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Advice to Graduating Residents

Compiled by Austyn C. Grissom, D.M.D.

My sister-in-law is a D3 student at my alma mater (University of Alabama School of Dentistry) and recently interviewed me for her Practice Management course. As I answered these questions about my experience transitioning from dental school to working as a general dentist in private practice, I started to get curious about what these answers might look like for endodontists.

I posed four simple questions to some of our specialty’s brightest minds on the AAE Connection. Reading these responses (over and over) has been extremely comforting and encouraging to me during this season of transition. No matter where you are at in your career, I believe that there is something that you can take away from this discussion.

1. What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self at residency graduation?

Dr. Alan Gluskin – “Basically, what [my mentor Dr. Sam Seltzer] was saying that there is power in knowing what you don't know…. and you should never believe you know it all… and thus never lose the desire to discover knowledge.”

Dr. Steven Katz – “You don't know as much as you think you do!”

Dr. Judy McIntyre – “Slow down and enjoy the process and the journey”

Dr. Alan Law - “You should continually look for ways to improve the lives of your patients, your team, your family, and in your community.  It is a recipe for a long and happy career!”

Dr. Elizabeth Perry – “Do what you can to get your boards as soon as you can after graduation. Life is so busy and there will never be a better time to complete the process than as soon as possible after graduation. When you graduate, do not compromise your values and your commitment to excellence. The habits that you form in the beginning of your practice life will be the basis for your career as an endodontist. Excellence first always and everything else will follow.”

Dr. Stefan Zweig – “During my first trimester of dental school, our occlusion professor gave us what I consider the most important piece of professional advice I believe I have ever received. He simply said, "Do your best work and everything else will follow". I have lived that mantra since 1982. In a profession that has seen so many changes (some good and some bad), it is perhaps the only constant which an individual has full control over. The quality of your work and your work ethic will follow you wherever you go,  however you practice, and will be recognized by those who matter and who support you.”

 2. What did you find most challenging about transitioning from residency to your next position?

Dr. Matthew Phillips –  “There will be many, many responsibilities that can overwhelm you at every stage of your career and especially right out of residency.  Remember that nothing you do professionally will have a more lasting impact than the work you do in your own home with your family.  Make sure that they know that and feel that and you will be successful in life regardless of what you accomplish professionally!”

Dr. Judy McIntyre – “I feel like my discussions with patients really only firmed up in the last 5 years - meaning well over a decade after residency.  How to convey compassion, yet urgency and need for treatment have a fine balance.”

Dr. Rick Schwartz – “You need to have a "vision" of the type of practice you want to develop. Although your vision may change or a change may be forced on you, it is important to think about where you want to be in five years and in 10 years.  My plan from the start was to be fee-for-service, work with the best dentists, and have a low volume high fee practice. To do that you have to be able to attract very good referring doctors, the ones everyone wants. That was my focus in the early years, meeting and trying to attract the best. When you ask around the dental community who are the best dentists, the same names keep coming up. Everyone wants that type of practice, but to have one you have to be very good at forming relationships. Also, relationships with other specialists is very important. One of the things I have found is that your only truly loyal referring doctors are those with whom you have a personal relationship, not just a professional one. It takes a lot of effort to establish and maintain these relationships, but it's worth it. The kind of practice you have is all about who refers to you. In the early years I gave lectures to groups of dentists within three hours of San Antonio and established a lot of relationships with doctors in small towns in addition to the ones in town. It has paid off in millions of dollars of referrals.”

Dr. Elizabeth Perry – “For me, the most challenging thing about transitioning from residency to private practice was also having had my first child two months after graduating and opening my practice. Going around and meeting new dentists for the first time and asking for them to send patients while being very visibly pregnant was definitely a challenge! I focused on doing the very best work possible while giving my patients an exceptional experience and let my work speak for itself.”

Dr. Steven Katz – “For me the pace was daunting to begin with. It always takes a while to get up to speed.  And you certainly don't want to rush. Be patient and speed comes.”

Dr. Alan Gluskin – “After my residency, for many years, I balanced teaching and private practice. It was important for me to give back to my profession and it was equally important not to be totally dedicated to the four walls of an operatory. In those years, my biggest challenges seemed to routinely center around my fellow professionals, essentially general dentists who felt that they had the understanding and skill to take on all manner of endodontic complexity….essentially again….not knowing what they don't know. At that point I realized that there was a meaningful balance that every endodontist must accept in their career; the reality that our specialist members see a significant amount of incompetence in our discipline  and we must recognize it is our duty as endodontists to lead, to educate and to get involved when we see negligence.”

