My plan in dental school was to work for a few years and then be an owner of a practice so I could make the office more streamlined and efficient. After graduation, I took a job working as an associate so I could practice dentistry and see how an office operates. After a couple of years, I got married and had kids, which obviously changed my priorities. I really wanted to be available for them and be a full-time mom, so I began to limit my work to the times when my husband was around or the kids were in daycare/school. That led me to working about one full day a week, if I had patients. However, while I knew my skills, I didn’t work enough to build the confidence of a dentist who works every day and is accustomed to handling different issues. I also began to worry about liability in case I made a mistake. So, when I would call in the day before to see my schedule, I would sometimes hope that no patients were booked, and when dealing with patients in an emergency situation, I would wish that I could just take a film and refer them to endo. Here I was, 20 years into my dental career, and I kind of hated it.
Working sporadically also did not allow me to build up the physical strength necessary to practice dentistry for long durations. People don’t realize that bending or leaning over patients puts tremendous strain on your neck and back. I began to have severe neck pain as well as migraines which, combined with my anxiety about not being able to handle more complex issues, gave me intense migraines that lasted for days after I would work. This kept happening, which hindered my ability to work as well as be there fully for my kids.
I realized that I needed to make a change. I decided to take my love of organization and explore how I could pivot from clinical to non-clinical. There was some concern about “wasting” all of the money and time spent on dental school but, ultimately, my family was supportive and I moved forward with plans to start a dental compliance company.
I spent about one year learning about all of the dental rules and regulations and building my product (and used my friends in the field who allowed me to do work for them on a complimentary basis). Very quickly, I began to realize that I knew a lot more about compliance and risk management than experienced practitioners; after all, you really don’t learn much about this in dental school. This gave me confidence not only to speak one-on-one with practicing dentists but also to develop and deliver CE classes to larger audiences. People who knew me from dental school were surprised by this, because I used to be painfully shy about speaking in front of others. But, with confidence about the subject matter and the direction in which I was going, I began to believe in myself and my purpose. I now actually crave public speaking. I’ve also learned that nobody knows everything and that it’s OK – and often wiser to say – “let me look into that and I will get back to you.” I always make it a point to get back to people as soon as possible and clients appreciate that I take the time to give them an honest and accurate answer.
My business really took off in the first quarter of 2020, when COVID-19 hit. Offices were closed and could not open again until they had all of the required PPE and they, staff and patients could feel safe. I saw a tremendous opportunity here to help dentists get back to work. I taught myself to fit-test N95 respirators and I drove all over New England fit-testing dentists and their staff so they could get back to work. This was an amazing experience, as it got me in front of so many people and I was able to learn more about what is important to dentists from a compliance- and risk-management perspective.
Today, the business is growing and we have five employees in all (including my husband, a lawyer who left his high-powered general counsel job at a large company to help broaden our offerings and streamline our operations). Working together has been fun and rewarding. We each bring something different to the table and are united in a common goal. It’s also nice to be able to spend our days together rather than live two separate lives.
As a parent, I also want to be a good example of how to balance work and family – which I’m able to do because I control my hours and can take time out when I need or want to. I also think it’s an important message to send to my college-age children, but particularly to my daughter, that you should find work that is empowering and purposeful (and, if you feel stuck, you can make a change).
I finally feel like I have hit my stride and this is what I was meant to do. And no – I did not “waste” my dental education.