Many new graduates have no choice but to take on two part-time jobs to make one full-time career. Those who work this way reveal the pay-offs can make up for any lack of permanency. By John Burfitt
Two days every week, Dr Ky-Anh Nguyen faces a very modern dental dilemma.
On one day, the surgery he works at has a triplex with the water button on the left. On another day, he’s at a different practice, and the triplex there has the water button on the right.
It’s only a small detail, but Dr Nguyen says it explains the need for versatility and adaptability for any multi-practice dentist—those practitioners who work several part-time jobs at different practices.
For some new graduates early into their careers, working part-time across a range of practices is the only way they can make up the days of a full-time career.
“This way of working is demanding practitioners remain open-minded about the way they operate, as there might be multiple systems at the different practices to get your head around,” Dr Nguyen says. “You might also be sharing your chair and work spaces, so you have to learn to compromise and be compatible with the various systems you find yourself in.”
Dr Nguyen has been working at two separately-owned Sydney practices— one in Padstow, the other in Rouse Hill—for well over a decade. The rest of the week he is Associate Professor in the Department of Oral Biology at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Dentistry.
Dr Nguyen says he chose a multi-practice model for his practice work due to the variety of procedures it offers, but admits many of his student graduates are working this way out of necessity.
“This has actually become quite common, with a large number of students not able to land one good full-time job, so they take on two part-time jobs to make up their hours,” he says.
“It can be a great way to work in terms of building up new clientele, developing a range of mentors and the sheer experience it offers.”
While there are no official records of the number of Australian dentists employed in different practices, anecdotal reports suggest it’s a trend that’s emerged within the dental workforce, confirms Eithne Irving, deputy CEO of the Australian Dental Association.
“The choice may be actually forced, as the number of full-time positions become influenced by the trend of oversupply.”—Eithne Irving, deputy CEO, ADA
“The choice may be actually forced, as the number of full-time positions become influenced by the trend of oversupply,” Irving says. “Graduating around 1200 new dentists a year while the retirement rate is half that, places pressure upon employment opportunities.”
One practitioner working this way is Dr Laura Raguine, who graduated in 2015, and has been employed for the past 18 months at two clinics in the suburb of Marrickville, working two days a week at each one.
She estimates that of her University of Sydney graduating class, half are in full-time work, many in rural and remote areas. The other 50 per cent work in part-time jobs.
“It was never my plan to end up with two part-time jobs, but I’m actually very glad it has worked out like this,” Dr Raguine says.
Strong mentoring was top of the agenda when Dr Raguine went looking for work. Now, due to her work situation, she has a number of mentors.
“The kind of mentorship I have been receiving has been invaluable. I am seeing things in two very different contexts and working with very different clientele feels like it’s all part of very inspiring continuing education.”
Dr Jimmy Thai is another from the Class of 2015 who is employed part-time in two jobs at opposite ends of Sydney—in the south-west in Wattle Grove and in the northern suburb of Carlingford.
“I really like this way as it gives me the most exposure to very different kinds of patients,” Dr Thai enthuses. “Instead of getting used to just one kind of patient, I am seeing all range of people from different backgrounds, demographics and economic groups.
“Learning how to talk to and deal with pretty much everybody is a learning that has been so good for me, and I’m sure will set me up well for the years ahead.”
When asked if they would trade their current circumstances for one full-time job, both Drs Raguine and Thai immediately respond in the negative.
“This situation has worked for me, as it’s provided flexibility, and so much learning from the range of patients,” Dr Thai says.
“It can be a great way to work in terms of building up new clientele, developing a range of mentors and the sheer experience it offers.”—Dr Ky-Anh Nguyen, Sydney-based dentist
“I was originally looking for one strong mentor, but the reality was I couldn’t find that kind of work. So, I’ve made the most of working this way, and I figure the range of work in two two places is providing the important lessons I need.”
Dr Raguine adds there are many more dynamics to consider than simply comparing full-time and part-time work. “It comes down to factors like who are the mentors, the patients, what are the facilities like, where the job is and what can I learn there,” she says.
For all the positives of this work model, there are some vital issues regarding confidentiality that must be contemplated when practitioners have patients at two clinics.
Julie Parker of Melbourne training consultancy Julie Parker Practice Success raises concerns about patients following a dentist to another clinic on their days at the other business.
“Something clear about privacy issues and confidentiality would need to be discussed and written into their original contract,” Parker says.
“I also fear a dentist working this way might also be less flexible to increase hours at the practice in times of covering for other practitioners who might take leave or be sick.”
There is also the issue of a rigid roster to accommodate two places of employment, adds Pam McKean of AB Dental Employment Agency.
“It could be an issue if a patient urgently needs to see their dentist in the case of an emergency, and that could affect patient relations down the track,” McKean says. “I think there are other issues about a lack of basic stability and favouritism for full-time employees.”
A clear set of rules between practice managers and the part-time practitioners need to be established from the initial signing of employment contracts, agrees Dr Nguyen.
“It’s something everyone needs to be careful about,” he says. “The practitioner needs to treat the two practices as independent businesses with two independent employers in which nothing ever crosses over.
“I think if you have the rules clear and everyone knows that’s the way it has to be in the situation, it should work out fine. It always has for me.”