What You Should Learn in Dental School, But Don’t

Something feels strangely familiar.

Sitting in my neighborhood cafe with my laptop open, staring at a course syllabus that ominously describes what my life will be like in the coming months. Coffee, flashcards and wild Friday nights are in my future. And if I’m lucky, I’ll have the pleasure of writing one or two research papers while I’m at it. I can only hope as I begin my endo residency.

dr. Vaughn

I haven’t “studyed” in six years. I haven’t even thought about studying yet. It’s been so long since I’ve studied that I’m not even sure I know how to do it effectively. But I’m still here, student again, and residency promises to be one of those sink or swim scenarios.

I’m glad I didn’t forget everything that I learned in dental school. There are a few lessons I’m taking with me this time that I’ve picked up along the way. You may have heard this one a few times before. Maybe you don’t. But I think all of us, from new dental students to those who have been away for a while, could use a refresher. Here are four important lessons I learned in dental school and in my years as a general dentist.

1. Get value for money.

Every day you walk into your dental school is like showing up for an 8-hour CE course that you paid top money for. It’s tempting to go to the seaside. Many of us are guilty of trying to get through our programs by putting in as little effort as possible.

“D stands for Degree”, right?

But what I learned is that dental school is stuffed with opportunities to learn more than the bare minimum. Some of the most impressive people in our profession work in dental education. And what I’ve found is that many of the expensive, top-notch CE courses you take as a practicing dentist are taught by, you guessed it, schools of dentistry. Take advantage of your environment. You’ve already paid for it.

2. Listen carefully

Having been to part-time faculty myself a few times, I have found that one of the most desirable qualities in a student is the ability to be a good listener. Are you eager to learn? Can you take constructive criticism? Are you willing to possess that ‘student’ mentality?

Do you agree with all your attendees? New.

Do you have to agree? Of course not.

But no one ever starts a sentence hoping you’ll finish it for them. Not every teacher is waiting for your perfectly crafted rebuttal of why you did what you did. Often, listen is the most powerful tool we have. You will notice that this translates well in practice. Do your best to actively listen to what your patients have to say, and you’ll have an enthusiastic fan base who trust you completely.

3. Manual skills rarely matter

Look through the Google reviews of a dental practice in your community and know what you won’t see? Some mention of the occlusal composite staining of the Class I secondary grooves. No 5 star rating of the distoincisal angle of your biomimetically placed resin composite. Not even a word about that buttery soft crown fringe you spent an extra 15 minutes polishing for your Instagram photo.

Of course, our hand skills really matter (to a degree). But my point is that for the patient, which is often… Lake important (and rarely taught in dental school) are the soft skills needed to be a successful practitioner. If I could go back to dental school I would spend a lot more time honing Which skills. Because when you can communicate effectively with your patients, make a good first impression and gain their trust, dentistry becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun.

4. Don’t sleep on business and finances.

From my very first day in dental school, I was told we wouldn’t learn anything about running a business, but oddly enough, it was essential to our success as a dentist. Do you think, after hearing that, I made a single effort as a dentistry student to learn about business and finance? (See lesson #1. Hint: I didn’t)

Like so many of us, I chose the path of least resistance. I didn’t even look at my student loans until six months after finishing my GPR. I only read a single article on practice management two years ago.

What a huge mistake. Such a big mistake, in fact, that I now spend a lot of my time talking to dental students about how to manage their student debt and avoid common mistakes made every day. Mistakes that can set your career back years and ultimately affect the decisions you can make for you and your family.

So don’t do what I did. Don’t do what so many of us keep doing in this business. Start early. Take control of your student loans. Spend time learning about how they work, how to save and budget, and even how to invest.

Take advantage of the extensive list of resources on practice management and running a business. Books, podcasts, blogs and even YouTube. Ask your part-time faculty how they run their private practices. Take advantage of the ADA Success Program and have an experienced dentist come to your school to talk about these topics (I’ll be happy to tell you everything I know).

Dental school was honestly one of the best years of my life. And although it was very difficult and challenging at times, the memories will stay with me for a lifetime. I want to wish all future dentists the best of luck in this new school year. Cherish these moments and always do your best to take advantage of the opportunities ahead. Cheers!

dr. Joe Vaughn is a general dentist who is a graduate of the University of Alabama and currently based in Seattle, Washington. He works both as an associate in private practice and in a public health clinic. dr. Vaughn currently holds roles with both the Seattle King County Dental Society and the Washington State Dental Association. He has a passion for organized dentistry, writing and talking to other dentists about the many problems we face in our profession today. He welcomes all your questions/comments and can be reached at: jkvaughn44@gmail.com


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.