What you didn’t learn in dental school

Dr. Mark Hyman.
Dr. Mark Hyman.

Dental institutions provide students with a solid educational foundation through robust curriculums that highlight biological sciences, dental techniques, and complex diseases that affect patients. When reflecting on the things I wish we as dentists were taught in the dental school curriculum, I want to note at the outset of this article that as practicing and aspiring dentists, we are lifelong learners.

Our education will and should continue as we enter the real world. Dental school is the foundation for our professional careers, and it is important to build on that foundation by seeking the proper resources for continued education to better understand general business practices, effective communication, and leadership approaches.

General business practices

Dr. Mark Hyman.Dr. Mark Hyman.

As a young professional, one of the most important skills I wish I focused on more in dental school is general business practices. With most curriculums and students focusing on technical procedures and patient care, institutions either overlook or don’t have expertise in teaching essential business practices and knowledge needed to build a thriving business. 

When I started my first practice, I dove in headfirst, learning by trial and error. However, after gaining a general understanding of how businesses run, I began focusing on internal practices and building a strong team. 

I made it my mission to seek out teammates who worked well together and upheld the standards of the practice. To ensure my dental team fully understood what was expected, I worked to communicate the practices, specialties, and philosophies that encompass the type of practice and patient experience that we wanted to foster. 

As a dentist first and a business owner second, your primary goal is to serve your patients. A large part of your role as a dentist is determining how you can help patients achieve their goals for their health, teeth, and smiles. 

Having the systems and training to provide appropriate and effective care is essential. This can be a daunting task, as evaluating which costly equipment is worth investing in is not something most dental students are taught. 

As young professionals are faced with making big purchasing decisions, they should seek guidance and input from trusted mentors with real-world experience in the dental profession. In addition, I advise young clinicians that they work with trusted companies whose products are backed by clinically proven results, such as Philips Sonicare, Digital Doc intraoral cameras, Zyris, Dentsply Sirona, and Weave. Based on my experience, following these two recommendations can help give young professionals the confidence needed to make informed decisions while providing patients with the necessary care. 

Communication skills

Communication is another essential skill to master, as professionals are tasked with communicating among teammates, patients, and labs to run a thriving business. As a dental professional, I am sure you are thinking, “I have mastered dental and general anatomy, pathology, and histology, I know I can hold a conversation with my patient.” 

Communication with patients goes beyond technical dental jargon and is necessary to succeed in a patient-focused practice. Although we have limited time with our patients, it is important to take the time to get to know them and understand their health goals. 

Building this rapport becomes even more important when tough conversations must be had. For example, discussing a complex, comprehensive treatment plan can be a difficult road to navigate. As young professionals, it is essential that you seek out courses in communication or get advice from mentors to learn tips and tools for communicating and discussing challenging topics with patients as it pertains to their care. 

Along with the difficulties of communicating with patients, challenges also arise when communicating with team members. Because the interactions between team members can entirely drive a practice, it is essential to remember that you are always on stage, especially when communicating in front of patients. 

To effectively communicate with your team, tone and delivery play significant roles in how messaging and corrections are interpreted. To build trust and respect with my team, I learned to communicate and praise them for all the things they do well rather than only commenting on areas they can improve on. An important tip to remember is to praise publicly, coach constructively, and redirect privately. 

Leadership management skills

Learning how to lead is by far one of the most challenging business skills to master. As a young professional starting your career, think back to the last time you held a leadership role. Were you the captain of a football team or debate club? Have you previously managed individuals in a collaborative environment? If you answered no to both of these questions, don’t worry, leadership comes in all different shapes and sizes. 

The dental curriculum often fails to teach that we can lead in different ways. Many of us may not have an extroverted and expressive leadership style, but we can find our voice and the style that best fits our skills. 

As young professionals move past the basic level of patient care and grow to become effective leaders, they can benefit by following the paths that will help them reach their personal and professional goals. For some students, for example, who want to focus on team management, they may want to take some additional courses. For other clinicians who want to develop their confidence, they may want to volunteer at a dental clinic. 

Students should seek business, communication, and leadership guidance or courses beyond what may have been offered in their dental school curriculum so they can best prepare themselves for establishing thriving practices. A career in dentistry is all about the journey and not the destination. 

Creating continuing opportunities to learn and grow will best help set you up for success in your career. Set goals for the future, and continue providing patients with exceptional care and an impactful relationship. Finally, don’t forget to have fun! 

Dr. Mark Hyman is a dentist and public speaker from Greensboro, NC. He has lectured throughout North America and Europe at every major dental meeting and earned national and international recognition for his seminars. Hyman has loved his 32 years in private practice and currently serves as an adjunct full professor and special assistant to the Office of the Dean at the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill, NC.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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