May 10, 2021
As a whole new class of dental professionals is about to graduate and launch into their new roles what are the keys to having a successful and fulfilling career?
While I’m sure we could all come up with clinical pearls that will make their days flow. Or business tips to ensure a successful bottom line. I think we first need to start with mindset. Without the right vision and purpose, all the wisdom in the world will fall flat.
At first, I was going to do a Top 5 traits you need to possess to have a successful career in dentistry (because you know I love a top 5, being the host of the Your Dental Top 5 podcast). But I kept circling back to one trait. Over and over I was making lists and each time I could bring it back to one key trait for a successful career.
Brené Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says this about curiosity:
“Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. It wasn’t always a choice; we were born curious. But over time, we learn that curiosity, like vulnerability, can lead to hurt. As a result, we turn to self-protecting—choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability, and knowing over learning.”
As a new grad, it can feel scary to admit you don’t know everything for fear of appearing unqualified for your new position. But I have a secret–no one knows everything. Sometimes that’s hard to reconcile that coming right out of school. You spent YEARS studying, getting quizzed, perhaps feeling reprimanded when you got it wrong. It was your job through your schooling to be right.
I challenge you to let go of being right and lean into getting it right. While that might just sound like semantics that’s truly a difference. Getting it right means you are willing to say I don’t know but I’m going to dig in and find out. This is where curiosity comes in.
I contend that if you remain curious your entire career, heck, your entire life, you are sure to be fulfilled. But curiosity is complex, vulnerable, and I dare say hard. It’s way easier to just say what you know, decide that’s the way and move on. Getting curious means you might find out you’re wrong.
Here are the Top 5 things to get curious about in your career:
Even though you are just finishing your formal education your learning is far from over. You have to remain curious and keep learning. Sure you have required continuing education but there’s way more to your career than the minimum requirement. There were years when my kids were little and I phoned in my CE. I went to the free online webinars and took the quizzes before I even watched the video. Sure I checked the box but I certainly wasn’t being curious and if I’m honest those are the years I felt burned out and I wasn’t giving my best to my patients.
You have picked a dynamic profession, I am certainly not practicing hygiene the way I did when I graduated. Keep taking courses, even ones you don’t get CE for.
The Journal Of Internal medicine reports that it takes just 11 seconds before a doctor interrupts a patient. To truly serve our patients we need to listen and get curious. Instead of giving the same old brush and floss lecture or harping on them to get that cracked amalgam taken care of, dig in and get to know what motivates them. Is it fear of losing teeth like grandma? Or a desire to have white teeth for an upcoming high school reunion?
Taking the time to understand our patients and their unique why will help you individualize your care and ultimately have better outcomes.
3. Your Teammates
You’ll quickly discover that you might be spending more time with your co-workers than you do with your own family. Getting curious about who they are and how you work best together will certainly help your workday speed by and go a long way to job career satisfaction. Not jumping to conclusions but seeing situations from another perspective will help you stay present when there is conflict and embrace the opportunity to learn and grow together.
4. Your Profession
Dentistry is about way more than teeth. In school, we spend so much time learning the standard of care that it’s easy to lose sight of the elevation of care. I mentioned how dynamic our profession is. There are so many different ways to be a part of dentistry and increase access to care. Keep on top of trends and science outside of your normal scope of practice. Get curious about what the future holds. You are part of that future.
This is the most important one and why I left it for last. Stay curious about yourself. Keep growing, reaching, and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Don’t allow yourself to be boxed in by “how we’ve always done it.” You’re here at your graduation so you’ve proven you can do hard things. But the hard things don’t stop here. If you start coasting now you’re sure to get bored and burn out. Take time to check in with yourself. Figure out what drives you, inspires you, and leaves you feeling proud at the end of the day. That looks different for each one of us, so no one can tell you what that is for you. You have to do the work.
I’m thrilled to welcome you into dentistry as a colleague. May we all remember to strive not to be knowers but remain curious learners, pushing our profession further along than when we entered it.
Amanda Hill, RDH, BS has been in the dental industry for over 30 years, she earned her B.S. in Dental Hygiene at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and has had the opportunity to experience dentistry around the world. Amanda has a love for learning and is obsessed with continuing education in all its many forms. Amanda practices part time clinically and is an industry educator for the nation’s largest dental job board, DentalPost.net. Amanda is a proud Navy spouse and mom of 3.