‘Perfect fit for me’: Maine dentist on finding the ideal associateship through ADAPT

Photo of Drs. Gagnon and Sikora
Match: Dr. Jessica Sikora, right, pose for a photo with Dr. Shanna Gagnon outside Gagnon Dental in Farmingdale, Maine. Dr. Gagnon connected with Dr. Sikora for an open associate position with the help of ADA Practice Transitions. 
Farmingdale, Maine — Dr. Jessica Sikora had never been to Maine until 2016 when she visited and interviewed at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine.
“I immediately fell in love with the area,” said the Honesdale, Pennsylvania, native.
She’d also fallen in love, after four years of dental school, with the idea of practicing in her new state.
Dr. Sikora began the search early for an associateship — contacting local dental offices, shadowing dentists, searching the local dental society website and every other avenue in hopes of finding the ideal practice looking to hire a new graduate — without much luck.
“Being from Pennsylvania and having no dental connections in Maine, I knew it would make finding the right associateship more challenging for me,” she said.
Then, while in dental school, she learned of ADA Practice Transitions, or ADAPT, a service offered by the ADA that makes the process of entering or leaving a dental practice more predictable and successful.
ADAPT announced on Sept. 9 it will be expanding its program to match dentists in all 50 states beginning October. It originally launched in spring 2019 with a two-state pilot program, which expanded to eight states last fall.
Dentists working with ADAPT receive matches with dentists or practices that fit their criteria; step-by-step support from an ADA Advisor; and customized resources and help.

For Dr. Sikora, the program would help connect dentists looking for an associateship — like her — with practice owners looking for the right dentist to hire.
“It piqued my interest,” she said. “It was a program that I felt could help me make the connections I didn’t have to find my first associateship position.”
Fast forward to this July, two months after graduating from the University of New England, Dr. Sikora began her associateship at Gagnon Dental in Farmingdale, Maine. The match, through ADAPT, occurred back in February.
And so far, so good.
Dr. Sikora spoke with the New Dentists News about her associate search journey, including sharing what she was looking for in an ideal associateship, her experience with the ADAPT process, and how the service ultimately connected her with the perfect practice.

Photo of Dr. Sikora with her sister
Lighthouse: Dr. Jessica Sikora, left, and her sister, Leslie Peters, visit the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Photo taken in April 2018. 
NDN: First, tell us about yourself. Why dentistry?

Dr. Sikora: I grew up in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, a small little town where everyone knows everyone. Throughout my summers off in undergraduate and during graduate school, I would return home to Honesdale where I would shadow my family dentist. This shadowing experience turned into an opportunity to explore the field of dentistry for 5 years. During my time there I was able to work the front desk, assist with procedures, help in the lab, and work with the billing department. This experience solidified for me that dentistry was the career path I wanted to take.

I moved to Portland, Maine, in 2016 to attend the University of New England College of Dental Medicine. I just recently graduated from UNE in May 2020.

NDN: How did you hear about ADAPT, and why did you decide to utilize this program in finding an associateship?

Dr. Sikora: I heard about ADAPT through a couple classmates who had attended a lunch and learn with ADAPT representatives. I was unable to attend but my classmates had such great things to say about the program. It piqued my interest. After looking more into the program, I realized it was exactly a program that could help me make the connections I didn't have in finding my first associateship.

NDN: What were you looking for specifically in an associateship?

Dr. Sikora: One of the most important things I was looking for was to connect with a doctor who was willing to be a mentor for me. This was super important because I was nervous not having completed a residency and going right into practice that I would have a slow transition. I wanted to work for someone who understood that and was willing to take me under their wing. I was hoping to work for someone who would understand I might be slower at first and that they would be flexible with my schedule and my timing because of that.

I was looking for someone who would not be annoyed if I had a question about a case but would rather be excited to teach me how to approach the case. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that the doctor I worked for was not too hands on because I also need to build my independence and confidence.
Photo of Dr. Sikora
Dr. Sikora
Another thing that was important to me was to establish myself in a smaller practice. I had shadowed a wide range of practices prior to completing dental school to get a feel for what would fit me best and came to realize that I would thrive in a smaller practice. I never wanted to be the type of person who worked at one place for a little bit and then moved onto something else. I was hoping to find an office where I felt at home, like everyone was family, that I could see myself in not just for a few years but potentially forever.
With such high expectations and no connections in the dental world in Maine, I knew it was important for me to work with the ADAPT program.

