Don’t worry if you don’t have it all figured out
Serena Mayor explains why young dentists don’t need to figure out their career path as soon as they graduate.
I wanted to comment on an issue I feel many newly-qualified dentists feel pressured by; having to decide on what to do for the rest of your life!
What is your long-term plan?
I graduated two years ago from the University of Leeds. More recently, I feel both young and more experienced dentists alike are constantly asking me: ‘What do you want to do with your career?’ Or ‘What is your long-term plan?’
At university, I honestly did not realise there were so many different aspects to dentistry. I feel that as young dentists, we are lucky there are so many different career paths to choose from. We will eventually find the one that leads to professional and personal fulfilment.
It is an exciting journey, especially at the beginning of one’s career. We have the opportunity to explore different specialities, learn different skills and meet lots of colleagues in different disciplines.
However, I think there is a lot of pressure on young dentists to know what our path is as soon as we graduate and to ensure we are working towards a specific goal.
Although it is important to have plans and goals, I also believe it is important not to rush into decisions. These are life-changing decisions, and they shouldn’t be ill-informed.
Finding your passion
I am about to undergo my second year of dental core training. At this stage, I am unsure of what I want to do long term with my career. This started to worry me earlier this year. Some colleagues had suggested that I need to figure this out imminently.
However, my view on this has changed recently. I would like fellow young dentists to realise they do not need to panic if they are also unsure about their career plans. Undoubtedly, some recently qualified dentists will know exactly what they want to do. They may be lucky enough to have already found their passion and the appropriate route to achieve their goals. They may have realised this in dental school or during their foundation training year. But that doesn’t mean we all can or even have to.
Explore your options
I feel it is so important to explore as many options as one can during the first few years of their career. No time is wasted. Whatever you’re doing, whatever the experience is, you will always be able to learn something from it. Most importantly, throw yourself into any opportunity and this way you will realise what you love – and also what you don’t necessarily like!
I have started to realise which particular aspects of dentistry I enjoy. But at the same time I am not in a position to rule anything out.
I have completed one year in general dental practice during my foundation year. This, for me, is not enough time to rule out working in general practice in the future. I have really enjoyed working in a hospital this year. Hence why I am doing another year in a different speciality. This will help me to understand how I can use the skills I’m learning to decide my future career path and in which setting I would like to practice.
You can still prepare if you do not have a long-term career plan. The way to do this is to not close any doors. For example, I would advise to do either the MJDF or MFDS exams (postgraduate diplomas) soon after you graduate. This will ensure you are keeping your options open. Many paths in dentistry will require you to have completed these exams. You will also be in the correct mindset to sit these. You will have just completed five years’ worth of exams!
Whether you are working in general practice, hospital dentistry or carrying out research, there are lots of different options and skills to learn. We take a multi-disciplinary approach in dentistry, with general dental practitioners, specialists and hospital dentists all working together for the benefit of our patients.
Working in different fields can help you appreciate the different responsibilities when working together for a patient, no matter which role you end up working in. Also, speaking to other dentists in different fields can help you appreciate their job plans and consider whether this is something you would like to do. It is all valuable preparation for your long-term career.
I recently had a discussion with Professor Avijit Banerjee about this topic. He currently works as a honorary consultant in restorative dentistry at Guy’s Dental Hospital. Some thought-provoking advice he gave me was: ‘You don’t know you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.’ He stressed the importance of gaining as much experience as possible within the profession to be able to truly find out what you like and dislike.
He shared with me that when he was at the early stages of his career he was set on becoming an oral maxillofacial surgeon. He said he would have laughed at anyone if they had told him back then he would go on to treating cancer patients with implant-supported obturators and dentures. However, he ended up following his passion in dental research.
This was then accompanied by a concomitant clinical training pathway in restorative dentistry. He did not know this would be his path when he was newly-qualified and that really reassured me about not knowing exactly what I want to do at this stage.
Although I don’t have a specific five-year plan, I have an idea of what I would potentially like to do with my career. I have used these first two years of my career to help me figure out which aspects of dentistry I enjoy and want to learn more about. So I plan to continue doing this in the upcoming years and to take any opportunity I can to explore different avenues.
I wanted to share with other young dentists that there is no timescale to have to figure out what you want to do. Obviously it helps to have goals to work towards. However, if you don’t know what you want to do long term, please do not stress about it! We have the rest of our lives to practice and live dentistry. There are always options available.
Nobody’s journeys are the same – we are all different. Try not to compare yourself to others; enjoy what you are doing now and make the most of any opportunities given to you. You will find your path!