Dr Simon Parsons, dentolegal consultant at Dental Protection, weighs up the factors to consider when making a decision about joining a practice.
In life, the choices we make can profoundly impact on where we end up. Remember the film Sliding Doors? In our career choices, it’s the people who form our team, our patients and the sorts of clinical services performed in the practice that will all profoundly impact on our career opportunities and job satisfaction.
It is so important to get your career started on the right footing. Commencing work at our first practice is a long anticipated and memorable experience, and the nature of this experience can cast a long shadow and influence your future choices. Considerations for your first practice include: regional or metro? Public or private? Part time or full time? Specialty or general? Solo or group? But what is the right choice?
Of course, it depends on you as a person, your lifestyle and career priorities and goals. However, we can highlight a few areas that can influence your decision-making process. Consider:
Is this the right practice for me?
- Does my future principal seem approachable – particularly if something goes wrong?
- Are there other practitioners I can bounce ideas off?
- Am I expected to make an unrealistic amount of money?
- Am I expected to see an unrealistic number of patients, or perform treatment in unrealistically short appointment times?
- Am I expected to perform certain treatments ‘for the good of the practice’?
- Is the proposed remuneration fair?
- Does the practice rely on low cost offers, vouchers or gimmicks to attract new patients?
- Do I have access to the materials and equipment that I reasonably need?
- Am I taking over an established list or starting from scratch, and which would I prefer?
- Am I ethically aligned with this practice and the practitioners within it?
- Will this practice help me develop, both professionally and personally?
- Does the practice look well run, or chaotic?
- Do the other staff look happy, or miserable and stressed?
- Would I want to be a patient at this practice?
- Do the patients seem to value good oral health and quality dentistry?
- Are the patients the sorts of people I enjoy treating? What does the demographic look like?
- Is the practice busy, or will I be expected to build it? Will I be expected to ‘find something to do’ on each patient?
- If it isn’t busy, why is that so? If it is busy, why is that so and will I be able to keep up?
- Will this practice environment or ethos put me under unnecessary pressure?
- Will I be happy here? Am I a good fit?
Am I right for the practice?
You can have the best hands of your class or the best academic marks, or both, but if you do not have the mutual respect and trust of staff and patients alike, then you are not the right practitioner for that practice.
Trust your instincts, as your first impressions count. What did it feel like when you arrived at the practice? Is it a relaxed, fun, yet professional place to work? Is it clean, modern and bright, or dreary, drab and dirty? What’s the energy level like?
Sometimes a practice or its people will grow on you, and you on them. But at other times, you may discover that what you didn’t like at the interview becomes something you dislike each hour of the workday. That might be the practice, the staff or even the patients, and none of these are easy to change!
We tend to work best when we are in a happy place that is a good fit to ourselves. When we sense we are ‘selling out’ we can become stressed and lose the satisfaction we would otherwise enjoy from our efforts in the workplace. So try to stay true to your goals, ethics and aspirations. Don’t compromise on what you hold dear to yourself as you start out in your career.
Be prepared, though, to compromise on a few other things, as it is really unlikely that the perfect practice is out there waiting for you to join it! Be clear in your mind what you are willing to trade off. Will you accept less pay in order to gain more experience? Will the travel to and from work be a bit long, but worth it once you’re there? Perhaps you will need to grow the practice, but in doing so help to influence the sort of patients it attracts and pursue the areas of dentistry that you enjoy most.
The best first practice is an environment in which you feel able to develop your skills in the direction you choose and, at the same time, the practice is enriched by your presence. Strive for a mutually beneficial working relationship wherever possible, as life (and dentistry) is hard enough without being in difficult working circumstances. Let your practising environment be one in which you feel comfortable, and the rest will follow.