn new skills and become more involved in the dental profession by attending the ADA 23rd New Dentist Conference, which includes clinical and practice management CE courses, hands-on workshops and leadership training specifically for dentists in practice fewer than 10 years. The conference takes place April 30-May 2, 2009, in Miami. For more information, contact the ADA Committee on the New Dentist at Ext. 2779 or newdentist@ada.org, or visit New Dentist Resources.

New dentists are strongly encouraged to share ideas about starting out in dental practice by getting involved with constituent and component society new dentist committees. Contact your constituent and component society to learn more about opportunities.