Confessions of a New Dentist

If you are a new dental school graduate, this is a very special time of year. It is the start of a whole new chapter in your life – the first chapter as a practicing dentist! This is a time of great change, new experiences and new opportunities. You have worked hard to complete your courses, boards and other requirements, but that was only the beginning. Now it is time to start your dental career – a road that will be filled with all new challenges.

For new dentists entering the industry, it’s tough to start out on your own these days. According to a 2014 ADEA survey, only 45 percent of dental school graduates surveyed said they planned to enter private practice when graduating. New grads often come out of school with upwards of $300,000 in debt, making it difficult to open a solo practice. In addition, new dentists are facing challenges such as changes in regulation, marketing their offices to modern patients, furthering their skills, keeping up with advancing technology, building/leading ideal teams and more.

Helping supported dentists face these challenges is a big reason Heartland Dental and other dental support organizations (DSOs) have come into existence. With DSO support, new dentists specifically can start their careers on the right track by gaining education opportunities, mentorship and the opportunity to focus on dentistry.

To provide further insight on the challenges new dentists are experiencing and the solutions that can be achieved with Heartland Dental’s support, here are the stories of several new dentists.

With DSO support, new dentists specifically can start their careers on the right track by gaining education opportunities, mentorship and the opportunity to focus on dentistry.

An Educational Focus

As the dental industry continues to evolve, along with evolving patients and technology, advanced education is essential now more than ever. This emphasis on education is one of the most fundamental reasons why so many new dentists choose Heartland Dental’s support. For Dr. Daryn Lu, it’s all about finding your “why” in your dental career. The importance he’s found in continuing education and mentorship ultimately led to his decision to become a Heartland Dental supported dentist, and has made all the difference for him during his first year as a dentist.

Dr. Lu was born on the west coast, raised on the east coast, but wound up in the Midwestern state of Oklahoma in the middle of his high school career and hasn’t left since. After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in biology, he was inspired to shadow his own family dentist. It was through shadowing his dentist and hearing his story, passion and work ethic that piqued Dr. Lu’s interest in dentistry.

“After shadowing more general dentists and specialists, I found myself in tune with the compassionate culture surrounding dentistry,” recalls Dr. Lu. “To this day, I still admire the passion my mentor dentists instilled within me when sharing their own career paths and their reason for choosing dentistry and Heartland Dental’s support.”

In 2011, Dr. Lu started dental school at the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. While in the program, he became heavily involved with the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Dr. Lu worked his way through the ranks of ASDA’s local and district levels while in school, and eventually worked all the way to the national level as ASDA’s national vice president his senior year of dental school. His involvement with ASDA proved to be another place that Dr. Lu found his “why” in dentistry.

Dr. Daryn Lu

Dr. Daryn Lu
practicing dentist at Family Dental of Shawnee

“My position in ASDA allowed me to develop working relationships with many stakeholders and influencers in dentistry and allowed me the opportunity to embody and represent the student voice,” said Dr. Lu. “I always appreciated that ASDA provided me a perspective of the dental profession that helped me see the bigger picture.”

It was through ASDA that Dr. Lu was first introduced to Heartland Dental. He reached out to learn more from Dr. Robert Simpson, a Heartland Dental supported doctor in Oklahoma, who became a great mentor to Dr. Lu. After meeting with Dr. Simpson, fellow University of Oklahoma classmates and several other supported dentists and recruiters, Dr. Lu decided that Heartland Dental was a great fit for him. He became a supported doctor during the spring semester of his senior year in dental school at Family Dental of Shawnee, where he now works alongside his mentor, Dr. Simpson. Dr. Lu was unsure what to expect in his first year as a supported dentist, but Heartland Dental has made the transition from dental school incredibly smooth.

“I knew that my time in dental school focused primarily on the clinical health sciences and that the business aspect would not be one of my core strengths,” said Dr. Lu. “Growth and lifelong learning would be my primary goals my first year out. From diagnosing and treatment planning to enhancing my skills, I ultimately wanted to become the best dentist I could possibly be.”

