Aspire to Clinical Excellence
Advanced knowledge and mastery of skills are essential to success
Jeff Brucia, DDS
In my 31 years as a dental educator, I have had the opportunity to meet many dentists with differing levels of experience. Newer dentists with 10 years or less of clinical experience often lack confidence in their ability. Dental schools provide an excellent foundation of knowledge to build upon, but once in practice, the new dentist is faced with the challenges of earning the trust of every patient while also meeting their oftentimes demanding esthetic and functional expectations. If new dentists do not feel confident with the knowledge and skills that they acquired in school, they should immediately seek out opportunities to advance their skill level. There are three important points that should be addressed regarding this process.
First, do not try to learn to do every procedure in dentistry. Find areas of practice that you enjoy, focus your education in these areas, and partner with specialists who have the same philosophy of care. When every day is filled with the procedures that you enjoy, your patients will be able to sense your love for your craft, and you will be successful in your practice.
Second, build an interdisciplinary team around you to work and learn together. Meet with them regularly to discuss cases, and find meetings that you may attend together. Some locations have formed study clubs in which the members represent all of the areas of dentistry. If you have the opportunity to become involved in one of these, do it. The American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry's annual meeting is another great event that emphasizes interdisciplinary care in all of the presentations.
And third, build a strong relationship with your laboratory technicians. This relationship and a team approach are key to advancing the level of care that you provide. Do not just send cases to random laboratories to get the lowest price. Work closely with technicians that want to improve with you and who want to develop a long-term partnership. This relationship will take time and effort, but it is one of the best investments that you can make.
Two of the areas in which I feel it is critical for new dentists to acquire advanced leaning after dental school are the concepts of predictable function (ie, occlusion) and the techniques for problem-free adhesive-based procedures. Mastering these will make most restorative procedures run more smoothly. One-day classes at dental meetings are good opportunities to get exposed to this material and a style of teaching that fits your learning style, but they can be limited in scope for continued and advanced learning. Hands-on and multiple level programs allow for more in-depth and advanced learning. Programs offered by the Foundation for Advanced Continuing Education (FACE), Dawson, Pankey, Spear, and Kois are just a few that can provide great learning opportunities.
Do not allow technology to drive your learning. I have never been a practitioner who is driven by key instruments or machines-quality care is driven primarily by your knowledge and skill level. When these "tools" are honed, you have the ability to provide some of the best dentistry possible. Without advanced knowledge and skills, no device in the world can make you a great dentist. I see so many new dentists fill their new offices with expensive instruments, hoping that these investments will provide the opportunity to deliver more and better care; however, you need little more than experience and mastery of skills and techniques in order to strive for excellence. Complete each procedure at the highest level possible, and success will follow.
Once your dental knowledge and skills have been developed to achieve clinical excellence, then you are best situated to explore opportunities involving new technologies. My advice is to only consider hi-tech changes to your clinical workflow that allow you to continue to practice with your current predictable philosophy of care without compromising the clinical results or significantly increasing your office's overhead expenses.
Focusing on the advancement of my skills and knowledge to provide the best possible outcomes for the procedures that I enjoy performing, as opposed to attempting to perform every procedure and implement every piece of technology developed, is what has allowed me to continue to both enjoy and be successful in dentistry throughout my career.
About the Author
Jeff Brucia, DDS, maintains a private practice in San Francisco, California, and is the co-director of the FACE institute. He is also an assistant professor at the University of the Pacific's Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, California.