For Clinicians

The qualities of a successful dentist

Dr. Karl Walker-Finch is the Principal Dentist of Smiles in Tandem in Huddersfield. His practice is mainly limited to dental implants and cosmetic treatment. He also mentors and lectures on the Masters in Dental Implantology programme at ICE with the University of Salford.

Within this article, Dr. Walker-Finch discusses his career journey and what it takes to become a successful dentist.  

Some dentists love what they do and some dentists don’t. This divide in dentistry is a chasm that has long been present and I fear it is going to continue to widen. 

Let’s make no bones about it, being a dentist can be hard. There are external factors like regulators and fear of litigation, along with the burdens we put on ourselves like perfectionism, imposter syndrome, or the feelings of inadequacy when we see incredible work other dentists are doing on social media. 

For a long time, I struggled to enjoy being a dentist. I was perplexed by how anyone could love fixing teeth like I could see some people do. I wasn’t sure if I was in the right profession and I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t be able to sustain a thirty or forty-year career “drilling and filling”.

Eleven years into my career, I can now say confidently that I love being a dentist. There was no light bulb moment that saw me shift from pain to passion but a gradual transition through a process of reflection and self-improvement. Nobody emerges from the womb with a passion to look in people’s mouths and there are many steps we can take to build successful careers for ourselves in dentistry.

Five steps to building a fulfilling and successful career in dentistry

Strive to make a difference 

I love the opportunities I have every day to help my patients and make a difference in their lives. I know that because of my passion, my enthusiasm, and my eagerness to continue to get better every day, I’m providing better care for my patients. It also makes me a better colleague to the team around me and a better husband and father at home. 

Embrace change 

The only constant in life is change. The world is evolving around us all the time, so if we’re not getting better, we’re getting worse. By trying to resist change, we spend all our resources fighting a losing battle. It’s far better to channel our energy into embracing the improvements in the world around us and making the most of the opportunities that these changes present.

Look after your mental health

Our mental health has an impact on us as professionals and human beings. Even with love and passion for what I do, I’m not immune to the highs and lows of life. Self-awareness and openness about my periods of low mood have empowered me to manage them better rather than wasting energy pretending they don’t exist. I hope that by actually talking about my experiences of depression, rather than just sharing #itsoktotalk, others will be able to look their demons square in the eye and not feel they have to hide them. 

Get to know your patients

People are the best part of the job. We help people, we don’t just fix teeth. By taking the time to find out who our patient is, not just what they want us to fix, we can begin to truly help the person and start making a real difference in their lives.

Find a balance

Burnout happens when you work so hard at the expense of everything else. Building a balanced life is about enjoying our time now, not just living for a future that might never happen. It’s about finding a structure that allows us to perform at our best consistently in the long term, not just as dentists, but for our loved ones too.

We’re taught in dental school how to spot holes in teeth and fill them again. It took me years to realise that there’s so much more to fixing teeth than fixing teeth. I want to share my journey and what I believe are the most important building blocks for a fulfilling career in dentistry, full of passion and pride for what you do.

I have written a book – In The Loupe – that I hope will inspire a new passion for dentistry. I want it to help those that are becoming disillusioned with the profession, and those struggling to find their place. It’s for anyone who already enjoys what they do, who wants to keep growing and become a little bit better every day. I hope that my book will empower dental professionals everywhere to start building towards a lifelong passion.

Profits from the sales of the book will be going to Confidental which provides life-saving emergency support to dentists in crisis.

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