With mentorship and education being of utmost importance to Dr. Lu, Heartland Dental has surpassed his expectations in receiving the support he needs to be successful. The numerous CE course opportunities, whether focused on leadership or clinical lectures and hands-on workshops, have made him feel supported as he grows more confident each and every day. The same goes for the genuine mentorship he has received in his own office from Dr. Simpson. Dr. Lu will also be participating in the newly introduced Doctor Mastery Program, which will provide and encourage even more educational opportunities.

“I’ve found a tremendous amount of value from the mentorship and continuing education that Heartland Dental readily provides,” commented Dr. Lu. “I feel blessed that I work alongside a great team with an experienced doctor, dental assistants, hygienists, and business assistants who I feel want me to succeed.”

Dr. Lu’s journey in dentistry has been marked with the value of lifelong learning through mentorship and continuing education. Through the relationships he forged with experienced dentists and the involvement he had with ASDA, Dr. Lu placed an emphasis on learning from the very start. Happily, Heartland Dental has provided him with the foundation he desires to maintain his passion for learning and growing in his career as a supported dentist. The importance he places on being intentional in your life and career through clearly defined goals and priorities is an exemplar approach for any aspiring dentist.

“My journey within dentistry has been paved with both failure and success. It has taught me lifelong lessons of compassion, perseverance and leadership,” said Dr. Lu. “My mantra is best represented in the quote, ‘Be a part of something bigger than you, but better because of you.’ That’s the approach I’ve taken with everything I’ve been involved with and I’ve never been disappointed.”

Doctor-Led, Patient-Focused

Dr. Lauren Dickens & Dr. Sabrina Diaz

Dr. Lauren Dickens (left) and Dr. Sabrina Diaz (right)
practicing dentists at University Family Dentistry

To succeed in today’s industry, modern dentists must be much more than dentists. They have to be great leaders, communicators, marketers, team builders, accountants and the list goes on. Unfortunately, most new dentists entering the industry are not properly equipped to handle the non-clinical responsibilities that accompany patient care. This is a large reason why Heartland Dental and other dental support organizations exist – to assist dentists with these administrative tasks.

Two young dentists from Florida, Dr. Sabrina Diaz and Dr. Lauren Dickens, faced this challenge upon graduation. But with Heartland Dental’s support, they were able to start out leading their own team and focusing on the most important aspect of dentistry – patient care.

“What was appealing to me about general dentistry compared to other medical careers, was the ability to bring comfort and/or confidence immediately, the opportunity to have lifelong relationships with your patients and the creative aspect and hand skills that dentistry requires,” said Dr. Diaz. “As a dental student, you are your own assistant, hygienist, and dentist. Then if starting an office from scratch, you have to be your own office manager, HR rep, etc. I feel so blessed right now that I am able to focus solely on dentistry with the support of my amazing team.” Dr. Dickens added, “As a new dentist, it’s difficult enough building patient relationships and gaining their confidence, not to mention adding on non-clinical office tasks. Having access to successful systems, support teams, education and office administration has made a huge difference.”

Now colleague dentists at University Family Dentistry in Gainesville, Florida, Dr. Diaz and Dr. Dickens first met in dental school. Dr. Diaz grew up in Northwest Alabama, before moving to the Orlando area at the age of 15. Dr. Dickens was born and raised in Destin, Florida. Both dentists were attracted to dentistry and the medical field at an early age. That interest led to both attending and graduating from the University of Florida College of Dentistry. It was there that both heard about Heartland Dental.

“I first heard about Heartland Dental from a former University of Florida dental student and now Heartland Dental supported dentist, Dr. Cassandra Dorsey. She raved about the company and that piqued my interest. I started my own research that included roundtable dinners and word of mouth. Compared to other dental support organizations, Heartland Dental stood out to me because they are a doctor-led company. I wanted to join a DSO whose support would allow me to provide quality dental care each day,” explained Dr. Diaz. Dr. Dickens had a similar introduction to Heartland Dental. “I learned about the company my junior year of dental school at a roundtable dinner. I was initially interested because I knew several recent graduates who joined Heartland Dental and were very happy. In looking at DSO and group practice options, Heartland Dental was the only one I considered because of the opportunity to practice where I wanted, their reputation and the continuing education offered,” she said.

