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What if I don't like or enjoy veterinary dentistry?

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Aug 13th 2015 - By Dr Natasha Wilks, High Performance Vets
What If I Dont Like Or Enjoy Veterinary Dentistry

As a veterinarian, I will admit that at times I’ve had a love hate relationship with dentistry.  

I still remember in my second practice as a recent graduate, I was working sole charge and had to extract a carnassial on a Labrador….I was still going an hour later.  After being incredibly frustrated, I finally made a phone call only to find out I was doing it wrong.

I considered myself lucky when practicing in the UK to have a dedicated team member who was highly experienced in dentistry and who performed all the procedures.  I became great at avoiding dentals!

Since then, I have mainly worked sole charge in practice and so dentistry isn’t something I could avoid anymore.  I had to determine if I disliked dentistry or lacked skills and confidence.  I found that I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of dentistry as I lacked the knowledge, skills and confidence.

Dentistry is a very important part of veterinary practice today.  Now that we know more, we should be proactive.  I look back in horror at the number of dogs I never advised treating even though they had early dental disease, as it didn’t seem necessary to me.  

In what is to become a very crowded marketplace for employment in the future, having an interest and being skilled in dentistry will give you a competitive edge.  This becomes a win for the practice as you have the ability to generate a higher turnover, and a win for you as you can negotiate a higher salary.

What is Your Attitude to Dentistry?

I would advise you look at your mindset and ask yourself the same question as I did. 

Do I really dislike dentistry, do I lack the knowledge, skills and confidence or am I just bored by it?

I would encourage you to become familiar with Carol Dweck’s work around the Growth versus Fixed Mindset.  I am able to look back and realise the areas in my life and career where I had a fixed mindset.  This meant that as I believed I wasn’t talented in the area of dentistry, I wouldn’t be able to improve and therefore I wouldn’t bother with it.  Now I have developed a growth mindset and so am able to employ a curiosity of learning and persist in the face of challenges as I know with repeated effort, my skills will improve. 

Evaluate your Knowledge, Skills and Experience

Take the time to honestly evaluate yourself in the following three areas of dentistry:  

  • Your level of knowledge,
  • Your current skills and
  • Your experience.  

Develop a growth mindset and be open to increase each of these areas by taking courses and workshops to increase your level of knowledge.  Then go back to your clinic and apply that knowledge to increase your skills which in turn will increase your experience.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, he discusses Anders K. Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice and the 10,000 hour rule to mastery.  While there is some recent arguments against the 10,000 hour rule, people do agree that consistent, deliberate practice and focusing on gradual improvement will lead to an increase in your skill and in turn develop your expertise.  However, you can’t do the same thing for 10,000 hours and expect mastery. Instead you need to focus on where you can change or refine your technique to improve.  When this is applied consistently, you will increase your skill due to a compounding effect.

The Competence-Confidence Loop

What is your level of confidence?  A lack of confidence can affect your enthusiasm for dental procedures. Remember back to when you first graduated and everything seemed so overwhelming and challenging?  Now consider your level of knowledge and skill.  As you have learned, been challenged and gained experience, what was previously challenging and scary now seems routine. The same applies to dentistry.

Apply the competence-confidence loop with dentistry. The more knowledge you gain and then apply this knowledge in building your skills, the more your confidence levels increase. The more confidence you develop, your willingness to do more dental procedures will increase which in turn increases your competence leading to more confidence. I see this as an upward spiral effect.

When you are confident in your abilities, it is conveyed, consciously and unconsciously, in your communication with clients.

Clients are more likely to follow your recommendations when they trust you and have confidence in your skills.

Regain Your Sense of Engagement and Achievement

If you are not gaining a sense of enjoyment, engagement and achievement from dentistry, it may be because you have hit a plateau.

Evaluate which aspect of dentistry you find challenging and which gives you to a sense of satisfaction and achievement and then do more of that.

Aim for the next level in your knowledge and skills by taking more advanced courses and/or spending time with more experienced practitioners or specialists.

So take some time and evaluate where you're at....

Take the time to evaluate your current level of knowledge, skills, experience, confidence level and interest in dentistry.  You can even separate this into a more detailed list of procedures associated with dentistry.  You can make it as simple or complicated as you like, but I find that complicated doesn’t get done. 

The key is to critically evaluate your current level and use this to determine in what areas you need to build knowledge, skills, experience and confidence. 

Employ a growth mindset, focus on deliberate practice to continually improve and remember the competence-confidence loop to accelerate your skills.  It isn’t just about learning but also applying the learning to help you find enjoyment, engagement and achievement in dentistry.

What you enjoy and gain a sense of achievement from, you will do more of - including dentistry.

About Natasha

Dr Natasha Wilks BVSc DipCoaching, is a Veterinarian and Executive Coach.  Natasha created High Performance Vets to help veterinarians thrive in their career & improve their wellbeing.  She is passionate about reducing stress in practice, creating resilient & positive mindsets, building client relationships and increasing veterinarian's income.


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