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Starting Your First Associateship? 5 Keys to Building Confidence

Written by: Dr. Suzanne Ebert, VP of Operations and Customer Relations
Published on: Oct 16, 2023

Starting Your First AssociateshipOn the first day you walk into a dental practice as a new associate, you may feel a rare mixture of excitement, anticipation and concern. If this is your very first job out of dental school, those emotions may be especially sharp! It’s always tough starting a new role, let alone your first as a new doctor.

Though these feelings are perfectly natural, you also want to exude confidence when you step into the operatory. Letting colleagues know you’re ready will help you gain their trust – and of course, feeling sure of yourself will foster treatment acceptance among your patients.

If you’re feeling lost, remember where you’ve been

Even if you’re a little shaky on those first few days, it can help to reaffirm everything you’ve already accomplished on the road to becoming a dentist.

✓ You have earned a dental degree after four years of hard work and dedication.

✓ You are licensed to practice dentistry in your state.

✓ You are here because the leaders of your new practice were impressed with your abilities and decided you were the best candidate for the job.

Now you’re ready to provide patients with excellent dental care. Here are 5 ways to get off on the right foot.

1. Get oriented before your first day on the job.

Start preparing for success before you officially accept your new position. Talk with the dentist who will supervise your work, asking questions to clarify your responsibilities. Make sure you understand how you will be paid and what benefits you will enjoy so you can focus on the work itself.

After you sign your new contract, but before you actually walk in for your first day, work with your new boss to create an integration plan. This step lays the groundwork for your success from day one. The plan should include things like credentialing, licensure and staff orientation as well as understanding the practice’s workflow, practices and technology. ADA Practice Transitions offers a you can download.

Your transition will go more smoothly if patients know you’ve joined the practice. Work with the senior doctor(s) to draft a message for the practice’s website and social media channels, welcoming you as a new associate. Whenever possible, senior doctors should introduce you to new patients with a warm hand-off that shows confidence in your skills.

2. Prepare before seeing patients.

At first, every patient will be 100% new to you. This makes preparation even more important! Make sure you set aside time to review charts for each day’s patients. Choose a quiet corner of the office where you can read without interruptions, looking for details that point to what patients will expect. Are they coming in for a routine cleaning and checkup, or are they partway through a multi-step treatment plan? If the chart doesn’t tell the whole story, ask your colleagues for background. Refer to textbooks as needed if you have questions about best practices or materials.

During the morning huddle, ask for any insights you need. If Jack is coming in with a toothache, it will be helpful to know this is his 4th visit for the same complaint in the last 12 months. (Or that it’s been 4 years since his last checkup.)

Using prep time wisely ensures you’re not walking into the operatory with zero background. There’s less chance you’ll need to stop and look things up – something that should always be avoided. (If you must confirm the next step with a patient in the chair, always step into a prep area. This will preserve your patient’s trust in your knowledge.)

After each procedure, update the chart with detailed notes. You’ll be glad you have these when you see them next time.

3. Partner closely with dental team members.

As a new dentist, it’s important to keep in mind that your auxiliaries will almost always have more hands-on experience than you. They may also have excellent relationships with your patients, having seen and worked with them for years.

A skilled auxiliary can make the day a lot easier for you. For example, they can go into the operatory first for an initial check, then report to you so you’re fully prepared when you step in to greet the patient.

At the same time, the auxiliary needs to feel comfortable that you are in charge of the patient’s care. This is accomplished by showing respect for the auxiliary’s experience and skills while showing full confidence in yourself and your own abilities.

As part of your integration plan, take steps to build good relationships with each member of the dental team. For example, you might schedule a brief, one-on-one conversation with each auxiliary before you start or during your first few days on the job. Find out a little bit about them: how they chose their career, how long they’ve been with the practice and how they envision working with you. Are they used to working independently, or are they more comfortable with you taking the lead? Are they ready to perform the full range of procedures allowed by the state?

Seek support from the senior doctor(s) in establishing your leadership within the dental team. For example, if an auxiliary continues to come to a senior doc with questions about your patients, request that these issues be referred back to you.

4. Schedule regular meetings with your mentor.

Give yourself permission to ask plenty of questions when you’re first starting out, but do this in a strategic way. Getting together with the senior doctor(s) in your new practice gives you the chance to discuss complex cases and obtain guidance in the privacy of a one-on-one conversation without other staff or patients nearby.

At first, these conversations might happen daily, or possibly several times a week. Over time, you will need less guidance – but it’s still wise to meet monthly or as-needed to continue building your knowledge base. A busy mentor will be especially grateful if you organize your thoughts ahead of time, coming to the meeting with specific questions or items to discuss.

These meetings also give you a chance to demonstrate that you’re learning and gaining speed. If you are struggling, discuss CE options and other ways to hone your skills. For example, you may be able to learn a great deal by shadowing a specialist near you.

5. Trust yourself.

Whenever you’re experiencing self-doubt, take a deep breath before you walk into the operatory. Envision yourself working with confidence. Often, the fear we feel in the moment will pass if we carry on with the steps and routines we know.

Confidence also comes from being respectful, attentive and decisive in relating to team members and patients. If your auxiliary questions you in front of a patient, invite them to step out of the operatory for a private sidebar. Affirm that you want to collaborate with them, but also want the patient to trust both of you. Ask your auxiliary to help you care for the patient as a united team.

Good communication with patients fosters trust, too. Share your reasoning with your patients, educating them about mouth-healthy habits and treatment options. This reassures them that you are devoted to their well-being and will offer them the best possible care.

If you aren’t sure about the right treatment plan, it’s perfectly okay to say, “This is a tricky issue, and I want to be sure of our options so I’m going to ask for a second opinion.” Patients and staff will respect this approach because it shows your desire to make sound recommendations. (Always follow through quickly so that your patient will receive timely care.)

Starting any new job requires a leap of faith – but remember, you already have what it takes to become a great dentist. Trust in your strengths, rely on your mentors and colleagues and before you know it, the confidence you need will be there for you every day.

More resources for you

Wondering how to lead when you’re new to the dental practice? Get tips

And if you’re looking for your first associateship, ADA Practice Transitions (ADAPT) can help you at no cost, with no exclusivity agreements. Your dedicated ADA Advisor will match you with practices in your preferred geography while providing coaching, advice, and contract templates along the way. Create your free profile now to get started.