Starting a Residency

With nearly a dozen types of dental residencies available, each program is unique in its experience, rigor, education style and culture. Beginning a program in oral and maxillofacial surgery is going to be completely different than starting advanced training in orthodontics. However, this is a new and exciting chapter in your life, and how you approach it can make or break your time before you hit the real world of practice. Residency is still a time of learning and personal and professional development, yet still provides that protective veil for mistakes, mishaps and full-on crashing and burning.

Who to contact

  1. Current residents: They have first-hand knowledge of your program and you will want that intel. Be open to reaching out for contact information and don’t be afraid to request a phone call prior to starting. Ask things about lodging, best places to live, on-call responsibilities, vacation, maternity/paternity leave, the good, the bad and the ugly.
  2. Your co-residents: Need a roommate, perhaps? Anyone moving with families? Daycare needs? For those moving to new cities, some pre-start date coordination can help smooth the process with your co-residents, a.k.a potential comrades for life.
  3. Your program director: They will contact you prior to your start date, but you may need to reach out personally for any private matters to bring forth. This can help with scheduling going forward.

Respect the existing policies and systems

  1. Each hospital, school and facility have their own rules and regulations. Things are in place for a reason, and can be very difficult to change.
  2. For all intents and purposes, you are still a student. You earned the ‘doctor’ title, but you are not suddenly a beacon of all knowledge and wisdom in dentistry or your sub-specialty. Faculty and instructors notice when residents come in willing to learn and work hard. They also notice those students who are arrogant, complain and are not willing to accept the responsibilities laid out.

Pay attention to your interactions with people

  1. You had plenty of patient interactions in school, now multiply that 100-fold! Day in and day out you could be interacting with people from all ages, cultural, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Listen to your patients, it is a priceless gift to have.
  2. How are your responses to patient concerns? How are you talking to people daily? What words do you use? Observe body language, eye contact and overall demeanor of your patients and family members. You may not realize that certain things you say may come across as offensive or misguided. Residency is a perfect time to hone in on those communication skills.
  3. There will be trying times: people will get under your skin. Some comments can hurt, but it’s a learning process, and you will make it through. Lean on your friends, colleagues and loved ones.

Starting out

  1. Prepare for more work than you’ve ever seen before: you’ll see more patients in an hour than you may have seen in a full day in dental school.
  2. Ask questions: learning your program responsibilities will be like drinking through a fire hydrant.
  3. Take notes: keep a pen and notebook handy if one isn’t already given to you—maybe create a “cheat sheet” of tidbits for yourself as you go along.
  4. Take care of yourself: eating, sleeping and exercise habits will be affected, so develop a routine to make sure you stay healthy. There is a long road ahead. Don’t compromise on the basic necessities to stay afloat mentally and physically.

This content was developed in cooperation with Dr. Aruna Rao, Minnesota ’12, pediatric dentist in Minnesota.

Read 5 ways you can rock your residency for advice on how to ease the transition from school to residency.