Clinical Freedom

When I graduated from dental school, I’ll admit, I was nervous!  I was now free to do all the fillings, crowns, extractions, and root canals I wanted.  No “QC” or quality control checks.  No stopping halfway through a procedure, waiting in a line with other students, following a clinic instructor around–so he could evaluate my treatment.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had wanted this freedom for a long time!  I had spent years of my life in the hallowed halls and clinics of my dental school earning this degree and this freedom–freedom to practice dentistry on my terms!  But this new found freedom wasn’t exactly dental bliss.

Here I was seeing these “real world” patients and it was all on me.  I had decided to start a practice from scratch right out of dental school.  The area where I wanted to practice didn’t offer any partnerships or associate/buy-in opportunities.  I also thought I really wanted to do things “my way” and not the way some other dentist had been doing them.

Here’s what I quickly learned.  Clinical dentistry is incredibly challenging.  I know what you’re thinking, “That’s kind of obvious isn’t it?”.  And my answer is yes, on an intellectual level, when you think about the technical steps to do a high quality two surface composite, you can’t help but realize that clinical dentistry is challenging.

But here’s what I wish I had understood.  When it’s all on you–no back up clinic instructor, no pulling out the “hey I’m just a dental student” card–and the patient expects perfection–it’s more than just the technical steps of the filling that can wear on you!

The patient has emotions.  The patient has a history.  They aren’t coming to you like they did in dental school because it’s more affordable and with an understanding that it’s going to take a long time.  The patient demands, and often unreasonably expects, perfection.  You have to be prepared to not only perform the clinical procedure but to manage the patient’s expectations, the patient’s emotions, a team of employees, have systems in place for collecting money, etc.

Be prepared.  Dental school will give you a great foundation in fundamental clinical care.  Take the time to get real information about real world dentistry!  You will enjoy your “freedom” after dental school much more.

Dr. Marcus Neff, DDS

Dr. Neff is a co-author of the book “So You Want to be a Dentist?: What you Must Know to Succeed in Dentistry”.  The book can be purchased at, the iBookstore,, and many other digital retailers.

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