Building Your Confidence as a Dental Professional


No one begins their career as a dental professional knowing everything. Learning from mistakes and leaning on peers for help can build your confidence in the field.

Building Your Confidence as a Dental Professional. Photo courtesy of

Building Your Confidence as a Dental Professional. Photo courtesy of

You know how it feels when you get your first patient or your first job. You had a mixture of excitement and fear? Fortunately, you had the opportunity to gain experience and practice skills in internships. The first patient was frightening for everyone, and I was afraid I would be found out to be a fraud who does not know anything. Can you relate?

Some of you may have read the book, Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg. If you have not, I strongly encourage you to buy it or order it from your library. It may change your life. For those of you who are not familiar with the author, Sheryl Sandburg is an incredibly impressive woman who worked up the chains of Google and Facebook to become a power to be respected. She was the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.

This immensely successful woman talks about her own fear of being found to be a fraud. How is that even possible? This is an “ah-ha” moment that women of every socioeconomic level have aloud because you realize you are not alone. Many women and men live in fear that we will fail. We tell ourselves we are not smart enough. We worry that our boss will figure it out we do not have a clue how to do something. This can be paralyzing but knowing that other women feel this way is immensely helpful.

When you start out, whether it is graduating from a dental assistant program or from dental school, you may not feel confident to take on the world. Instead, you worry. I am here to tell you that you will make mistakes and screw up. Some of these mistakes may seem colossal, but, for the most part, you will not do permanent damage to your patients.

I can hear you now, “Lisa, we get it, we will make mistakes. We will be scared early in our careers. But will we move past this?”The simple answer is yes. You will build confidence by failing! Do we learn from our successes? To a degree the answer is yes, but we learn more from our failures and stressors. This is where the professional growth comes from. When you fail or make a mistake, learn from it, and make sure it does not happen again.

One’s experience and age factors into the equation. The older you get it is easier to know how to manage tricky situations. I am a social worker. When I went through my training, I was assigned my first suicidal patient while still in graduate school. This terrified me and caused terrible insomnia for weeks. I somehow stumbled my way through the first counseling session being nervous, but I survived it. She also survived me. At 21, I was young and naïve. My supervisor ended up spending numerous sessions processing the experience with me. As overwhelmed as I felt, I learned a lot because I knew I was not alone. I had backup. You have backup. You have a team that will help teach you what you need to know. Just make sure you ask.

The next time I had another suicidal patient, I was still anxious and still sweating bullets. Immediately following that session, I met with my supervisor and hashed that session out as well. It was a little easier on my nerves but still incredibly stressful. Time passed and I had more challenging patients to deal with. I made a lot of mistakes. But I gained increased experience and knowledge. My confidence level grew. It got to the point where I felt that no matter who walked into my office, I could manage whatever they brought. I realized that I may not have the answers, but I know where to get them.

What about you? Have you ever felt like that? Felt that someone would find out you were a fraud? Were terrified when you had your first patient? You are not alone. Did you make mistakes and then learn from them? If so, welcome to the club. Do not beat yourself up over it. Even if the doctor or patient gets angry. You are learning. You are doing the best you can.

Confidence grows with experience and failures. If you just keep trying, are willing to ask for help, and learn from each challenging experience, your confidence will flourish.

We all make mistakes. Do not beat yourself up over it. Learn from it and make sure you do not make the same mistake twice. There are no shortcuts to getting ahead of it. Only experience, guidance, and a willingness to learn from your mistakes will get you over the finish line. You will be someone who may start out with the imposter syndrome and go on to do remarkable things just like Sheryl Sandburg. Just take it 1 mistake at a time.

Share with me your thoughts on the book or how you developed your confidence.

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