How to Choose Continuing Education: Part 1

  • by AGD Staff
  • Aug 22, 2022

While AGD often discusses how important continuing education (CE) is for dentists and the numerous CE options available, it doesn’t always discuss how to choose among these courses. What strategy should dentists employ when selecting CE? How much weight should they give to provider, company, cost and format? This month, AGD Impact asked five dentists about their views on the best way to select CE for various learning needs. 

Below, read the first two of these perspectives; stay tuned for the remaining three in Part 2 next week. 

How to Make CE Worth Its Price Tag
By Tom Lawler, DDS, FAGD

When I graduated from dental school six years ago, I started my career path with no parent or family member in the dental field, no real mentor, and just having relocated to a new city. As I began practicing, it didn’t take long for me to realize that dental school had barely scratched the surface of all there was to learn to become a competent clinician. With that in my mind, I set out looking for CE courses that would help me. 

In the six years I’ve been practicing, I’ve taken (and paid for) a lot of CE, not all of which ended up being worthwhile. All of this trial and error has taught me some valuable lessons about the process of CE selection, one of the biggest lessons being that there’s not necessarily a direct correlation between the price and quality or usefulness of any given course. There’s nothing worse than spending thousands of dollars on a course only to realize that it wasn’t all that it was advertised to be and likely won’t have much of an effect on your bottom line. With that in mind, here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way: 

  • Don’t assume that big conferences hold the key. They seem like logical places to start (or so I thought), where crowds of dentists and vendors all gather. Very often, though, these conferences are packed with one- and two-hour lectures that, at best, give a hurried overview of various topics. It’s also important to be aware that many of them are presented by sponsors with an endgame of selling products, and those must be taken with a grain of salt. Despite that, for a new dentist still trying to figure out the direction they want to take their career or the procedures that they have a passion for, these conferences can provide good exposure to a range of topics and procedures. They are also potentially good networking opportunities. 
  • Be careful with newly formed/released courses. Just because one of your heroes is offering a brand-new course doesn’t mean you necessarily want to ride the initial wave. I’ve been to multiple courses where it was clear that the kinks hadn’t been worked out, and things felt disorganized. Let a couple rounds of students go through first, and then reach out to someone who’s taken it for their honest opinion. To be fair, I’ve also been to newer CE courses that were incredible and cost significantly less for early attendees than if I had waited until demand had grown. 
  • I’m a huge believer in continuums. It’s so hard to master a subject over a three-day weekend course. Continuums like the Kois Center, Spear Education, the Dawson Academy or the Clinical Mastery Series involve a series of courses that allow you to build on an initial knowledge base and begin implementing concepts between the courses. These are often daunting because of the price tag, but ask around. It’s very rare that you’ll find any buyer’s remorse from those who have been involved in the good continuums. 
  • When selecting CE courses, ask yourself, “What kind of dentist do I really want to be?” and “Will this help me achieve it?” I spent a couple thousand dollars on a denture course because I felt like, as a general dentist, I should be good at them. It turns out I absolutely hate dentures, and now I consistently refer them to other skilled dentists who enjoy doing them. A little aimless wandering or chasing the golden goose procedure is bound to happen in your CE journey, but it’s costly, and you can often cut out the unnecessary expenditures if you take a good hard look at what courses are being offered and are honest with yourself as to whether or not you’re interested in bringing those procedures back to your own office. 
  • Social media is the ultimate equalizer in terms of vetting CE. You’ll be introduced to a greater selection of interesting courses than you could ever possibly take. This is especially true for new dentists who have grown up with Instagram. Keep an eye out for those who are posting about different courses, especially when you see the same ones mentioned repeatedly. Notice when you see peers not just posting about taking a course but also about what they’re doing with that training afterward. 

Reach out to fellow dentists and ask for their honest feedback on the courses they’ve taken and if they feel like each one was worth the cost. Find someone whose work you admire and ask what kind of training it took to be able to do that quality of work. I’ve found that most dentists are incredibly responsive and helpful when it comes to making recommendations to peers. Ultimately, for CE to be worth its price tag, it needs to be something that not only inspires you, but also thoroughly teaches the principles, procedures, techniques and materials in such a way that you can begin implementation immediately. One of the unique and amazing things about our profession is that each individual dentist can (and should) continue his or her education beyond the basics of dental school in whatever way is most individually fulfilling. 

