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Transitioning from a student to a professional

30 October 2019

Dr Amanda Lin looks at the daunting journey into working life beyond graduation

You are reading this because the achievement of graduation has been unlocked, or soon will be. Regardless, we all approach postgraduation life with a mix of excitement and fear – excitement at leaving exams behind and your potential future, but a general fear of the unknown. My hope is that by reading this, we can alleviate some of the fear while sustaining the excitement!


The transition from a student to professional would not happen without capturing that illustrious and mythical first job. This in itself feels like a rite of passage, as others will have regaled cautionary tales about the process. Jobseeking can be a minefield with many hazards – write a resume and cover letter, decide which sectors and regions you want to apply to, find job applications, submit applications, hope for the best, wait for a reply; doubts may arise – when will I get my first interview? Then even when we have secured an offer or hopefully a few, how do we decide that this is ‘the one’? Some tips below:

1. Seek advice from supervisors, seniors, indemnity providers and local associations. No-one knows the immediate process of jobseeking and its role within the bigger picture quite like those before us. Do not be afraid to reach out, whether it be to seek an opinion on a resume or contract, recent graduate experiences within specific clinics, or for word on the street for who is hiring.

2. Start early. Have a working resume in order well before peak jobseeking season (approximately September to November). The more applications you submit, the more practice you get and the luckier you will be. 

3. Don’t compare yourself to others. While easier said than done, comparing yourself to someone’s interview or job offer will not be accurate or constructive.

Then a time will come when you are finally a dentist with a job! I’ve narrowed down some top tips for managing your first job into three groups, based on the three primary stakeholders you work with – patients, staff and, most importantly, yourself.


It’s your first day, you’ve almost forgotten how to hold your mirror and probe but you do manage your first check-up as a graduated dentist without supervision. Over the next few weeks, you pick up the confidence to assert yourself as a qualified professional to your patients. We are now fully responsible for all interactions and decisions made, including those surrounding infection control, updating and understanding a patient’s medical history, then formulating a diagnosis right through to treatment planning and delivery.

1. Focus on rapport. Rapport is as much about connecting with each patient’s psyche as it is about managing adverse outcomes. I have found on numerous occasions that the goodwill generated from being patient, open and friendly in the most difficult interactions has resulted in some of my most grateful patients. This can be particularly challenging for us as we often work with patients who “don’t like us”.

2. Choose quality over quantity. Just like we were reminded throughout dental school, speed and quantity will come with more practice. It is often when we find ourselves rushing and compromising on one detail that something can go wrong.

3. Be honest. Apologise to your patients if something was miscommunicated or has not gone according to plan. If you are feeling unsure of anything, find a way to discuss and verify a situation with a mentor, senior or advisory service. Treat patients as you would wish your loved ones to be treated, and this will come naturally.


Entering a new workplace can be scary – we are afraid of not fitting in, being judged and not meeting expectations. It can help to pick a workplace that has previously hired new graduates. My pointers for navigating work relationships are:

1. Gain and treasure mentors. Mentors are one of our most valuable assets during our transition. A mentor can mean different levels of commitment to different people. It is important to check if your definition matches those of your interviewers’. Mentorship may involve simply being present in the surgery, willingness to bail you out of procedures, and being available during and/or after work hours for case discussions. Some practices or organisations will have existing programs, but do enquire further rather than assume the best. My advice for a mentor-mentee relationship is to remember that you only get out what you put in.

2. Value your staff – all your staff, no matter their role. Be polite, offer help, check in on them, thoroughly introduce and involve them with your patients, commiserate and celebrate together. We are nothing without them!

3. You do not have to be everyone’s best friend. It can be difficult to reconcile that you will be less compatible with some staff than with others. The important thing is always be courteous, and remember that work is work.


When we sit within our four walls dissecting a millimetre, dentistry can be a battle with me, myself and I. These are my top self-awareness tips:

1. Be kind to yourself, mentally and physically. Try to leave as much of your more minor work troubles at the clinic door. However, remember it is a strength and not a weakness to discuss any concerns. Have hobbies outside dentistry to decompress and take your mind off work. Invest in your time off. Maintain your ergonomics – consider investing in loupes and a headlight, make your patients move for you, and move between appointments.

2. Stay connected. Graduation is one great diaspora. You may find that friends and peers may spread across vastly distant locations, which makes it difficult to remain in contact. Make the effort to stay in touch, but also branch out and make new acquaintances through study clubs and dental get-togethers.

3. Maintain your study. Engage in CPD that you will repeatedly apply to benefit your patients. The old-fashioned dental school logbook can be refashioned into a Google Drive document or a physical diary to jot down cases and points to check back on. Don’t forget to debrief yourself on cases soon after they have happened so you can make conscious detailed corrections for next time.

Now go ahead and look forward to your next six months, two years, decade and more, but let us not forget to look back on this time of transition and appreciate the journey while we are on it.

Learning points

1. Dentistry is not a sprint. Do not rush into poor decisions but take time to make the right ones. We promise that you will not be left behind.

2. Run your own race – comparison is the killer of joy, focus on your journey and your development – don’t be swayed by the purchases of others, or by the career choices.

3. Keep talking – discussing the challenges of exams, jobseeking and practice will make them more manageable, and you will get some great advice along the way (and likely some that is not so great).

4. Listen to all of the advice that you are given, but choose which pieces you wish to follow!

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