Dr. Sara Makary has worked in several different settings during her career. With each change, she’s gained new skills and experiences that have helped her become a well-rounded practitioner.
But change is never easy. That’s why Dr. Sara advises other dentists to stop and really think about their next move.
If you are unhappy in your current role, consider why that is. Do you love your colleagues and patients, but need more schedule flexibility? Perhaps your schedule is great, but you want to do a certain procedure? Or are you feeling burned out?
The first step is to identify the source of your frustration, then see if it can be addressed by speaking with your manager, colleagues, or team.
If it’s something bigger – and you do not think it can be resolved – then it’s worth investing time to make a detailed assessment of what you want. Think about:
- Why the change is necessary
- What you want to be different in your next role
- What your goals are – both short-term (a better schedule?) and long-term (eventual ownership?)
Dr. Sara suggests that really nailing down the “why” of your change will guide you to the most appropriate “how.”
Consider Less-Common Options, like FQHCs
At one point, Dr. Sara was balancing a young family, her health, and a demanding associateship. But two years in, it no longer felt like the right fit. “That job mentored me a lot in communication, in treatment plan presentation, and essentially in how to produce,” she says. While she had developed confidence that helped her patient interactions, she wanted to further improve her clinical skills.
She reevaluated her role, her goals, and her path and began exploring the job market. She noticed a job in public health, as a staff dentist at a Federally Qualified Health Center. By chance, it was the same site where she had completed an undergrad rotation and volunteered even before dental school.
At an FQHC, Dr. Sara says, “Dentistry can be done without looking at the ticket price. When you’re a new grad, you’re proceeding very slowly, which is fine. You want to do what’s best for the patient, but how are you going to make ends meet? How are you going to pay back your loans? [Public health jobs] offer a very good way of performing dentistry without prioritizing production. You don’t have that pressure.”
Joining the FQHC turned out to be a great decision. The environment was exactly what Dr. Sara needed at that phase in her career. FQHCs, she says, “look for someone who’s going to put patients first, focus on clinical quality, and know how to get the patient on board with treatment plans and preventative measures.” It proved to be the perfect fit for her experience and goals.
Today, Dr. Sara is the director of that same FQHC and urges new grads to consider the less-common path. “Honestly, it’s not very well advertised,” she says, “but these jobs can really fulfill a lot of things that new grads might be looking at.”
Plus, most FQHC jobs are salaried, with stable hours and competitive benefits. And taking a position in public health position or an underserved area can qualify you for loan repayment that could add up to thousands – sometimes even hundreds of thousands – of dollars.
Look for Red Flags
Dr. Sara advises looking for potential problems before signing on the dotted line. For her, the biggest red flag is unhappy staff. Sometimes you can see it in the staff’s very demeanor as you visit a potential office. “I’ve gone into places for interviews and the staff just gives you a really disgruntled look,” she says. “And it’s just the job, the environment they’re in.”
And while this can be tough to assess – particularly if you are interviewing via phone or web meeting in these COVID times – asking about staff turnover can provide valuable clues. “Look for stability of at least two years,” Dr. Sara advises. While even the best-run practices lose staff occasionally, a constant churn can indicate that employees are not fulfilled or that the atmosphere is unpleasant.
She also recommends asking about the practice’s finances to ensure that the practice has enough patients to support bringing on a new dentist. Inquire about collections, accepted insurance plans, and when the fees were last updated. (ADAPT’s Dr. Ebert has additional advice on assessing how well a practice is managed.)
Consider a Mentor
Mentorship can help you develop the skills you’ll need for your next step. But a good mentor can also help you explore your options and chart a path to reach your short- and long-term goals.
Dr. Sara is a huge proponent of mentorship, explaining, “A lot of people get into the rut of doing one job, then the next, and before they know it, all this time has passed and they haven’t really gained much.” Mentorship can help you avoid getting stuck in a rut. (See more of Dr. Sara’s mentorship tips, and check out our recent webinar, How Mentorship Can Enhance Your Career.)
If you’re thinking about making a change, a good mentor – whether a more senior dentist, a professor, or even a peer – can provide a good sounding board and help you flesh out your pro-con list. (And don’t overlook how helpful your own partner can be, too! Here’s our guide to making decisions as a team.)
Make the Right Move
If you are frustrated with your current role, you may be tempted to just move on as quickly as possible. But if you take the time to think through your reasons, weigh your options, look for red flags, and consider a mentor, you can move forward more confidently – and ideally, not have to make another change.
Ready to start? Create your ADA Practice Transitions profile now. When you join, you will be assigned an ADA Advisor who will guide you through every step. It’s free to join, and dentists seeking their first job after dental school pay $0 to be matched.
See more Transition Tales from dentists who have navigated their own career changes! And be sure to check out part one of our interview with Dr. Sara, How Mentorship Helped One Dentist Build a Thriving Career.