After graduating and speaking with the Heartland Dental recruiting team, both Dr. Diaz and Dr. Dickens became Heartland Dental supported dentists in the summer of 2015. “The actual interview process had several steps, but this is too ensure an ideal fit for both the dentist and Heartland Dental. The recruiting team showed excitement about the company, were extremely welcoming and very respectful, which was all very appealing to me,” said Dr. Diaz. “I feel the recruiting team was very honest and direct with what they were looking for and what they could offer me. They made it very clear that they wanted it to be the right fit for everyone. It was refreshing after getting the run-around with many private practices,” said Dr. Dickens.

Now supported by Heartland Dental for just under a year, both dentists are overcoming many of the challenges facing young dentists today. They are successfully leading their own team, building their skills and focusing on patient care.

“The reality of being supported by Heartland Dental has exceeded my expectations. The respect that the company has for supported dentists is way more than I could have ever imagined. Supported dentists are involved in every aspect of the office, which includes choice of supplies and building teams. Not to mention the new Doctor Mastery Program can help with paying off those hefty school loans. I have enjoyed walking into an office with a highly qualified staff and an organized company that supports you in being as successful as you want to be.” explained Dr. Diaz. “For new dentists just starting out, my advice would be to treat patients how you would want to be treated, make the hard decisions even if it requires a lot more sacrifice, be humble with your work, be open to learning new procedures and learning from your “failures” to move forward. Make your office what you want it to be.”

“I have told many other dentists looking for an opportunity that Heartland Dental is a great company. They will fully support you in becoming a better dentist and leader. It is all about the people you work with and how happy you will be in the long run. Heartland Dental gives you the business knowledge and tools to be as successful as you want to be without the headaches of managing non-clinical tasks,” added Dr. Dickens. “If you are a new dentist, don’t settle for feeling like you are inadequate and not ready to be on your own, reach out to a mentor. Keep your mind open to new techniques and ideas. The stuff we learned in school isn’t always the best way!”

Dr. Eric Solberg

Dr. Eric Solberg
practicing dentist at Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry


Following graduation from the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Eric Solberg’s career first began as a scientist. He spent three years working 10 hours a day alone in laboratories and realized his was missing something – people. He sought a career that was a fulfilling mix of science and helping others. An older dentist had suggested dentistry to him, an idea Dr. Solberg considered preposterous. Why? He has severe dental phobia. Nonetheless, he did his research, applied to dental school and was soon after accepted to New York University College of Dentistry.

As his journey to become a dentist started and the semesters at NYU passed by, he became increasingly more passionate about dentistry and knew this path was a true fit for him. 

“The dental field is constantly changing and there’s always new stuff going on,” said Dr. Solberg. “It fuels my inquisitive mind, and the scientist in me is still satiated because you’re always learning new things. On top of that I get to help people. It’s the perfect balance I was looking for.”

During his final year at dental school, Dr. Solberg had been accepted into a residency program and then planned to find a career in public health. During the spring of the same year, he attended a career fair and dinner where he learned about Heartland Dental. He knew of a few colleagues that had graduated the year prior, who were supported by Heartland Dental and asked about their experience. They all had positive things to say and encouraged him to look into the company. He was able to speak with a recruiter and after looking things over, he realized Heartland Dental was unique in their philosophy and culture.

 “What I appreciated and still appreciate about Heartland Dental is that they say, ‘Go out and be a good dentist. Be the absolute best dentist you can be, and we’re here to make sure that you have the tools you need to succeed.’ That was alluring to me. I get to practice dentistry at my own pace, I get to do what I’m comfortable with and along the way, they’re supporting me and helping me evolve and grow,” he said.

