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What I Wish I Learned in Dental School: Tips for Life in Practice

From a session by Ben Youel, DDS, MS at the National Leadership Conference

By Jocelin Calcagno, Class of 2022

I decided to attend “What I Wish I learned in Dental School: Tips for Life in Practice” by Dr. Youel. He attended the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and continued his orthodontic residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He shared six tips that were generated based off the experiences he had once he got out of school, and the people he met along the way. The first tip he shared was…

1. You’re the Boss (even if you’re not) Dr. Youel got a job after dental school where he was subbing in for another Dentist temporarily. He expected to go into the office and just do the procedures that were treatment planned for patients and go home. His responsibilities ended up being way more than that. He expressed that the staff treated him like the main dentist in charge of things like costs, marketing, scheduling, and staff coordination. He said that this made his job a lot more complicated than he expected, and that made him realize that no matter where you go “you will always be looked at as the one in charge and be expected to be called upon.” I interpreted this as no matter where we go, we have the title and a white coat and people are going to hold us up to the standards that come with these things no matter the situation or office we work for.

2. You Need A Professional Network Once the dentist he was subbing in for returned from his leave, Dr. Youel needed to find a new job. This is where he expressed his second tip that having a professional network is important. He said that your professionalism networks start in dental school. It starts with your classmates, dental faculty, and residents. The reason why he got his second job was not random, it was all through people he had met before and this was a huge resource for him. He advised that we start creating our networks now, and that we attend everything possible in dental school to meet as many people as we can. He advised to never burn bridges, always be willing to help others, and to be professional, because you never know when you will be seeing or needing the people you interact with again.

3. You Are Not Supposed to Know Everything The next tip he shared was one that put me more at ease. It is easy to get wrapped up in trying to know everything. This includes how to perform every procedure, remembering every detail about every patient, remembering every class that we took and what we learned in it. He said that not all of what we learn will be in dental school. We continue to learn right out of dental school through professional organizations, continuing education classes, online/webinars, and podcasts.

4. The Teeth Are the Easy Part We are all so focused on developing hand skills, that we forget about what the rest of being a dentist involves. Dr. Youel explains this as “treating the body behind the teeth.” We have to deal with all different types of personalities, kids, parents, provide customer service, hold therapy sessions, and be businessmen and women. The job is lot more than just the teeth, so it’s important to remember to practice people skills. He provided a book recommendation that he thought would be a good read for us (see below).

5. You Are Going to Be Uncomfortable “Fake it until you make it” is what Dr. Youel stated. He said that patients aren’t going to know if you are doing a procedure for the first time, so just have confidence in yourself and GET IT DONE. He said that a lot of his nights were spent having anxiety over the patients that he was seeing the next day. He was studying their cases and coming up with treatment plans before even meeting the patient. He said that this was a waste of time and a bad habit. He encouraged us to “just do the darn thing” and eventually we will get to a point where we feel like we can accomplish anything that is being thrown at us.

6. The Debt Is A Stress, But It Is Manageable The biggest piece of advice that Dr. Youel shared with us was to learn as much as we can about the different loan repayment options and budgeting. He suggested that we read the book that I have provided in a picture below.

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