The 'cold truth' about dentistry

Raul Escalante, DDS, a dentist based in San Marcos, Calif., was not prepared to run a practice when he started his career more than three decades ago. 

He recently spoke with Becker's about what he wishes he knew before getting into the field.

Editor's note: This response was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What do you wish you knew before starting your career in dentistry?

Dr. Raul Escalante: I started my career in dentistry 33 years ago and graduated from dental school at the age of 26. I thought at the time, that once I had my degree, it would be easy to get started, just hang up a sign at some strip mall "and they will come." Boy, was I wrong. Dental school did not prepare me for the business side of dentistry. A career in dentistry isn't just about working on teeth, it's also about running a business. You have to be familiar with tax laws, payroll, overhead management, advertising, dealing with employees, purchasing equipment and on and on. I had no idea how to deal with any of these issues when I started. 

I've heard it many times throughout my career, people saying when you come out of dental school, you are just a "safe beginner." It's very true, coming out of dental school, you don't really know how to deal with difficult patients, time management, difficult staff, none of that. You may have an idea, but that would be your own intuition. I wish someone or maybe a class in dental school would have told me back then, "Look, as rewarding as dentistry is, it's also very challenging."  Not everyone is going to love you and you will make many mistakes, that is the cold truth. I wish someone would have told me dentistry is hard on your body, your back will ache, your neck and sometimes your hands. You have to be dedicated and be willing to put in long hours and sometimes, in spite of you doing that, it doesn't pay off. 

Looking back, however, I've had many highs and lows throughout my 33-year career. Of course, there would be things I might have done differently. Bottom line though, I would gladly choose dentistry as a career all over again. In spite of everything, dentistry has given me a lot of freedom to work on my own and make a decent living. Dentistry has been very fulfilling for me, but I will agree, you have to have a certain personality to choose this field.

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