In July 2015, Dr. Solberg became a Heartland Dental supported dentist at Mechanicsburg Family Dentistry in Mechanicsburg, PA. He joined a team of three other supported doctors who were already practicing in the office. As a young dentist, he saw this as a great advantage to him. He enjoys having a system of support in his very own office that is able to offer their knowledge and teach him beyond the technical components of dentistry he learned in college. He thinks this undivided front allows patients in the office to be more confident and trusting in the treatment they are going to receive. In fact, a patient once commented, “You guys are such a solid unit.”

He says that with the support of Heartland Dental, he feels everyone in the office is part of the same congruent team. Everyone knows and understands the same philosophies, principles, mission and vision, and as a result patients are treated to a seamless and coherent office visit. He believes that consistency is the key to building patient trust.

“With great power comes great responsibility, and you have to let your patients know that you have their back. Heartland Dental does a great job of helping you communicate and connect with your patients.”

Having a dental phobia himself, it’s very important to Dr. Solberg that patients feel that unification and trust throughout the office. At his office, every new patient receives a one hour sit down with the dentist. Dr. Solberg and his fellow dentists enjoy spending that extra time with patients and helping them feel as comfortable as possible.

“My philosophy is, ‘No matter what you do, care about your patients and the rest will follow.’ To be a person and let your patients see you as a person breaks down the misconceptions of what it means to be a dentist. I’m grateful that Heartland Dental supports and believes in that philosophy,” he said.

To improve his clinical skills and better serve his patients, Dr. Solberg participates in the plethora of continuing education programs, workshops and seminars available at his fingertips as a Heartland Dental supported dentist. Most recently, he’s enrolled in the Doctor Mastery Program, which is a ground breaking initiative that will help supported dentists of all experience levels become the definitive dental leaders of their respective marketplaces.

When asked his reason for choosing Heartland Dental, Dr. Solberg had one simple answer – the people.

“When you become supported by Heartland Dental, you really feel like you’ve joined a family,” he said. “It goes beyond any words or sentiment that I could relay. The entire collegiality is the main benefit. Being able to focus on dentistry and be part of such a tight-knit group is fantastic.”

New Dentist Checklist

As with accomplishing any goal, an action plan is needed. For new dental school graduates, this is no exception. If you want to start your career as effectively as possible, you need to plan ahead, identify what actions must be taken and set timely, specific targets. To help get you started with this process, here is a checklist of many items a new dental grad needs to consider:

  • Set your career goals for the next two-five years.
    • Where do you want to practice?
    • What are your financial needs?
    • What model works best for your needs? DSO support? Private practice? Associateship?
    • Interview as early as your third year.
  • Board scores.
    • Take your regional exams as early as possible in order to have your scores prior to your graduation.
  • License applications.
    • States vary, so make sure to learn what they require, especially what Regional Board exams they recognize.
  • Other permits – DEA, state controlled substance permit, sedation permit.
  • Licensing process.
    • Typically can take four to six weeks.
    • Background and credential verification – Some states (notably Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming and several others) use a third party service for credentialing that will add 30 to 60 days to your license processing time.
  • Depending on the path you choose, prepare your resume and cover letter.
    • Ensure both your resume and cover letters are up to date, clear, concise and engaging.
    • Bring copies of these materials to your interview.
    • Apply as early as your third year.
  • Interview preparation.
    • Always dress for an interview in business professional clothing.
    • Knowing exactly what you have to offer the dental office is important and will help you immensely when answering questions during the interview.
    • In addition to answering questions, you should ask questions as well.

Although the road ahead is full of challenges, it is also full of many opportunities to change the lives of your patients and help strengthen this industry. As you transition from student to dentist, maintain a student mentality – a dentist who continually seeks out the knowledge and education to advance.

Heartland Dental and other DSOs will continue to offer world-class education opportunities, non-clinical support, mentorship, camaraderie and more to help you overcome the challenges of today’s industry and ensure you are able to practice dentistry on your terms.

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