Dental students asked, and Dr. Jim Clark answered.
With 36 years of clinical experience and business acumen, Dr. Clark shares endless insight for anyone whose future plans includes dentistry. Because he has bought and sold dental practices throughout his career, Dr. Clark offers valuable tips on getting a successful start and expert knowledge on how to avoid mistakes along the way.
13 answers to questions on every dental student’s mind
Based on his years of experience in the worlds of dentistry and business, Dr. Jim Clark shares responses to questions dental students ask. Dr. Clark is a Dental Transitions Specialist with Benco Dental.
1. Would you choose dentistry again if you could do it all over, and why?
Dr. Clark: “I absolutely would. It’s a respected profession. Who doesn’t want to participate in a respected profession? You’re able to use your technical skills, develop your problem-solving skills and put them together to provide a wonderful service for patients. Most patients highly regard our profession, and they appreciate the services that we provide.”
2. Any regrets on your choices or the path you’ve taken throughout your career?
Dr. Clark: “Not at all. I’ve done almost everything you can do in dentistry: been a military dentist for a period of time, a multiple practice owner, a single practice owner, run large practices and small practices, and just been fortunate in the career that I’ve had.”
3. What piece of advice would you give to a current dental student, and to someone who just graduated from dental school?
Dr. Clark: “It sounds simplistic, but before private practice, work on mastering the basic skills. For instance, as a new graduate, it takes more than just two years of clinical work and dental school to really get your speed up and to gain confidence in doing basic operative and basic crown and bridge.”
4. Any advice for a new graduate who’s a little lost?
Dr. Clark: “Try to attach to a mentor. You can find that person through a postgraduate program, or as an associate in a practice where you have an excellent dentist ahead of you to lean on to further your skills.”
5. Any lesson that took your entire dental career to figure out, or that you learned later in your profession?
Dr. Clark: Your question summed it up — that’s why they call it a dental practice. You never master it. You’re learning every day. And dentistry is changing and evolving. Just look at COVID and how we’ve had to adapt to sudden changes. Dentistry is a continual learning process — that’s really what makes it exciting and never boring.
6. How’s your back – and overall health?
Dr. Clark: Great question. One thing about dentistry — it’s hard work. For instance, when I was young, I was able to work six days a week, eight hours a day. The long goal: Use ergonomics. Make sure that you get the best chairs. Practice four-handed dentistry, and protect your back the whole way. I, like all dentists, have head, neck, and back issues. At my age, I’m really in pretty good shape. Exercise is a key in preventing that. Remember this: Don’t get so bogged down in your practice that you don’t take care of yourself.
7. How did you invest or spend your income from dentistry? How much did you put back into the business?
Dr. Clark: Obviously, you want to invest back in your practice – with continuing education, and the right equipment. That doesn’t mean the most expensive, but always the right equipment to perform the best services for your patients.
Aside from that, anytime I’ve invested the money earned through dentistry, it’s been in real estate. Besides a little glitch in the late 2000s, which everybody had, it’s been a reliable medium for me. No matter what: Do what interests you.
I’m a pretty good multitasker and I enjoy real estate, it’s almost a hobby. So, I built houses as a side interest. Definitely invest your time and money in what you enjoy; it could be the stock market or another pursuit.
8. Any topics you think new grads should focus their individual learning on as they go through school?
Dr. Clark: Make sure you get the basics down — but not just basic operative dentistry. Stay on top of what I call the basics: perio, operative, and crown and bridge. I continually researched and read to ensure I had the right materials, the right bonding agents. We’re in a non-amalgam world now, and I was doing posterior composites 25 years ago. What are you interested in – laser technology milling or designing your crowns? If you’re branching out, pick what interests you and what you see as the emphasis of your practice as you move forward.
9. Which guidance helped most when you were learning how to do a treatment plan properly?
Dr. Clark: First, use common sense and fix what the patient is concerned about. Second, fix the problems that are most pressing going forward, that they may not even know about. Third, help guide them as far as cosmetic issues.
10. Looking back, how could you have improved on your journey in dentistry?
Dr. Clark: You’ll have to find balance coming out of school, but get all the CE you can. I took a lot of CE, but sometimes I felt like I couldn’t afford to take time off. I should have, though. Mostly, I pushed through it. You’ll never, never regret that. Sometimes you may not even use the CE that you study, but it will help you decide which procedures or techniques you don’t want to do. It’s a balance. Probably all dentists would say that, even if it means time away from the practice.
11. During your career, what helped you decide where to refer patients? What made one specialist stand out from the rest?
Dr. Clark: Specialists have to treat the patients like I want them to be treated. A lot of specialists out there do excellent work, but don’t have good communication skills. That always comes back to you. You’ll find that you’ve sent somebody to the endodontist and they had a perfect root canal, but maybe that specialist didn’t communicate some soreness that could come down the road. Choose a specialist who is going to make you look good, because that’s the bottom line, right?
12. Which aspect of dentistry attracted you most to the field?
Dr. Clark: It’s a respected profession. You are your own boss. You can choose your own path. People come to us hurting and we take the pain away. Most patients understand that. I think that’s the real golden egg we’re able to provide our patients. I’m proud of our profession. We’re the only profession that tries to put ourselves out of business. We do. We promote preventive health over, and over, and over again. But there’s plenty of work to be done out there and so, we want our patients to be as healthy as possible.
13. Did you know for a long time that you wanted to get into dentistry?
Dr. Clark: There were two major influences in my life: orthodontics, when I was 12, and an uncle who was a dentist. I was going to go into practice with that uncle and then changed my mind at the last minute. He was in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I was a southern boy who wasn’t ready to live in the cold yet. I loved the way my orthodontist practiced and thought for many years I’d be an orthodontist. When I got to school, though, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one thing.
Looking for more tips to help on your road to dental success?
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