"Reflections on my First Year as a Dentist" by Amanda Muzzio (Cal Poly Class of 2013)

        It's hard to believe that it’s been one year since I graduated dental school. I had been thinking about the days of free evenings, shorter to do lists, and less emails for so many years! The transition from full time graduate student to fully functioning adult certainly has taken the past twelve months to figure out, but it has been an exciting adventure as I can finally live life with a steady job, income and more free time. 

           Upon graduating from NYU College of Dentistry in May 2018, I decided to move back to the West Coast, head straight to work and get a position as an associate dentist at a dental practice in Portland, Oregon. Many of my classmates chose to go to residencies - for specialty programs or an additional year of general practice - but I decided that I felt ready to start working without an additional optional fifth year of training. I was extremely lucky with the position that I found, as my practice owner has been an invaluable mentor for me. She’s a rock star dentist with years of dental experiences, and she seems to have figured out the secret to running a successful practice, balancing family life and providing stellar patient care. I think that the best position for a new grad is a job where their boss is willing to take the time to provide mentorship, guidance and second opinions. Having this safety net has made my first year as a dentist much less daunting. I don’t regret opting out of a residency - my first year in practice has been the experience I needed to gain assurance and autonomy as a dentist.

         The biggest challenges that I’ve had while adjusting to my new career have been time management and self-confidence. In dental school, there is an extensive amount of clinical time blocked off for dental students to be able to provide treatment for patients. In real life, it would be hard to find a patient willing to come back to your practice if it took you two hours to fill one cavity! As a dental student I was also in charge of managing my own patient schedule and acted as my own assistant and dental hygienist. Luckily, dentists get to have dental assistants and front-office staff who help schedule and make patient care efficient and seamless. I started off the year by having a shorter schedule with all new patients. Over the year, my roster of patients has grown and so has the amount of treatment I’ve been able to juggle in a day. I’ve felt very fortunate to find a practice that let me ease into a comfortable schedule, as this has enabled me to be more efficient with my dental work while learning to multitask and delegate tasks to appropriate staff. 

In regards to confidence, I’ve learned that as a new dentist some patients are hesitant to trust their dental care with a young face. It’s essential to speak to patients with a level of confidence that will help to build their trust in you as their provider. To be able to do the dentistry you diagnose, the patient must trust you and your plan for their treatment. It took some practice, especially over the first few months, in successfully explaining oral health needs to patients with a level of confidence and authority that motivated my patients to start their treatment with me. Having confidence in yourself makes patients more confident in you as their dentist, and this really helps to build trusting relationships and expand your own dental practice.

        Aside from finally getting to do the work that I’ve been dedicating so many years of education towards, I’d say that the best part of life as a new dentist is my free time. It’s so nice to have free evenings and weekends where I can focus on life beyond my education and career. For a long time after graduation it felt very strange to no longer have that long-term goal of “becoming a dentist” to work towards, but now I can finally prioritize more personal goals and spend more time focusing on hobbies that I had to put on the backburner during years of an intense school load. I remember so many moments during undergrad at Cal Poly and during dental school at NYU where this end of the tunnel felt overwhelmingly far away, but (as cliché as it may sound) it does fly by! My advice to anyone on the pre-dental, or any pre-health, track is to stay positive and eager to work hard towards your goals. The end result is a really satisfying career and enriched life that I promise will not disappoint you. I leave work feeling really happy about the work I did for my patients and how I’ve helped to improve their lives. While it was a long road to get to this point, I wouldn’t change anything about it.

E-mail: amanda.m.muzzio@gmail.com

(Click here to view a prior letter from Dr. Muzzio when she was a third-year dental student at New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry.)