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7 Tips for Your First Year Out of Dental School

Published October 21, 2020


Life & Career

Finally becoming a practicing dentist is exciting and can be nerve-wracking as well. Instead of the hours of intense study, you’re now ready to dive into patient care. And you have the pleasure and pressure of figuring out what to do with that new paycheck.

There are many different paths your career can take from here, and none of them are right or wrong. But no matter what direction you go in, here are 7 pieces of advice that will help make the transition as smooth as possible.

1) Live like a student a little bit longer

If you’ve read any financial advice for dentists on the internet, you might have heard this phrase before. It’s almost gospel for financially savvy dentists that you should spend your first few working years living below your means. But why is this advice so important?

The reason is that many dentists fall victim to lifestyle inflation, or lifestyle creep. As their salary grows, so does their spending, and before they know what’s happening, all of their new earnings have been spent and they’re no closer to their larger goals of retirement, paying off their student loans, or achieving their personal financial vision.

Most dentists are dealing with a large amount of student loan debt. Taking out a loan for a dream home or car on top of that debt means even more of your paycheck disappears every month until these loans are paid off and if you’re not tackling your student loans aggressively, that could be more than a decade.

Instead, by spending a few years hunkering down and demolishing those loans and putting early savings into retirement accounts, you’ll be in a much better position to approach the lifestyle you want in the future.

2) Build your emergency fund

Emergency funds they’re almost as fun as budgeting.

You might feel like you don’t need an emergency fund as a dentist, with fairly high job security and robust insurance for worst-case scenarios. However, situations can still arise where you might need more liquidity than a single paycheck can afford.

Many dental workers found themselves out of work for months due to COVID-19 restrictions, and it’s also possible to deal with unpaid parental leave or pauses between jobs when moving. It’s also wise to have enough in your emergency fund to cover your full out-of-pocket deductible for your health insurance, in case of a medical emergency.

You may be reluctant to put money into an emergency fund while you still have student loans, but remember that any credit card or personal loan debt you take on due to an emergency will have a much higher interest rate than your loans, assuming you’re able to get access to credit in the event of a job loss. Although student loans are extremely challenging to deal with, they’ll likely have the lowest interest rate of any debt you’ll take on.

3) Develop self-care strategies

With the pressure that comes with starting your dental career, it’s easy to fall into bad habits around sleep, avoiding exercise, and relying on greasy take-out. Now is the perfect time to reset those habits and start rebuilding healthy practices around self-care.

As you probably know already, taking care of these basic needs is essential to managing your overall mental and physical health – but it’s all too easy to let them fall to the side.

Being a dentist can be hard, both mentally and physically. So, invest in yourself whether that means buying comfortable shoes, starting a meditation practice, learning to love quinoa, or all of the above.

4) Don’t be afraid to change tracks

At this point in your career, it may seem like the professional road ahead is straightforward. But you may also feel locked in based on where you got your first job.

The truth is, dentists’ careers come in many different shapes. Dentists move, decide to start or join a private practice, or even change specialties. Although doing so does mean more school and licensing exams, it’s not impossible if you find yourself pulled to a new dental specialty.

Your dental career is your own, and you should find the path that works best for you – and just because your official student years are over doesn’t mean you should stop exploring all that the dental field has to offer.

5) Get in the habit of remembering names

Knowing who people are by name patients, colleagues, potential mentors, administrative staff is a great way to make everyone in your professional environment feel respected and can help you form a more genuine connection.

You’ll encounter a large number of people professionally, from patients to peers at conferences, that you may only meet infrequently and for short amounts of time but knowing their name regardless demonstrates that you’re an attentive person with a stellar demeanor.

If this is something you struggle with, some helpful tips to try are repeating a person’s name back to them in conversation, particularly toward the end of a conversation, and then writing it down once you’ve left. It can even help to look at lists of names you’ve recently learned. It might feel a bit strange at first to approach learning names like studying for an exam, but what matters is going the extra mile to make people feel seen.

6) Take the time to learn about money

By looking for tips on life after dental school, you’re already ahead of the curve by taking an active interest in how to maximize your financial future.

For dentists who come from families that aren’t wealthy, it can be hard to know how much to put towards retirement, how much to put towards a home, where to put it, and what to expect from it.

For dentists who want to build their wealth to retire comfortably and set their potential kids up with a decent college boost, getting an early start on understanding finances is vital because of the magic of compound interest. Spending a decade storing your growing money in savings accounts is certainly better than not saving, but it means you miss out on the potential passive growth from higher yield investments.

The earlier you start understanding how to invest money to maximize your growth (while respecting your personal risk tolerance), the more your money can grow on its own.

7) Obtain proper insurance coverage

It’s not easy to think about worst-case scenarios, but making sure you have proper insurance coverage is vitally important.

Specifically, make sure you have sufficient disability insurance and term life insurance. They should have the coverage necessary for you and anyone else that depends on your income, such as your partner and children to remain financially stable.

Your term life insurance should be high enough to cover all of your existing debt as well as your salary for the next ten years. If you have kids, you should seriously consider including the cost of their college education as well.

In providing this information, neither Laurel Road nor KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, financial, accounting, or legal advice.

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