3. What qualities do you think are most valuable as a leader in a healthcare team?

Dr. Elizabeth Perry – “As a leader of a healthcare team, it is important to be positive, supportive, kind, and respectful with a message of a continual commitment to excellence. My team has appreciated learning what is important in endodontic treatment and understanding the basis of why we do what we do. I will never forget that my team makes me a better endodontist!”

Dr. Judy McIntyre – “Being kind to team members and patients is priceless.”  ​

Dr. Steven Katz – “Respect, empathy and appreciation.  Just because you are more educated does not make you better than anyone else on your team or your patients.  Treat everyone you work with or work on like they are your mother.  Always say thank you!”

Dr. Alan Gluskin – “I value saving the natural dentition….as do all endodontists. Not everyone is capable of standing on a "soapbox" and lecturing to an audience but all endodontists should be capable of enlightening patients, referring doctors and professionals in medicine who contact us….by educating them that we provide the highest level of scientifically-based care that serves to promote oral health as well as human health.”

Dr. Rick Schwartz - “Another very important aspect of your success is your staff. You need people who are smart, capable, personable, and loyal, and not only get along but like each other. You get a staff like this not only by paying well and being nice to them. You need to do extra things that are unexpected. Part of your job is to do things that make their lives better. That is how you instill loyalty. This is a large topic by itself. Plan on 10 years to get the right group of referring doctors and the right staff.”

4. What has helped you develop as a leader over your career?

Dr. Rick Schwartz – “You can't overestimate the effect of mentors early in your career, good or bad. One of the unfortunate things about many of the corporate practices is that new grads often get ruined by bad mentorship. In addition to the traditional mentors, there is a lot of mentorship available online, both good and bad. Great mentors have made all the difference in my career. Good mentors will share freely and all they want in return is for you to learn from them and pass on what you have learned to others who are interested. The first step to achieving excellence is being exposed to excellence.”

Dr. Steven Katz – “Leadership comes with experience but not everyone is interested or has the knack.  Become active in your dental societies, the AAE etc. and most importantly find and utilize mentors!  I think there is no substitute watching and learning from someone you respect and admire.  I consider myself so lucky to have had so many great mentors over the years, from referring general dentists to a trusted friend that helped me get ready for my boards, to several AAE presidents.  Mentors are out there if you look.”

Dr. Alan Gluskin – “I love our specialty and have found the most meaningful personal satisfaction in promoting who we are and what we do as healthcare providers. I have found our AAE Foundation to be a meaningful way to support our science and educational efforts and I have certainly loved every minute of the volunteer opportunities I have participated in to strengthen and lead our specialty. Endodontics has done so much for me since my early residency days sitting in that dark SEM room with Sam Seltzer. He knew it…and now… so do I.”

Dr. Judy McIntyre – “Mentors are so valuable for so many reasons.”

Dr. Stefan Zweig – “Leadership involvement is important as it opens your eyes  to the overall environment we practice and allows you to become part of the solution to the problems which plague us. I entered endodontic practice during a time of great change in our specialty, and I must admit that I was amongst the ranks of skeptics and complainers. Leadership (which I entered into rather serendipitously) allowed me to understand our problems and to become an active driver of positive change. Through it I obtained new skills, great collaboration opportunities, and a whole new set of lifelong friends who have helped shape my career and my life.”

Dr. Daniel Schechter – “One of the smartest things I did early in my career was listen to my wife Pat when she suggested I start a Journal/ Study Club composed only of Endodontists. I started it in 1986 in Orange County, Cal and even though I dropped out when I sold my practice and started teaching at USC in 2002, it still meets. It started with only 4 members, each of us from different programs and stages of our career and was often the highlight of my month when we met.”

Dr. Elizabeth Perry – “There are several things that have helped my development as a leader over my career. Board certification has for sure made me a better endodontist and a better leader. Mentorship is so important. I am so grateful for the many mentors that I have had throughout my career and I definitely understand how important it is to become a mentor to the next generation of endodontists. Becoming involved in organized dentistry and endodontics through the AAE as well as in teaching our future endodontists in residency have put me in touch with what is current and important for the future of our specialty. I have been so fortunate to have been able to work with so many amazing leaders in our field, in education and in the leadership of the AAE, and continue to learn so much from them. Also, keeping up with what is current in endodontics throughout one's career is a must.”

There are many other tidbits of wisdom, as well as some questions and follow-up answers that you can view in its entirety on the AAE Connection under the thread “Advice to Graduating Endo Residents”.