NDN: When did ADAPT match you with a dental practice for your associateship? What made this associateship a good match for you?

Dr. Sikora: I matched with my current dental practice in February of my fourth year of dental school. It just so happened that the first match that ADAPT found for me turned out to be my perfect fit!

When I shadowed at the prospective practice I immediately felt at home. The whole staff was so welcoming and made me feel like I was already a part of their team. The entire day I shadowed Dr. Shanna Gagnon I knew right away she would be a great mentor. Each and every patient she saw she explained to me exactly what she was going to be doing, showed me any relevant information, and each step of the procedure explained to me why she was doing what she was doing. I knew right then that if she was this thorough just while someone was shadowing her, imagine how wonderful it would be to get her expertise when I was stuck on a complex case.

The practice was also located in a sweet little small town and it just made me feel right at home.

NDN: Tell me more about your associateship. How is it going so far?

Dr. Sikora: I am currently an associate at Gagnon Dental in Farmingdale, Maine. I am the first associate under Dr. Gagnon, who took over the practice for her father when he retired. I started at the beginning of July and have loved every day. Everyone in the office has been amazing since day one. They are all willing to help me whenever I have a question.

Dr. Gagnon has been even more wonderful than I could have imagined. She is always there for me to bounce ideas off of when I just need confidence that I am making the right diagnosis or creating the right treatment options. I have been able to set my own pace for all procedures and no one ever questions if I need extra time for something. I could not have dreamt of a more perfect fit for me.
Photo of Dr. Sikora with her boyfriend
Exploring Maine: Dr. Jessica Sikora and her boyfriend, Scott Lehmann, pose for a photo in front of Jordan’s Pond in Acadia National Park where they hiked Bubble Mountain in October 2018. 
NDN: Tell us more about the ADAPT program process in helping you find this associateship?

Dr. Sikora: When you join the ADAPT program, the first thing you do is fill out a profile describing yourself, what you are looking for, your clinical likes and dislikes, etc. You’ll then speak with an ADAPT advisor, in my case Dr. Suzanne Ebert. She’s there to better understand you more and what would be the right fit for you.

When I had that first phone call with Dr. Ebert I answered her questions and immediately she would rephrase what I had said better than how I said it. She knew exactly what I was looking for. For example, I was saying that I saw myself fitting better in a smaller practice but would be willing to look at practices where I would be the third or fourth doctor and immediately Dr. Ebert picked up on my tone and rephrased what I had said. She realized that really what I wanted was a smaller practice where I would be the first associate for a doctor.

I was shocked that even though I didn’t come out and directly say that, because I was nervous to limit my options, she immediately picked up on what I was really looking for without me saying it in those exact words. At the end of the conversation she had already thought of someone who she thought would be a perfect fit for what I was looking for. I felt that the program was not just going to match me with any office but that they were going to take the time to ensure the office I matched with was going to fit my needs.

NDN: Did you try other/different programs in finding an associateship? If so, in what ways was the ADAPT program different?

Dr. Sikora: I had tried contacting various local dental offices and shadowed in their practices trying to make connections in the hope that one of them knew of a local dentist who may be looking to add another dentist to their practice. I also used the local dental society website to find practices looking to hire an associate, as well as simple Google job searches. I felt that I was trying every avenue I knew of and was coming up empty handed or with a practice that did not fit what I was looking for.

It was interesting that when I connected with my current office, I had no idea they were looking to hire someone. It opened my eyes to the fact that not every dentist is going to be putting it out there that they are looking to hire. That is another reason to work with the ADAPT program. They have connections with dentists who might not be advertising elsewhere that they are looking for someone.

NDN: For other dentists, especially new dentists looking for their first associateship, why should they consider using ADAPT?

Dr. Sikora: I think all new dentists and dentists looking for a new position should consider ADAPT. This program helped me to make the connections I needed in a state in which I had zero connections. This program takes the guess work out of trying to find the right practice for you. It allows you to know that the practices you will match with are already practices you have things in common with. Through the profile and interview process you also learn exactly what you are looking for and by answering the questions you might realize things you don’t like or do like that you had never considered before.

To learn more about ADA Practice Transitions, visit ADAPracticeTransitions.com. ADA Practice Transitions is also hosting a free webinar, Find Career Success with ADA Practice Transitions, on Sept. 21. Register for the webinar here.