How should this year’s dental graduates prepare themselves for what lies ahead? John Burfitt reports
There’s a bit of conflicting advice flying around when it comes to what upcoming dental graduates from the Class of 2019 should be doing to make a smooth transition to fully-qualified practitioners over the coming months.
Some dental professionals insist students just need to buckle down and complete their studies, while others claim students should already be applying for jobs and placements. There’s also the belief that getting as much practical experience now is paramount, as is thinking less like a student and more like a working dentist. Any way you look at it, it’s a time of major transition.
“It can get overwhelming as it is such a major turning point for all of us and there’s a lot of people at uni talking about this right now, looking for direction on which way to go,” Arruni Kandasamy, president of the Sydney University Dental Association (SUDA) says. “The main advice at uni is to stay focused on finishing the work as well as gaining as much clinical experience as we can. Come September-October, that’s when we’re told it will be busy for starting applications.”
This is also a time, advises Dr Kevin Song, to start shifting the mindset from being a student to actually thinking like a professional practitioner. Dr Song graduated from LaTrobe University in 2017 and has been working at the Sydney Dental Hospital since early 2018.
“Change your attitude now and start thinking the way a professional dentist does, as that is where you are heading and it’s important to have a vision for the road ahead,” he says. “While the learning curve from here is huge, now is the time to attempt making clinical decisions independently while still making good use of the support that is available. Having this approach before you graduate will make it easier for you to transition into the working life.”
Beyond changing mindsets, also expanding the horizons of where the future may lie is another key aspect of making the transition easier, adds Dr Jennifer Bhuta, who graduated from the Gold Coast’s Griffith University in 2018. She now works in Albury-Wodonga for MP Dental across their four practices in NSW and Victoria.
“I never imagined I would be returning back to the area where I grew up as I always wanted to work in a metro region, and yet my advice to any new graduate is to get into a regional job as this offers much wider experience and also throws you in the deep end of learning,” Dr Bhuta says.
“I’m so grateful I made this choice as I wanted to be in a high-needs place where I would be busy, and which feels like it’s leading me somewhere with all I am learning.”
The Australian Dental Association has released the 2019 Dental Graduate Handbook, which comprehensively covers the transition stage, including getting started in a career, finding the right job, dealing with contracts and taxes, and settling into a workplace. ADA president Dr Carmelo Bonanno states in the foreword, “I hope it will prove to be a useful tool in navigating your way through the initial phase of your career.
“Our personal contacts with young dentists and our member surveys tell us about the issues our younger members face, and the sources of stress in their daily lives. The more experienced in our profession need to appreciate the different issues confronting our younger colleagues and how we can be of assistance in helping them confront their challenges.”
Among the challenges for graduates are not just chasing up new opportunities, but also identifying which ones to avoid, adds Dr Bhuta. “You must look carefully at the contract and see what is really on offer, like the places that offer unpaid ‘on trial’ jobs and expect additional unpaid work too. If you have graduated, done all the training and are qualified, then you are ready to be hired for a real job.”
Dr Harry Marget is director of Melbourne’s East Bentleigh Dental Group clinic, which employs 17 dentists and 43 other dental staff. In recent years he has also mentored 15 young dentists as they’ve made the move from students to full-time practitioners.
He says while completing studies is essential right now, students should also be making time to get as much practical experience as they can.
“Get out to a practice and ask if you can watch what they do and learn from it so you’re ready to go once you’re out of uni,” Dr Marget says. “This is the time young dentists need to get away from the theory books and the concept of being a student and instead see what really goes on within a practice. Doing this can make the world of difference to what happens to them over the coming six months.”
Dr Marget tells of one student he has worked with over recent months who is set to graduate within the coming months. “She said as she left on the final day, ‘I just learnt more about what I need to do as a dentist by being in here than I have in the past four years of dental school’,” he tells. “This is the time students should be encouraged to look forward to consider the ways in which they need to be ready to take on a role within the workplace—and taking on more practical experience will help inform them in making those choices.”
It’s also a time to consolidate networks—not just of those connections already made across the profession, but also among fellow graduates advises Dr Ky-Anh Nguyen, Associate Professor of the University of Sydney School of Dentistry.
“It’s so important to share and discuss their cases with their peers so they can learn from each other and learn of scenarios they may have not had the opportunity to be exposed to as yet,” Dr Nguyen says. “[They should] just be sure to establish a camaraderie among their graduating year as friendships forged during this period of their life will likely last a lifetime.”