Before You Apply: Becoming an Endodontist

One thing you need to know before you apply to endo is that you should get really good at treatment planning. That’s the main reason why most people won’t get into an endodontic residency right out of school — you’ll need a few years of working in the field to really understand this skill. That said, if you don’t get in on your first attempt, don’t get discouraged.  The more persistent you are and the more experience you get, the stronger candidate you become.  

For me, after dental school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had promised myself that I would live a year of my life in New York City, so that’s where I did my GPR. I got so addicted to that city that I stayed and worked in all sorts of places, from Medicaid clinics and a mobile van in Harlem to a high-end practice in the Upper East Side.  After several years, I eventually got tired of jumping from practice to practice and bored with what I was doing. When I realized there was no growth within the practices I was working at, I knew deep in my heart that I had to specialize. So began my journey of becoming an endodontist!  

 

What Got Me Started on the Road to Endo

First, ask yourself: Why endo? For me, that was easy. If you know my story, It’s almost like I was born to become an endodontist.  (You can read more about my story here.) My toothache experience was unforgettable, and I needed to know what happened to me.  I needed to know why my tooth story turned out the way it did. Do you have a story?  If so, start thinking about it and what kind of impact it had on your life. The more passion you have, the more success you will have. 

Beginning of Becoming an Endodontist

My endo residency was not a walk in the park. We had giant stacks of lit to read every week and presentations to give out the arse. It was work, work, and more work. But I knew that going in, and it’s actually one of the reasons why I picked the program that I did. In fact, I didn’t want a program that was only clinical — I wanted to know why endodontists do what they do and all the science behind it. With this motivation, I intentionally picked a program that had a strong evidence-based background. 

Goal in mind, I moved by myself to South Florida and went to Nova Southeastern University.  I didn’t know a soul, and I just immersed myself in my studies. Don’t get me wrong — I made friends and had the time of my life down in South Florida.

I was glad I was on my own and had no husband or kids yet. (Welcome to the world of becoming an endodontist! But I did eventually get married and have kids, so it’s possible to balance this career with family life. I share more of my personal story in the newly published Female Change Makers book… I’ll talk more about that in a minute.)

Learning Resilience on the Journey

I graduated in 2008, right when the US economy tanked. I moved to Charlotte, NC, but couldn’t find a job. However, it wasn’t completely surprising — I had kind of seen it coming, so in March of that year, I started to look for a space to do a startup.

I knew at that point that a startup was my only option if I wanted a job, but I know now that I wasn’t at all ready for it. (But who really is?) 

There is nothing like learning on the job, and that experience taught me incredible resilience.  I could tell you stories!  But that’s for another blog.   

Being Available

If you’re serious about becoming an endodontist, you have to get good at being available. If you aren’t available, people will just find someone else who is. That said, I urge you to really think about HOW you want to practice.

Do you want to do a startup, join a practice that already exists, or be in a group practice? Do you want to work full-time or part-time? There are so many options. Take the time to visualize your perfect life and what that would look like. (That’s a journal prompt for you!) 

The Decision to Specialize

“To specialize or not to specialize” is a very important question to ask yourself, no matter what kind of specialist you are trying to be. First, you have to ask yourself, “Can I do just one thing for the rest of my life?”

For me, that is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to learn one thing and learn it really well — being a “jack of all trades and a master of none” just didn’t sing to my soul.  

The fear in this decision is that you have to get comfortable with being the end of the road for your patients. If you can’t fix it, then what? As I think back, that was honestly one of the hard things about becoming an endodontist and specialist. You eventually get used to it, I promise, but that was tough for me in the beginning. 

The Difference Between Becoming an Endodontist & Being a GP

One of the biggest differences between being a GP and specialist is that your job really goes beyond the 9-5, at least if you want to be a successful specialist. It means time away from your family to meet and build relationships with your community dentists.

Sometimes, this can be fun, and other times, it can feel like an awkward first date. I have memories of doing this at the beginning, while not being in the office. 

When I first started, it was tolerable, but as my family has grown, I have had to make some sacrifices. No one prepared me for this — I wasn’t aware how much time it would take to network and form the connections that would help me progress in my career.

GPs don’t have to do this as much, because they can just market to the general public. My husband has a hard time understanding this — he’s a GP — but it’s just… different. You really have to put yourself out there as a specialist. 

Beginning to Teach

I love to teach, and the teaching aspect of what I do started by my sharing what I know with my community.  Over the years, this eventually led to me creating E-School. Lecturing locally is how I started, so if you want to specialize, I recommend getting really good at public speaking, too. Don’t worry — it’s a skill that gets better with time! 

You should have seen my first presentation! It wasn’t the best (blah!), but I’ve sure come a long way. And even now, I still get the jitters right before I go on stage. It’s totally normal, and now I’ve accepted that those butterflies are just part of being human.  

Getting Good at Rejection

You also have to get good at rejection. It doesn’t matter how many cookies you pass out, some people just aren’t going to open the door to you. I can’t tell you how many dentists I have visited over the years that have never come to the door when I would stop by. Some of them, I STILL haven’t met, even after 11 years! 

Sure, some of them were busy with patients when I stopped by, but some also flat-out just didn’t want to meet me. Again, after a while, you get used to it.  But now, I am grateful to the ones that gave me a chance, and I have a core of people that I really love to work with.

I know exactly how they practice and their preferences, so it’s such a smooth transition for their patients from their office to mine and back. I love being able to customize care for them and their patients. These people know who they are and they have become true friends in the process.