Tom Lawler, DDS, FAGD, is a practicing dentist in Las Vegas.

Ask These Questions When Selecting CE
By Trent Finley, DDS

Ever since I was in dental school, I have been addicted to continuing my education. Dental school only touched on a small number of topics. The vast scope of knowledge beyond dental school can become so overwhelming that many people eventually lose interest in continuing their educations. Besides the wide variety of subject areas, there are many other factors that can cause anyone to have “paralysis by analysis,” such as costs, figuring out time off and implementation difficulties. As I have gone through hundreds of CE hours and courses after graduating in 2020, I have served as a CE liaison to many of my colleagues who have sought advice in selecting courses. I would like to recount some of the questions I have been asked the past few years because I feel it may be helpful to others. Just like anything in dentistry, creating a system for CE selection can ensure that you stay up to date with the latest in our field while also maximizing your return on investment (ROI) in your practice. 

How do you get the most “bang for your buck” when choosing CE? 

Many times, this question applies to “expensive” courses that require hands-on learning to acquire a new skill, such as intravenous sedation or implant placement. The best way to ensure your money and time get put to best use is to ask yourself the following questions before choosing a course: 

  • What is a procedure I currently refer out that my patients could benefit from by keeping it in-house? 
  • If I spent the time and money to learn another skill, how many times would that procedure need to be performed in order to return my investment? 
  • Would I enjoy the procedure enough to make it part of my repertoire? 

Should you have a method to choose CE, or should you choose CE randomly? 

I have done both, actually. Although I do tend to have a method to choose CE, by occasionally selecting random CE, I have learned new things and expanded my scope of dental knowledge in ways I never would have otherwise. My method of selecting CE usually entails answering the questions I listed above. I tend to spend money each year on a large course and then sprinkle in weekly courses about subjects in which I feel the need to improve. If you practice dentistry, you should have questions. Those questions should be written down to answer later through CE articles, videos or upcoming live courses. Questions like, “How can I ensure better primary closure after implant placement?” or “How can I effectively get more predictable full-arch crown impressions?” can help guide you down the wonderful rabbit hole of becoming an excellent clinician for your patients and a great resource for your staff and colleagues. 

Is it better to do in-person or virtual courses? 

Although this can sometimes be more of a personal preference, I feel that I have done well with both. When learning a subject, I enjoy learning online because I can speed up, slow down or pause a course to take notes. I can also reference the course at another time, which can make it useful during implementation (which can improve ROI in your practice). When it comes to hands-on courses, I am a huge proponent of in-person courses. In-person learning has been my preferred method when learning a new skill requiring hand-eye coordination because I can seek immediate assistance and improvement from an on-site instructor. 

Usually if you are teaching a hands-on course, it is because you have mastered your craft in a particular area. The best way to get better, faster and more confident is to replicate a technique that someone else has already perfected and then later put your own personal touch on it. I have seen this time and again as I have attended numerous courses over the past few years. 

Can I get away with just taking free CE courses instead of spending all this money for some slides and a notepad? 

Like anything in life, the saying “You get what you pay for” holds true in dentistry. I have seen it while purchasing dental materials or instruments. Sure, you can buy cheaper, but, at some point, quality diminishes as cost decreases. As I continue to take free courses through various organizations, I have noticed that most of these courses provide the basics of a particular subject. Many of the courses do not provide the “meat” or details needed in order to dive deep and learn or implement them well. Don’t get me wrong, they can be great resources. However, every course I have walked out of feeling intrigued and invigorated about dentistry — leaving the course with seven or eight pages full of notes — is a course that cost something. 

So, as you go about continuing your education, be sure to ask yourself these questions because they will help you stay interested in the field, grow your skill set and, ultimately, give you the ability to increase your profitability. By learning more through CE, whatever your preference is, you will achieve a fulfilling career — which is described by a good friend of mine as one that “provides personal, professional and financial satisfaction.” 

Trent Finley, DDS, is a practicing dentist/owner at Celebrate Dental & Braces in Olathe, Kansas.