It’s been just over six months since I first started writing and recording my ideas about dentistry and what it means to be a great professional. I haven’t been able to write as much as I would have liked for this blog because I’ve been so focused recently on putting together a study day for Foundation dentists that I delivered for the first time last month. However, I have now fleshed out a few more ideas in my own mind and will get on with writing them up for you.
Anyway, now that I’m starting to get my thoughts organised, I thought I would revisit the theme of one of the very first articles I wrote about what is the ‘art of dentistry’. Or to put it another way, what makes a great dentist? I believe that there are three key elements to this. You must…
- Understand your personal value and demonstrate that value to your patients.
- Build relationships with your patients that make your work meaningful.
- Use your career to provide you with the life that you want.
For me, that’s it. That’s the art of being a great dentist. Please note that these points are not exclusive to dentists; there’s nothing clinical in there. Swap the word ‘patients’ for ‘clients’ and this applies to anyone providing a service. You could describe these three points as ‘the art of being a professional’ or ‘the art of having a fulfilling career’.
Understanding your personal value
If you don’t understand your value and the value of the skills you have as a dentist, you will limit your development. You will be embarrassed when discussing costs, limiting the treatments that you offer to patients. I hear a lot of dentists make excuses like ‘my patients don’t want [THIS OR THAT TREATMENT]’ or ‘my patients cannot afford it’.
Most of the time, this is simply not true. Most of the time, dentists are reflecting their own reservations about costs onto their patients because they do not value their time highly enough. This happens in both NHS and private practice by the way. Is it true that ‘my patients only want the cheapest option’ or should that dentist really be saying ‘I don’t see the value of what I’m offering and I’m afraid that the patient will realise this’?
To understand your personal value and convey that value to your patients, you don’t need bravado. You simply need to consider what it has taken you to get to this point in your career and understand that all of that hard work affords you a certain level of self worth and respect.
When you understand the value of your time and skills, patients will see that. Your patients will understand that your advice is precious to them and they will follow your guidance. This will allow you to guide your patients towards the treatment that is appropriate to them rather than just the cheapest option.
This means that the patient will receive a better standard of care and you will spend more time doing high value work. Everybody wins.
Building relationships with your patients
Of course, you will all naturally do this but it’s worth considering why it’s so important to get to know and like your patients. This is the way I see things…
The first, most basic reason that we go to work is to provide for ourselves and people who depend on us. We exchange time for money so that we can afford food, shelter and any other necessities.
Once our basic needs are fulfilled by work, the next step up is for our work to be meaningful; for it to feel important and worthwhile.
One of the massive perks of dentistry is that we spend all of our time with the people that we are seeking to serve. We get to know our patients and by getting to know our patients, we move from just drilling and filling to helping people that we know and care about.
The joy of general practice is the relationships that you build and doing meaningful work, providing care for people that you are invested in.
Using your career to provide the life that you want
I’m not always great at this but I’m working on it. It is so important that you view your career with the correct perspective. Your career within dentistry is only a tool to help you to achieve what you want from life.
You must not sacrifice everything in the search for the perfect, super-duper career. Remember that your career exists to serve you. Consider your ultimate goals and ambitions. How can your job help you to reach those goals?
When you work so hard at something, it can be difficult to see this point of view but you must understand that you are much more than your career.
‘The art of dentistry’
I believe that the art of being a great dentist (or having a great career in any profession for that matter) is based on very simple principles that have nothing to do with the technical details of our job.
You may or may not agree with me. That’s fine. I probably won’t completely agree with my own current views in a few years’ time. Over time, our outlook on the world naturally evolves. But hopefully this article provokes you to consider a different point of view.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day details of repairing teeth. It’s much harder to take a macroscopic view of the whole picture and consider what we do, why we do it and what truly is the ‘art of dentistry’?