Contemplating a career in dentistry?
If so, you’ll be happy to hear that US News and World Report recently crowned the dentist as the #1 best job of 2013. But wait, not so fast. Is this report sugar-coating the realities of the job? Is dentistry really all about the great hours, reliable income, warm fuzzies, and constant demand? If you’ve spent a day or two shadowing a dentist in his/her office, chances are good that it appeared as great as the US News article makes it seem. It’s pretty hard to find a dentist to shadow that hates their job, and even if they did, would they tell you? Probably not– it’s likely they’re hiding that fact from everyone they know, maybe even themselves. So, recognize that you might not be getting the full picture. When I was researching and observed dentists in their offices, they seemed to love their jobs. I only got to see the good side, or more accurately, I only saw what I wanted to see.
I never had the chance see the downside of dentistry before making the commitment.
Since I’ve established myself as the expert who loves to hate dentistry (I know, it’s quite an accolade,) this blog has attracted potentials who want to know the truth about a career in dentistry. It’s the only place they can go to learn the other side of the story. So I’ve compiled a list to help those searching for answers, and maybe to show that I’m not all about the hate.
The Pros and Cons of Dentistry
- Good Income. There’s no question this career does allow for a solid, stable income, and there is potential to earn a phenomenal income. But don’t be fooled… it does come with a price. It is an extremely challenging job with a lot of responsibility. Don’t expect it to be easy money. Are you willing to work your booty off to earn that income? If not, this is the wrong career.
- Autonomy. Be your own boss. Make the decisions you want to make. No need to answer to anyone. But you hold all the financial risk, you have to make the tough decisions, and the buck stops with you. Are you willing to take on that type of responsibility?
- Respect. Dentists are generally highly trusted and respected. Who doesn’t want that?
- People. If you like to work with people, you’ll certainly get a lot of people time. It is a very caring profession, and the relationships are the best part of it. Unlike some other businesses it ISN’T all about the money.
- Variety. It’s always challenging and interesting. No two days are ever the same. When you think you’ve learned all there is to learn, you’ll see something new. Do you deal well with change and constant learning? If you want life to be black and white, this isn’t for you.
- Excitement. You wouldn’t expect it to be action-packed, but it’s not your average desk job pushing paper around. There’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s a kooky patient, an assistant who calls in sick, or an emergency root canal, you will not get bored. The day will fly by, and there will be no chance to sit around, bored, staring at the clock waiting for the hours to pass you by.
- Great hours. You can generally set your hours. Part-time is always a possibility, allowing you to maintain a balanced lifestyle. It’s also a great career for women who want to have a family.
- Warm Fuzzies. Yes, folks, the warm fuzzies are real. You get a chance to help others and even change lives. Your job is to help make people smile– not a bad goal in my book.
- Solutions. Everyday you get the chance to offer real, concrete solutions and actually fix things for people.
- Creativity. People may not realize that there is a lot of creativity to being a dentist. On some levels it’s very pragmatic and scientific, but the actual work is like carving or sculpting. It is an art. You also have many opportunities to use your creativity for problem solving.
- Demand. This is true. People always need dental services. It seems there is a lot of competition out there now, but if you find your niche, the patients will come.
- Education. Get ready for many years of school. It’ll take at least 8 years (including 4 years of college) but it’s well worth it if you enjoy the outcome. And if you love being a student like I do, this can actually be a good thing.
- Costs. Dental school is expensive. Expect to enter into the real world with several hundred thousand dollars of student loans. Don’t let this deter you though– your income will help you pay it off eventually. Also, if you want to stay at the top of your game, you’ll want to take continuing education every year. This is a fun aspect of the career, but it still costs money.
- High Responsibility. You are in charge of someone’s health. Administering anesthesia, prescribing drugs, and essentially performing surgery on teeth are all great responsibilities that are to be taken seriously. When things go wrong, which they do– even when you do everything properly– it’s your responsibility.
- Stress. With the high responsibility comes the high stress. Not only is someone’s health in your hands, but this is a customer service industry. You have to keep the customer happy. If you do the right thing, this will generally work itself out, but sometimes there are customers that can never be pleased no matter what you do. The pressure is on to do your best work in a limited amount of time, keep the customer happy, and manage your business.
- Costs, again. High practice overhead. It’s expensive just to open the doors to your practice. Patients may not understand that dental fees are high for a reason.
- Call. Being on call on the weekends. Some people don’t mind this, but I hated it. For me my weekends were a break from my stressful week, and this “violated” that personal time. I liked my job so much more when I didn’t have to be on call. But you must accept it because it is part of the job description.
- Challenging Patients. No matter how great you want your work to be, you are not the only determining factor here. If a challenging patient makes it difficult for you to do your best work, chances are the results might not be up to your expectations.
- Unpredictability. There’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s a kooky patient, an assistant who calls in sick, or an emergency root canal the day will fly by. Recognize this point from the Excitement point in the “Pros” section? While it certainly keeps you on your toes, these unpredictable events can make a day really challenging, really long, and really tiring.
- High Intensity. Expect intense, close contact with many people throughout the day. Working with people can be a “Pro”, but spending a lot of time 6 inches from another person’s face can get exhausting.
- The Yuck Factor. You might have to deal with bad breath, stinky people, and some really gross mouths. When you’re used to practicing, the gross-out factor is pretty rare, but I’ve almost thrown up in my mouth one or twice in the 10 years I practiced.
- Surprises. The text books seem to be in absolutes, but in nature, some things are out of our control. You may do everything by the book, but the results still don’t work out right. Luckily, there are a few pleasant surprises too.
- Dental Insurance. Fortunately, we haven’t taken the same road that medicine has, but it is still a driving force in dental practice today. Insurance coverage is poor at best, and in the end this leaves both the patients and the dentists unhappy. Dentists struggle to get paid for their work, and patients get pissed at the dentists when their insurance won’t cover a procedure.
- Physical Stress and Risks. Dentistry can take a serious toll on your body. You are trying to see and work in a very small space and often have to contort your body for long periods of time. The constant high-pitched buzz of the dental drill may lead to hearing loss. And chances are good you will accidentally poke yourself with a needle or dental instrument, potentially leaving you exposed to a blood-borne illness. The body aches can be counteracted with daily exercise and splurges such as massages. The potential of hearing loss can be prevented with earplugs. And the risks of getting HIV or Hepatitis are extremely low, but when it happens, it can lead to some unnerving emotions.
- The Haters. And let’s not forget… patients that hate the dentist but still come to you anyway. Remember those warm fuzzies I mentioned above? Well, they sometimes disappear in the shuffle. We often have 9 patient experiences in a day that give us the warm fuzzies, but the 1 bad apple makes us forget all the good ones. It is possible, but it takes work to let go of the negative and embrace the positive.
Now it’s your turn docs. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to dentistry, share any pros and cons I may have missed.