By: Dr. Troy Bacon

I graduated from residency this past June and am still very much a neophyte in the orthodontic community.  These are some early observations from my brief time as a professional out in the real world that I hope can benefit other young docs that are still in school and will be graduating in the near future.

I heard about these things but now I know they’re real.

Adopting the right attitude is essential

Parents will ask ridiculous questions, some patients will be maddeningly high maintenance, office staff will gossip, no-shows and de-bonds happen, employers will make promises but won’t follow through, general practitioners and other specialists will recommend treatment that you don’t agree with, and vendors are always trying to peddle you something that costs money.  Everyone has been warned about these things as residents but experiencing it all as a practitioner is a different sensation.  It’s easy to want to beat your head against the wall.  It’s just as easy to accept the fact that those things come with the job title and the only thing you can control is the way you respond to it all, the way you communicate with others, and the effort you put forth to find better ways to negotiate obstacles.  Expecting to be encountered by problems (both big and small) on a daily basis mitigates the frustration when they inevitably occur.

Be careful about who you complain to

Nobody is immune to life’s frustrations and blowing off steam is therapeutic and instinctual.  We all do it and I’m as guilty as anyone in this respect.  I’m not telling you to practice abstinence but I am suggesting that you treat those comments like you treat disposable waste.  Wrap them up, throw them into your emotional container, and pack it all OUT of the office at the end of the day.  Let someone else make the remark about the patient or the staff member or the boss that did the thing that wasn’t as it should have been and save your own commentary for someone else at a different time.  Saying anything negative in the workplace, no matter how true or justified it is, is taking a tremendous risk and is entirely detrimental.  It sets a bad example, is counterproductive for team chemistry, creates jealousy and mistrust, and those messages are often passed along to an unintended listener.  I’ve seen it cost two different coworkers their jobs already.  Proceed down this pathway with extreme caution or better yet, choose another route altogether.

What I didn’t expect…

The job search

Employment agreements and job interviews were new frontiers for me and the process is entirely different from interviewing for schools and residency programs.  I was not once asked about my research experience, class ranking, or board scores.  Nobody requested that I demonstrate how to bend a closing loop, inquired about my preference of TAD, or cared to have me illustrate the stress-strain curve of nitinol.  Ethics regarding patient care, communication skills, the ability to work expeditiously, the flexibility and availability to work weekends and/or travel, and the willingness to market the practice and connect with the community are all topics that have consistently come up during these conversations.  Interpersonal skills are more greatly emphasized than anything else.

 Listening is one of the most demanding aspects of what we do

For better and for worse, you’ve never been this popular before and people will talk to you A LOT.  Having the ability to calmly endure the 10 minute narrative from a teenage boy’s mother regarding the inexplicable nature of his beefy, bleeding, food-debris slathered gingiva despite his fastidious daily use of a water pick, floss threaders, electric toothbrush, warm salt water rinses and avoidance of all carbonated and sugar filled drinks requires Jedi level patience.  You know the story isn’t true but you listen anyways because that’s part of providing the best service for that patient and his mother.  We are trained to diagnose, recommend treatment, and give instructions – all things that require us to communicate to our patients.  What many patients want is a doctor that they can communicate to and who will empathize with their concerns.  It can be tiring and frustrating but making the effort to listen is much less time consuming than trying to explain why their opinion just isn’t right, prevents conflict from occurring because a patient doesn’t feel respected, empowers the patient to feel that they are active in their own treatment, and goes a long ways in building trust and rapport.

The toughest part…

Pickings are slim

This could also be filed underneath the first heading because I had previously been cautioned many times that competition and saturation among orthodontists (and GPs offering orthodontic treatment) are high.  Those warning shots were not blanks and this trend isn’t slowing down.  I don’t know anyone who’s graduated and stepped right into their dream scenario.  Be open to working for people/groups you might not have expected to in places that you didn’t plan on.

The best part…

All of that time spent in school was worth it

Being an orthodontist is fun!  Getting to work with people to improve their health, well-being and confidence is awesome.  Quarterbacking a team that must perform well to succeed in serving your patients is an exciting challenge.  The headaches, nuisances and responsibilities of the day-to-day stuff get a lot of the spotlight but those are first world problems at most.  “Bad days” in the ortho office aren’t truly bad days.  It’s a privilege to be a care provider in a community and there is a lot of satisfaction in earning the trust of families and individuals that choose you as their doctor.  It took a long time to get to this point.  It was hard, crazy expensive, required a lot of personal sacrifice and the next steps aren’t going to be a cakewalk by any means, but I’ve never been more enthusiastic and optimistic about what lies ahead.  The future feels bright!



4 thoughts on “Out in the Real World

  1. Great points from a young doctor. I agree and think this was extremely well written and hopefully will be shared with many. Nice Job.

  2. Glad you liked it Chris! We would love to have you share your insight on OrthoPundit if you get a chance. Lots of people could learn from your wisdom and experience!

  3. Dr. Bacon’s article was spot on. It reminded of something I read about Warren Buffet. A young MBA student asked him, “What was the first thing you did when you graduated the MBA program?” He said,”I took the Dale Carnegie course. I knew I would be more successful and profitable if I first improved my communication skills.” The rest is history!

Comments are closed.