Dear New Resident: Tips to Transitioning from Dental School to Residency

By: Savannah Craig

Deciding to pursue a residency program is a big decision and there are a lot of reasons why someone would choose to pursue a residency program.

Spending a year as a resident was truly the best decision I’ve ever made, but like anything, there are ups and downs. 

The Transition from Dental School to Residency

The transition from dental school to residency can be overwhelming at first. You’ll probably be seeing many more patients a day in residency than you did in dental school.

Learning to balance treating patients and doing hygiene checks can be complicated.

You must learn to pivot between a variety of different types of treatment and patient personalities in a matter of minutes.

Dental school trained you how to be a dentist, but residency will teach you how to work with a dental assistant, be a member of a team, and communicate with patients. 

3 Tips to Make the Transition to Residency Easier

1. Don’t Compare Yourself to Your Classmates

Don’t compare yourself to your classmates who went out into private practice.

It can be easy to look at your friends in private practice who are making more money and wonder if you’ve made the right decision. However, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and money isn’t everything.

Your residency stipend will feel like a pay bump from dental school and can provide you the opportunity to develop good financial habits.

Remember why you chose to do a residency. You’re gaining more skills and knowledge which will benefit you in the long run. Delaying gratification can be hard, but I promise you’ll look back over your career and realize this year of your life was worth it.

2. Have an Open Mind

Have an open mind and try to put your best foot forward.

A good residency program should challenge how you think and encourage you to think differently. If you ask 10 dentists for their opinions, you’ll get 10 different opinions. Residency is no different.

If there was only one correct way to practice dentistry, we would all practice the same. That can seem frustrating at the moment, but honestly, it’s the beauty of dentistry.

You are the sum of all your teachers and mentors. The way you will practice dentistry is influenced by the experiences you allow yourself to have.

Keep your mind open to ideas that challenge how you are taught in dental school. Try something new and you might be shocked at what new concepts might make your life easier. 

There will be days that you disagree with your co-residents, attendings, and colleagues. Learn to have a professional discussion with those you disagree with. Learn to defend your point of view but realize that there may be another way that you have never considered.

3. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

It’s okay to make mistakes. You are a human being who is not perfect. The benefit of residency, hopefully, is that you have attendings and mentors to help you through those mistakes.

Take some calculated risks while you have a backup. Make the mistakes, experience the bad outcomes, and how to handle them while you’re in residency.

Don’t be ashamed of your bad outcomes. Be humble enough to share your struggles with your co-residents so that you can all learn and grow together. 

In Conclusion

I hope that you look back at this residency experience fondly.

I hope that you’ve grown as a person and as a dentist. Allow your mind to be opened to new ideas.

Do something you never thought you would do. Good luck, Doctor! You’re going to do great! 

Photo by Polina Zimmerman

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig

Savanah Craig is a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. She is currently a 2022 D.D.S. Candidate at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. She will be pursuing a General Practice Residency in Columbia, SC following graduation. In her free time, Savanah enjoys reading, exploring new restaurants, and traveling.