You made it through dental school, congrats! What a huge accomplishment. The good news is that you are joining an industry with some of the highest job satisfaction ratings. If dentistry is your passion, you are solidifying a very enjoyable and fulfilling life by pursuing it.
Now that you’ve finished school, the question facing you is whether or not you’ll jump in head first and start your own practice, or join an established corporate structure.
Of course, these aren’t the only options, you could join an established private practice, perhaps find a seasoned, experienced dentist to work with. You could purchase an existing practice, or form a partnership. You could go into a residency or pursue a specialty. There are a lot of options. However, the vast majority will focus on either starting their own practice or joining a larger corporation. They’ll either be an employee or an employer.
Which is best for you? Here are some considerations.
Starting your own practice
- You make the decisions
- Control over the direction of the practice
- Higher income potential
- Set your own schedule
- More debt
- Tough to compete initially with more established practices
- Lower income initially
- Higher potential stress / more responsibilities
Perhaps the underlying theme here is autonomy. You have the freedom to make decisions as an entrepreneur. Beyond the dentistry, you’re a business owner. Your income is dependent on your business savviness as much as it is your skill in dentistry. That’s something that many graduating dental students overlook.
By starting your own practice you are taking on more debt initially, you are earning less, you are creating more stress for yourself, but you are trading that for the opportunity to have far more freedom and income earning potential down the road.
Joining a Corporation
- Learn the industry while assuming less risk
- Tools and training
- Dependable high starting pay and benefits
- Brand recognition, already established patient base
- Easier to manage industry regulations
- Continuing education
- Slows down your growth potential
- Set hours
Joining a corporation means you have to play by their rules. You are the low man on the totem poll which means you may be given the cases the others don’t want. Your hard work won’t see the same payoffs as if you had a vested interest in the success of the practice. But you are trading these for a dependable paycheck, a low-stress environment and a desirable work / home life balance.
Admittedly, our positives / negatives lists are a bit subjective because, perhaps some dental grads have no desire to manage employees or make managerial decisions. They might be perfectly content allowing someone else to do that for them while they come in every day, work and then head home stress-free. Others, see that lifestyle as mundane, and wish to be their own boss, to be the key role in the success or failure of the practice.
Therefore, what starts with a question of “should I go the private or corporate practice route”, when you peel back the layers you realize it goes much deeper than that.
The question is, what type of life do you see for yourself? Are you looking for schedule flexibility? Are you looking for strong work / personal life balance? Where do you want to live? What type of house do you want to have, what does your eventual retirement look like, what are you looking to accomplish both in your professional life and outside it? What will give you the most fulfilling life?
These are all deeply personal questions and should be thought through carefully. Purchasing or starting a private practice right out of school adds a massive load of debt to whatever student loan debt you’ve already acquired. Then adding a mortgage or any other type of personal debt and things can get tough to manage quickly.
This is why it is appealing to many dental grads to join an established practice out of school, whether a large corporation or an established private practice. Work a few years, gain valuable experience and learn the industry from a hands-on perspective before branching out on their own.
Our advice is to start with the life questions first. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this. What do you want to accomplish both professionally and personally? The answer to the life questions will help to guide your professional decisions.