Transitioning from a dental student to a dentist – becoming more efficient

dental student graduatingSidra Suleman explains how to make the move from a dental student to a dentist and become more efficient with your time.

Graduating from dental school is an amazing yet daunting experience. It can be difficult to leave the support and help you relied on during your undergraduate studies to now become an independent clinician. Soon you realise that there is much more responsibility on your shoulders. This can be very over whelming.

One major concern most graduates have is how they are going to see lots of patient in a day and hit their UDA targets. Although there is no simple solution to this, there are several steps you can take to make this transition as smooth as possible.


In order to gain speed, you need to utilise time effectively. For example, once you administer local anaesthesia, you have a few minutes before starting the procedure. What can you do in this time?  You could prepare the rubber dam, write the lab prescription or type up your notes.

Another scenario, you are waiting for the radiographs to process, how can you utilise these few minutes of spare time? Give oral hygiene instructions or find the next appointment date. It is all about thinking ahead and being opportunistic.

You may not realise but these small tasks, once combined, take up a lot of time. Using your time effectively can help you become much quicker. Patient cancellations and non-attendances can be frustrating, but you can utilise this time to your benefit. Tasks such as writing up referrals and denture designing can be done in this time. Make the most of it.

Plan and prepare in advance

At the early stages of your career, you may not be confident with all the procedures, especially the more complex ones. Hence, it is essential to plan and prepare for such treatments in advance.

By checking all the materials and instruments are in your surgery before the appointment you can avoid wasting time looking for equipment, which may have even run out. Likewise, if you feel the treatment may be difficult allocate more time to the appointment. Although this may seem counterproductive, it is crucial not to rush and work within your competence.

By allocating shorter appointments and running late you usually end up wasting more time and becoming stressed, which reduces productivity. Always remember, speed comes with experience and you cannot develop this overnight.

Identify your working pattern

The way you organise your diary can also have a huge impact on your clinical work. Some dentists prefer working for longer hours and fewer days. Others prefer spaced out appointments with frequent breaks. So, it is important to know which style suits you best.

As a general guide, it is best to avoid booking several complex procedures in one session and to distribute your diary evenly. If you feel less tired in the mornings, book more difficult procedures in those sessions. By having and acting on this awareness you can organise your working schedule to support your clinical work.

Make your own notes pro forma

At dental school you had ample of time to write very thorough and extensive notes. However, in general practice you might not always have this luxury. Spending prolonged periods of time on notes not only is exhausting but it takes away your clinical time. Hence, I would recommend all recent graduates and dental students use their spare time on making a notes pro forma.

Using templates not only makes record keeping quicker, but it also ensures you do not forget to write down important information, which is easy to do when you are very busy. However, this is to be used with caution as this is not a simple ‘copy paste’ procedure.

Good teamwork with your nurse

Your nurse is your backbone and the way you work with them will hugely determine the pace and ease of your work. Four-handed dentistry is a great skill to develop and you could attend courses on this or practise it with your nurse.

At the same time there needs to be a mutual understanding of your responsibilities. As the dentist, you should not do the nurses job, so it is important to establish clear roles and tasks from the very start. In the same light, over burdening your nurse is not only unfair but also unsustainable.

Go out your comfort zone

It’s safe to say that nothing really grows to its full potential in the comfort zone. You need to challenge yourself. In order to get better at dentistry, you need more experience.

Although failure is hard and stressful it makes you wiser and more competent. I know, as a recent graduate, this is something we all worry about. What if we get a complaint? What if we get sued? These all are valid concerns, however fear should not stop your progression and unless you aim for high standards, you are unlikely to achieve them.

Going out of your comfort zone could simply be doing fissure sealants along with a restoration in one appointment. If you gradually push yourself, you will become better and this is always done while maintaining the patient’s best interests.

Embark on lifelong learning

Dentistry is such a complex field and there are several ways to carry out procedures. All of which you don’t learn during your undergraduate training. Hence, it is essential to learn and keep on learning.

From speaking to and observing colleagues you can pick up so many tips and tricks not always found in textbooks. Through doing CPD courses and even simple revision, you can expand and consolidate your knowledge, which will improve your clinical work.

Always remember you can never be too good at something! So, try your best and have trust in the process.

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