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New dentists share advice, lessons learned from 2020

Survey answers to inform current, future COVID-19 recovery resources

January 13, 2021

By Racquel Coral

During the the ADA FDC Virtual Connect Conference in October 2020, new dentists were asked to share some of the challenges they have overcome during the last year and offer advice for some of their new dentist colleagues. More than 45 responded to a survey from the New Dentist Committee. The responses to this survey are helping to inform current and future resources from the ADA in support of dentists’ and dental team recovery from COVID-19 through funding made possible from Crest + Oral-B.

Here are some of the highlights:

Photo of Dr. Gunderman
Dr. Gunderman
Dr. Lauren Gunderman, 2020 graduate of the University of Tennessee’s Health Science Center
“Graduating [in 2020] and navigating the last semester of dental school, licensing exams, the licensing process, and the job search was all riddled with uncertainty.”

Though she has found a position in Arkansas, Dr. Gunderman stated, “Patients were significantly worried about COVID both in and out of the office. But my employer has made many changes in the construction of our office and the workflow to increase safety for both the patients and the staff.” Dr. Gunderman feels that the greatest advice she could give other dentists who share in the same experience doesn’t come in the sphere of dentistry but in self-care.

“If we are not keeping ourselves safe, healthy, and happy, we cannot possibly benefit others,” she said.

One thing that she said helped her was attending the virtual annual meeting. Lauren said, “This conference has been actually the most helpful. 2020 grads were offered a hugely discounted rate, and it is a great deal to boost CE hours and get some connection to our other colleagues.”

Dr. Lynne Cataldo, 2017 graduate of the University of New England College of Dental Medicine
“This pandemic has tested our resilience in many ways,” Dr. Cataldo said.
It had only been about nine months since she moved to Florida and had just reached the required hours for a Florida licensure when the pandemic forced her office to shut its doors due to state government restrictions.

“That was such a close call, but I am so grateful to have a very supportive group in Pinellas County Dental Association,” said Dr. Cataldo, who is also on the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's ‘Committee of Early Career Dentists. There’s a peace of mind, she added, “knowing we all were in this together and there will be some beneficial changes that will come out of this including improved infection control practices, improving office efficiency, and perhaps learning some new techniques from virtual webinars.”

Dr. Cataldo also stated that  she found As far as support from the ADA, Lynne says that virtual webinars and CE credit have been very helpful, and encourages anyone else during this time to maintain a work life balance. “Work-life balance is key, stay true to your core and values!” she said.

Dr. Cataldo said she’s also looking forward to be getting back to having some fun events.

Dr. Mike Davis, 2018 graduate of LECOM School of Dental Medicine
“At first it was very stressful, trying to understand what would be best for the team and our patients in this unknown state,” said Dr. Davis. “At this point, things feel back to normal except for the increased precautions that we are taking.”

One piece of advice that he offers to fellow new dentists is, “Just do your best. Treat your team and your patients how you would like to be treated. We are all going through this, just do your best.”

Dr. Davis also credits the ADA’s support for its guidance and helping practices navigate the pandemic saying, “The ADA has given guidance throughout this entire process. Back in March 2020, when the ADA recommended we close our office, we decided to close. Shortly after that, our state mandated that we close.”

Dr. Adam Kennedy, 2014 graduate of Case Western Reserve University
“The breaking news of the first reported cases, being mere miles away from my practice, was alarming,” Dr. Kennedy said. “Fortunately, our state had clear guidance on how best to proceed, and quickly mandated a postponement of non-emergent and elective dental care.”
The weeks that followed brought about significant anxiety, Dr. Kennedy said, adding that as a small business owner, there was significant discussion with peers and his financial team to try to determine the most sustainable course of action.

“As the return date loomed ever ahead, I spent many days in front of a computer, settling in with other dentists virtually for continued education,” he said. “Those meetings were fundamental to my well-being, and certainly made those brutal two months bearable. The heaviness of it all was finally lifted when we were able to return to our office.”
These days still bring a significant amount of uncertainty: Will there be enough PPE to provide care? How do we proceed if a team member falls ill?

“I'm grateful each day ushers in a little more understanding,” Dr. Kennedy said.

Dr. Kennedy stated that one of the ADA’s key resources has been the Return to Work Toolkit, saying, “While there are many benefits to choose from, the Return to Work Toolkit was monumental in providing a clear and concise framework for our reopening.”

As for what he would tell other dentists, Dr. Kennedy said, “Churchill is famously credited as saying, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ Take this time to reflect. Improve your self-care routine. Take advantage of the myriad online CE opportunities, or explore a new study club. Develop adjacent skills like motivational interviewing or business administration. Together, we will overcome.”