A.J. Vashi, DDS, admittedly was not involved in organized dentistry and leadership when he was a student at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry — he was uncomfortable with the idea of attending professional social events and didn’t see the benefit of it.
It was a few years after graduating when he found himself in unfamiliar territory that he realized how valuable networking is for a young dentist.
Less than a year into his career, Vashi was working as an associate for a dentist who had been diagnosed with cancer. Three weeks after he joined the practice, the owner dentist passed away and suddenly he was the one left to take over.
“I was a new dentist, fresh out of school, just trying to get used to having a job at that point, I had no idea about how to manage people and what I needed to do to maintain the practice,” Vashi recalled.
Not long after he purchased the practice (the previous dentist’s wife gave him the opportunity to bid on it), a few of the specialists who had worked with the practice in the past reached out to Vashi and encouraged him to attend a San Gabriel Valley Dental Society meeting. From that point on, his outlook on networking changed forever.
The dentists made an effort to introduce him to the executive director of the dental society to give him a foot in the door.
“I started to network and meet more and more dentists and it really made me feel like I wasn’t alone anymore,” Vashi said.
He was able to use his new connections to glean advice on treatment planning, office management, purchasing new dental products and more.
“It was just so refreshing to be able to bounce ideas off of other dentists,” Vashi said.
While it took a belated nudge to get him to jump in to the world of networking, Vashi now recommends dental students and new dentists start doing the same early and often in their careers. Networking at the local dental societies, getting involved in organized dentistry or attending dental conventions are just some of the ways dentists can do this.
According to the Becoming a Great Associate: Advice from your Peers resource on the CDA Compass (cda.org/compass), it is important for dental students to begin networking and getting their names out in the community at least six to nine months before they expect to start working as an associate. Even if they’re not sure where they will eventually land after graduation, they should start attending alumni and local dental society events while in school to meet practicing dentists.
Nicholas Marongiu, DDS, is the chair of CDA’s New Dentist Committee and says networking will make help make new dentists known in a competitive job market.
“Being well-networked can lead to personal recommendations and opportunities that are not being openly advertised for,” Marongiu said. “Ultimately, you want to network and be well enough known so when someone reads your resume, they already know you and can recall at least a conversation with you.”
Tina Beck, DDS, MS, began contacting different dentists in her first year of residency at the UCLA School of Dentistry. She received a job opportunity through a friend of a friend who had heard about Beck during her networking efforts.
“I had been communicating with several specialists such as periodontitis during my job hunt and through connections and good words, I landed my first job,” Beck said.
Beck, who now owns her own practice, knows firsthand how networking has helped not only her, but also her colleagues.
“A friend of mine who is a pediatric dentist was in a car accident and hasn’t been able to practice for more than seven months now. He was able to call a bunch of his pediatric dentist colleagues that he had built up relationships with and they have been filling in for him while he is out,” Beck said. “These are the type of situations you can’t prepare enough for, and having an established support system around you is key to protecting yourself and your practice.”
Marongiu agrees that a support system is a vital piece of maintaining a productive career in dentistry.
“Having an established network where you can simply make a quick phone call and get advice is invaluable,” Marongiu said.
CDA offers several networking opportunities for dental students and new dentists. CDA has a strong student delegation from the six dental schools in California that attend every House of Delegates meeting. CDA Presents in Anaheim and San Francisco is a place where dentists of all ages can learn about the latest techniques and products in the industry, as well as mingle with colleagues.
At CDA Presents San Francisco, CDA will host a New Dentist Networking Event on Aug. 17 at the InterContinental Hotel, Ballroom C from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. At the event, dentists and industry professionals will lead roundtable discussions such as creating a personal brand, gaining networking techniques and marketing yourself as a new associate.
Vashi, who is now member chair and past president of the San Gabriel Valley Dental Society, said he understands why people tend to shy away from networking, but that it’s something new dentists should force themselves to do.
“If you don’t know anybody in the room it can be difficult and intimidating, but cracking that door open and meeting other people changed my professional life because it gave me confidence and made me feel like I belonged,” Vashi said.
For more information about the CDA New Dentist Networking Event at CDA Presents, visit cda.org/networking.
Check out this video from the New Dentist Networking Event that took place at CDA Presents in San Francisco on Aug. 17: