Planning the Path Ahead

  • by Gerard Scannell, DDS
  • May 16, 2023
As new dentists, much of our focus is on improving upon what we just learned in dental school. That can include increasing our speed and efficiency of procedures, developing comprehensive treatment plans, or simply being better leaders of our teams. However, making progress on our foundation in the short term should be balanced with planning our career path for the future. If we don’t plan who we want to become and what successes we want to achieve, there’s a good chance we won’t accomplish these goals. We also can’t reach those goals by ourselves and often need to use resources to streamline the process. 

We first need to define what success means to us, whether it’s in our professional or personal lives. Many people think of success in terms of money, but I suggest that mindset be expanded to health and happiness. Identify what goals will accomplish the successes you’re striving for. One of the most proven resources for this is making your goals SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. There are countless prompts online to help you make SMART goals. Apply this principle to any goal when planning the path of your career. 

Working on our professional goals can often both help and hinder accomplishing the goals of our personal lives, so find the right balance that fits the lifestyle you want. I’ve written about being a lifelong student, and I truly believe continuous learning will make for a successful career. One of the best resources for this is continuing education. That can include in-person courses, webinars or self-instruction tests in dental publications you receive in the mail or online (like this one!). And don’t just complete them for the credit. Take the time to learn and understand the material. Your effort will benefit you, your patients and everyone else around you. Another great resource is a dentistry-related podcast. I often listen to them during my commute to work. The AGD Podcast has almost 100 episodes that cover a wide range of dental topics and is accessible on the streaming platform SoundCloud. 

Networking can be another great tool to create a successful career. By building relationships with other dentists, specialists and suppliers in your community, you can expand your professional network and referral base, which can contribute to your success. Opportunities to network are all around. Annual meetings, study clubs and fundraisers are good events to start with. Every month, a local dental society hosts a happy hour for new dentists. Both general dentists and specialists attend, and the connections I’ve made have enhanced the referrals I’ve received from those specialists. 

As dentists, we make a good living doing what we enjoy. Financial success can help us achieve other aspects of success in our careers, whether that’s further investing in your practice and team, taking a high-level training course to enhance your skills, or even paying off your student debt. A good financial adviser and accountant can make a positive difference in the success of your career. Choosing one can be tough, and asking your colleagues and mentors for recommendations is a great place to start. A few books that have been recommended to me to help achieve financial success as a healthcare provider are “The White Coat Investor” by James M. Dahle, MD; “The Financial Survival Guide for Dentists” by Sam S. Shamardi, DMD; and “The Resourceful Dentist” by Chad Olivier, CFP. 

Defining the time frame in which you want to achieve each step in your career is critical. Choosing an estimated age for retirement, if you’d like, can be a good bookend for creating the timeline of your career. Then add what your accomplishments will be along the way and when those should happen to ensure the success you’ve defined. To help define your timeline, keep in mind this quote often credited to Bill Gates: “People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” The most valuable nonrenewable resource we have is time, so use it wisely. 

It’s important for us to regularly review our career goals. We are in an ever-evolving profession, and our career path should be flexible with the changing times. There is no one sure path to success. Everyone is on their own journey, and everyone has a different trajectory. Make it your own, and make it count. 

Gerard Scannell, DDS, is a general dentist practicing in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. He is the AGD Impact Communications columnist. To comment on this article, email