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As a dental professional, you spend a lot of time worrying about your patients’ dental health. But how often do you pause to consider the health of your dental career? When you graduated and began working as a dental professional, you probably had a few long-term career goals (like owning your own practice, right?). But it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day rush of patients and paperwork. Suddenly, a few years have gone by. Where are you with your career goals now? Perhaps you love your current position, but you’ve become a little too comfortable with the daily routine. Or maybe your dental career has stalled, and you aren’t sure what to do next.
The good news is that these sorts of career questions are totally normal. They also have a simple solution: create a career plan. A career plan is the perfect way to reflect on where you’ve been, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there, while also considering your skills, talents, and interests. Plus, there’s no better time than the end of the year to review your career goals. In fact, taking a step back to examine your dental career can provide the ideal opportunity to launch into an exciting second or even third act in the new year.
Ready to get started and create a career plan that’s right for you? Follow along with our six-step guide to your dental career plan for 2020.
The first essential element in creating a career plan is to reflect on the previous year. What did you achieve over the last 12 months? Perhaps you started taking on some new responsibilities at your dental office or you expanded your skills through continuing educational opportunities. Next, consider what didn’t go quite so well over the past year. Sure, no one really wants to revisit the times they struggled or failed, but these experiences can be helpful in identifying areas that need improvement and setting goals for the future year accordingly.
You might be thinking, “Great, another self-assessment that won’t tell me anything I don’t already know.” We’ve all completed the quizzes and exercises at one point or another. These assessments identify your personality, core values, communications habits, etc. While it might not feel productive to revisit these, self-assessment is a crucial part of creating an effective career plan. Instead of completing a quiz, however, consider the following questions and write down your answers. These will help you focus on what’s most important to you at this moment and set you up for step three.
Now that you’ve finished your reflection and self-assessment (i.e. where you are now and where you want to go), it’s time to start thinking about how you can achieve your goals for the coming year. That’s where S.M.A.R.T. comes in. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. When you’re setting goals for the coming year, make sure they check off each of these requirements.
For example, let’s say you want to become an Expanded Function Dental Assistant. While this is a great goal and a sure way to grow your skills and dental career opportunities, becoming an EFDA doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why you’ll need to be a bit more precise when it comes to creating your career plan. Instead, perhaps your goal for 2020 is to enroll in an EFDA program by the start of summer, take one or two courses in the fall, earn top grades in all your coursework, and be able to apply what you’re learning to your dental practice by the end of next year. Now that’s a S.M.A.R.T. goal!
If you’re following along, by now you should have a list of clearly defined goals you want to pursue. Hopefully, a lot of these goals are specific and achievable within the next year. Still, we can’t forget the long-term goals in our career plan. In the example we looked at above, becoming an EFDA is the long-term goal. The short-term goals are the steps you need to take to get there. If your list is all long-term goals, break those down into objectives you can meet in the short-term. If your list is all about the next year, consider adding in some bigger picture goals, like your dream of starting your own dental practice. A career plan needs both short- and long-term benchmarks to be truly effective.
Now that you have all your short- and long-term goals and an inventory of your current skills and interests, it’s time to move forward and think about the steps you’ll need to take to accomplish these goals. If your goals are S.M.A.R.T. this should be an easy step. First, for goals with a due date, add them to your calendar, and include check-in dates along the way so you can assess your progress and stay on track. For goals that are a bit more nebulous, spend some time thinking about the best way to achieve them. Do you need to reach out to your network of dental colleagues and ask about EFDA programs? Maybe you need to do an informational interview with a mentor to get insight on what other dental careers might be a good fit for you. Whatever your plans are, write them down. Research has shown that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve goals that are written out.
Last, find a colleague, mentor, or friend who will hold you accountable to the goals you’ve set. Most often, career plans fail simply because professionals forget what they’re working toward. It’s easy to get caught up with patients, struggle to find the time to pursue your goals, or come up with a myriad of excuses as to why you just can’t take that EFDA course right now. That’s why having a partner to hold you accountable is crucial. A partner will ensure you meet your deadlines, and help you come up with a new plan when things go off track (as they almost always do).