Why dental students need to be taught about business

Why dental students need to be taught about businessDundee dental student Priyanka Shah talks about why she thinks the business of dentistry needs teaching to young dentists. 

How is it that after going through five years of dental school, and even upon graduating, we have the faintest practical training on the business that encompasses dentistry?

Dentists come out of university with an abundance of clinical knowledge, but there is a huge gap in business acumen. A dental degree severely lacking in a business education. It leaves clinicians, who end up buying a practice, often learning on the job and at risk of making costly errors.

Dental schools are persistent in breeding students who helplessly succumb to NHS practice because they lack education on the business components of dental practice management.

Little to no support

Yes, as dentists our primary focus is on helping patients clinically. But that doesn’t mean that the education on how to financially manage a practice should be negated.

Around 45% of dentists who have an NHS contract anticipating selling their practice in the next two years. Almost 50% are considering leaving the profession entirely (24% retiring and 24% quitting). However, dental schools still provide little to no support on the management pathways beyond NHS dentistry.

Most students learn how to be good private clinicians once they have endured some work experience in NHS dentistry. But despite that, they often are equipped with little knowledge on how to start their own practices.

They might not even understand the financial aspects of the practice that they work in day in, day out.

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Grasp realities

As a dental student who has grown up in Kenya, I come from a family that has given their blood, sweat and tears to get to where they are. Their ambition has very much inspired the goals I want for my future.

Therefore, in an attempt to grasp more about the realities of the business perspective of dentistry, I started an initiative called Dental Insights. I interview practitioners from all over the world asking them questions on the chapters behind their success stories.

Unfortunately, from the interviews I have carried out, I have far too frequently heard the term: ‘I learnt about dental practice management on the go’, often placing these practitioners in undue stress. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for clinicians to make fatal errors that cost them heavily.

‘Vigorously disappointing’

Despite this, dental schools often dissuade students of practice ownership. It is often put forward as isolating and problematic. Well, it is bound to be with the lack of tools to empower students on this journey.

An interview with Dr Thompson led him to share his concerns. ‘The lack of practical business training in any university setting is vigorously disappointing. This has been a major factor in the mental health issues in dentistry up to and including suicides that I have been aware of.’

Dr Thompson asked me: ‘Suppose as a graduate you have an ambition to start your own practice, would you know how to negotiate a lease?’ I said: ‘I haven’t the faintest idea.’

These are non-clinical skills that are required to allow students to embark on this pathway.

Gained appreciation

During the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to be provided with the opportunity to test the importance of having a business awareness in dentistry.

When the headlines hit that all dental schools in Scotland had to repeat a year due to disruptions by Covid, University of Dundee offered additional modules for dental students to select. Me and five other dental students selected the ‘Introduction to business accounting’ module.

I gained a lot of appreciation and value; from learning how to read financial accounting statements to applications of budgeting information. I can’t imagine anyone being able to run their own business without such an understanding.

My main takeaway from this experience and Dental Insights has led me to understand how crucial it is that the business of dentistry should be covered in the university curriculum. Additionally, with private dentistry on the rise, this is pertinent knowledge that needs overdue acknowledgment.

For more information visit www.dentalinsightsdundee.wixsite.com/

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