Even during this pandemic, we were able to support each other and help decipher the ins and outs of everything we needed to implement.  So, in time, you will find your tribe, but not before many rejections. 

Battling Burnout

I got burnt out by my 3rd year of my startup. Starting up is not easy. I mean, they don’t teach you anything about business, leadership or team management in dental school. I struggled in this department for YEARS.

In fact, one thing that I would tell my younger self is to take time to dream about your goals and the path that you want your life to take.  I’d also recommend you take leadership courses as much as possible, all the while continuing to prioritize time for yourself. 

I know so many dentists that are too busy to even know where to begin.  The first step would be to know yourself, above everything else.

This is what I am teaching my children now. I want them to dream and really live their best life, not wait until they are 40 (like I did) to start the journey. The journey starts now!

 

Growing a Family

I started to have kids about a year and half into my startup, and this was where things got tough for me. After the birth of my first daughter, I had a wake up call.  She had several surgeries within her first few months of life, and I had to shut the office for some time.

My business started to be affected because I wasn’t as available as I used to be, which troubled me. I realized that I  needed help, so I started to look for an associate.  

It was at this time that I made a really intentional decision: I picked lifestyle over money and work. The funny thing is that once I made this decision, I actually made more money. 

Now, my goal is to do less, work less, but make more, while still providing the same quality of care.

   

Adding an Associate 

Having an associate is a wonderful thing. It not only gives you some freedom, but it can bring you other types of joy.  I enjoy being a mentor, and I want to help raise the next generation of dentists and specialists. 

Sometimes, I wish I had someone to mentor me in the beginning, but I also realize that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t done it all by myself.  

This mentoring mindset has allowed more growth in my practice than I could ever imagine. We have gone from 1 to 2 docs, then to 3, and now we are looking for our 4th. I would encourage you to be open to new blood in your office.

With the right attitude and mindset, we can all grow together.  

 

Becoming an Endodontist Doesn’t Mean You Sell Your Soul

A few years ago, I got super intentional about my life and my time. I wasn’t fulfilled, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I made a vision board and started to create my dream life.  As I did this, I realized that I had trouble doing clinical dentistry and office management at the same time — it actually took a toll on my practice.

Because of that, I changed my schedule to have 3 clinical days and then doing admin on a totally separate day. This move gave my mind peace, and I instantly felt better. My team started to understand that I would only put out fires when I was not treating patients.

My burnout instantly started to fade.  Keep in mind that, as an endodontist, this type of schedule is best done when there are multiple doctors in the practice. Make sure you look for like-minded doctors to work with.

The culture in my practice is focused on balance and family, for both the team and the doctors. We subscribe to the idea of “work hard, play hard,” and I love it.   

 

Adapting & Evolving

Over the years, my work weeks have gone from 5 days to 4 days to 3 days, and now I’m at 2.  With each move, I have developed strategies to make sure that there was no pay cut involved.  I now have time to be with my family, run my non-profit, teach within E-School and take care of myself. (I just wish I had done this 10 years ago! But this is all possible to do as an endodontist or GP.)

For those of you who asked, I hope this blog gives you a little insight on how to build your dream job a little faster than the way I did it. (And for those of you who didn’t ask, well, I hope you had a good read !) 

Again, I wouldn’t change my path for anything, even though becoming an endodontist wasn’t easy. Besides, along the way, I learned so much, and I always like to share with you pearls that can accelerate your growth. 

Just do me a favor in the meantime: Cherish the storm you are in, and look for the gift the universe is giving you. Today’s storm leads to tomorrow’s rainbow. 

Another Chapter

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned the Female Change Makers book that I got to be a part of.  I have to say that it has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.  To get my story onto paper, to be able to relive my life — that was the greatest gift I could have given myself.  I truly learned so much about myself, and I was reminded that if I had not experienced what I did, my life would be so different today. 

You can get the book through Amazon at this link if you want to know some deeper aspects of my story. My chapter is only 7 pages, but the whole book is full of truly inspiring stories of female change makers. If you have time, it’s worth the read.   

In conclusion, if you are considering becoming an endodontist, go for it.  Don’t ever worry about the money… it will come. It’s a great profession, and I am so incredibly grateful and proud to say that I am an endodontist. 

– Sonia

SIDE NOTE: 

**This blog is a personal one, but so many of you have reached out to me and asked me about my journey of becoming an endodontist and what it entails.  Although it is very easy to make it look picture perfect, my path has been a rocky one. However, as I look back, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

One thing that this pandemic has taught me is just how important the field of endo really is.  We are definitely an essential profession and that message has been loud and clear.  No matter how bad I wanted to shut my office, I just couldn’t. 

My community needed us and that message was such a revelation and blessing to me.  

Yes, it’s scary to be on the front lines, but I have to say that endo is probably the safest specialty right now.  That rubber dam has always been my BFF, but I have even more respect for that little guy now.  My microscope saves me, too!  It protects me (and not just my back). 

Each time (3 to be exact) I was 41 weeks pregnant, I thanked my microscope for allowing me to still see inside the tooth.  Let me tell you, doing a root canal on #2 when you are as big as I got was a huge challenge.  It didn’t matter how big my belly got, the microscope could always be positioned in a way that kept me comfy and still be able to see everything I needed to see. 

Now, I thank it for not only supporting my back and shoulders over the years, but also for keeping me at a safer distance from the patient’s mouth. That distance, plus a nice barrier over it, has become my shield against this virus. 

I don’t know if any of this info will be taken into consideration while planning the rest of your life, but since it has definitely crossed my mind over the past few weeks, I had to share.**

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