Of the many transitional career opportunities that are open to disabled dentists, several require additional training/certification. Returning to the classroom may be a challenging thought for many of us, but it is a totally viable option for many. Not withstanding the cost and time involved, the rewards far outweigh the effort that is required to succeed.
You will have several options to pursue in this area. First, you must decide whether you want to remain in the dental field or elect to go outside of the traditional career fields available to all those who have a dental degree. You will need to evaluate your disability and its expected duration. In addition, you will need to factor in your age and financial status. Some funding may be available through ADA foundations but it will be limited. Never let your chronological age be a barrier, but your physical age is a factor in making critical decisions such as this. Making decisions of what to do with the remaining time you have is difficult, involve your family, spouse, and close advisors in the decision making process.
Electing to stay in the dental field is an attractive alternative. If you cannot practice clinical dentistry, there are several fields that allow you to use your dental degree without patient interaction, but they do require additional training. Start with the two traditional fields of Dental Pathology and Dental Radiology. Both of these fields are recognized by the ADA as approved specialties but both will require additional training/board certification. You will need to apply to one of the many residency programs available. Contact the programs individually and make your application. Understand that you will be required to complete these residencies over three to four years. You will likely need to complete a Masters Degree or Phd. program. This will likely require research and publication prior to graduation. These programs are very selective and your past academic success may play a role in your selection. Many graduates enter into teaching positions, and program directors will factor in the expected career length of their graduates. The good news is that many of these programs now pay stipends of 30-50 thousand dollars a year which makes them more attractive to those applicants with financial/family obligations.
Another newer field that is available is Forensic Dentistry. Since it is relatively new, the exact need in the field for new certified dentists is unknown. It appears few dentists practice in this field full-time but there are some that do. You can apply for certification and training. Since this is a non-specialty field, you will not be required to invest as much time and effort as in the previously noted fields. Forensic Dentistry does have its own organization and you may contact them directly for more information. No direct patient contact is required and you should be prepared to testify in court and submit relevant legal documentation in almost all cases.
If remaining in the healthcare field is desired, consider retraining in medicine. Again considering your physical age, finances, and personal aspirations; you will always have the option to go to medical school. The requirements for admission to medical school are almost the exact same ones as dental school. Your MCAT scores and scholastic achievements will again be important. You will most likely have to interact with patients, and your disability will need to meet with this requirement. If you do not want to invest the time and effort involved in getting medical degree, consider training to become a paramedic, EMT, or Physician’s Assistant. Each require different levels of training and require different lengths of training. Nothing is off limits, and where you go with your transition from dentistry is up to you.
For those who would like to invest in an entirely different field, consider applying to one of the many law schools found in our country. The United States has 70% of the worlds lawyers for a reason. After graduating you would have the option to defend dentists accused of malpractice, represent dental manufacturers/suppliers, or helping patients who have encountered substandard dental care. There are a huge number of options in this field. Of course, you will be required to complete three years of training and pass the BAR exam for each state you practice in. There would likely be no stipends available. As they say; “a good lawyer is very expensive, but a bad lawyer will cost you everything you got”.
The transitional careers we noted are those that would require you to “Go back to School” for significant periods of time. There are many other field that required either limited training or no retraining for a dentist who has had prior licensure. We will continue to post information on transitional careers for dentists and keep you informed on requirements and position availability. This is a dynamic and ever changing issue, and keeping up to date on those changes ensures that you are competitive. NEVER GIVE UP.