5 universal truths a young dentist should know – Dr Patrick Russo FRACDS

5 universal truths a young dentist should know – Dr Patrick Russo FRACDS

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What should recently graduated dentists be doing to equip themselves for their careers? Dr Patrick Russo FRACDS shares 5 universal truths a young dentist should know.

Today’s graduate will have a very different professional life to mine. But while the career might be different, there are universal truths I can identify from my 37 years of experience that remain relevant today.

This is not another grey-haired ramble about … ‘’back in the day…’’ but a look at the current situation and an attempt to identify trends. Let’s then apply my universal truths to these trends and help position you well for your future career.

If we look at dental practice in 2021 and the typical young dentist, we see that:

  • Employment opportunities are diminished, and competition is a reality
  • University debt will be significant and there is competition for finances between study debt, home purchase, further education and maybe a practice
  • Most practitioners will be employed and never own their own practice
  • Employment will likely be in a large group private practice, a corporate or in a government agency
  • General Practitioners will remain the dominant group in the dental profession. But…
  • The dentist will be part of a team of other allied dental practitioners
  • As the most highly trained dental professional, dentists should lead the team and will require skills to do this
  • And finally, the half-life of knowledge is diminishing. Much of what is learned at dental school is irrelevant in a short time. Continuing education will be essential.

If this is the new reality, what should a recently graduated dentist be doing to equip themselves for their career, and what are these universal truths that might help?

My career has been a mostly linear experience.

I trained at the University of Melbourne and was fortunate enough to be offered an intern position at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne. My intern year gave me experience in various disciplines while working under supervision. It was during this time that I was introduced to the husband and wife team who were later to employ me and who I followed in practice. That practice has been my dental home to this day.

This fortuitous meeting was the first of several I have experienced over the years. Chance meetings and introductions that would have significant impact on my career.

1. Network

No matter how we plan and how we try and map out our future, invariably we end up following a path that we never would have anticipated. That path will become apparent to you through the people you meet and the connections you make. Get involved, talk to everyone, you never know where it may lead.

After my intern year, I started work in private practice and was asked to take a role as a clinical demonstrator. With all of twelve months under my belt there was never a truer case of ‘the blind leading the blind’. Or so I thought. In fact, while I couldn’t bring the wealth of experience that the older demonstrators did, I gave the perspective of a recent graduate and was able to connect with the very real issues of 3rd and 4th year students.

2. Teach

Teaching can take various forms, but regardless of what it looks like, it is one of the most valuable and rewarding things a professional can do. I was once told by a wise old patient that teaching and healing were the two truly noble professions. As dentists, we can do both.

In 1985 I started work in my private practice, initially employed by the dentists I had met the year earlier. After three years as an associate, I took over the running of the practice. In those years prior to taking over, I enjoyed the wisdom and guidance of my employers. They become like second parents as well as good friends. But most importantly they became mentors and teachers.

3. Find a Mentor

We can’t do this on our own. Find someone you respect to help you on the journey. While advice on patients and case management is important, this is not about ‘’how to do dentistry’’. This is about finding a safe, non-judgemental space to work through all those other issues that envelope the day to day.

It didn’t take long before I realised I just didn’t know enough. If you don’t come to that conclusion within 2-3 years of graduation, then you may be suffering from what is known as ‘the fatal combination’ – ignorance and arrogance.

Individuals afflicted with this condition know nothing and can’t be told anything. They are a danger to themselves and their patients. Today there are any number of professional development courses, but random programs can lead to ad hoc and unproductive CPD. I decided on Fellowship in the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons. It provided structured learning to guide me and a qualification at the end to show for my efforts.

4. Keep Learning

Learn as much as you can, about as much as you can. And as you progress in general practice you will develop areas of interest and perhaps move away from other areas. Be discerning with where you get your training and information, as not all CPD providers are equal. Why not get something to show for your efforts? Recognised postnominals send a powerful message to patients and colleagues about your commitment.

As a General Dental Practitioner (GDP) at RACDS, I was approached to join others to look at developing for GDPs within the College. We developed the Membership program – MRACDS(GDP). This is a modular, structured-learning program for GDPs that is undertaken at the individuals own pace over 2 years and is assessed with short-answer open book assessment, case presentations and a viva voce. I am pleased to have been a part of the development of this highly clinically relevant program that is now available to GDPs in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. From here my involvement with RACDS took me to the College Board for 10 years and eventually in 2016–2018 as President of the College.

It was an extraordinary privilege and a pleasure to be able to make a contribution to the profession.

5. Get Involved

Your professional organisations are the life blood of the profession. If you don’t like something or feel it could be done better, then join a committee and contribute. Understand that nobody has the profession’s or our patient’s interests more at heart than dentists themselves.

The Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons exists to assist dentists in furthering their education after graduation; be it in general practice or specialist practice. The College community is home to some of the best academics, researchers and clinicians in Australasia. In becoming part of this community, a young dentist not only advances their knowledge and skill to a higher level but has access to one of the most influential networks of colleagues in the profession.

Candidates in the College can access the formal mentor program or their local candidate advisor to assist in the examination process. On completion, you become part of a community of like-minded individuals, which means support is always available for advice and career development.

The post-nominal FRACDS has for over 50 years been synonymous with excellence. In a competitive marketplace, attainment of a qualification at the College sets an individual apart from others.

Once admitted to the College, opportunities exist to further develop as a mentor, an Examiner, a Regional Committee or Board of Study member, or even to take on leadership and governance roles.

Like other health professions, our profession is currently navigating changing times.

It has never been more important that practitioners prepare themselves well and align with organisations best placed to assist them in their endeavours.


Dr Patrick Russo




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