You probably never thought that you would consider teaching, when you were a student. Now that you are disabled, the idea of teaching strangely appeals to you. Don’t be surprised. When considering transition from clinical practice, academia is a very viable option. You might not be able to practice clinically, but your intellectual skills are strong. Use the vast amount of clinical knowledge you have accumulated to transition into education. Your experience as a clinician not only makes you more credible, but it will allow your students a view into the real world of clinical practice.
Your options in dental education are many, and you have the luxury of time to make good decision on which direction you will proceed. The first positions that often come into mind are being an instructor at a dental school. This is a great option, but understand that it will take a determined effort to succeed. The application process for staff position at most dental schools in lengthy and challenging. Public schools will be more difficult. Many positions will require clinical participation and your inability in this area will limit you to a smaller field of positions if applicable. There are number of didactic only positions you may consider. Don’t discount any opportunity. You may have to create a position to suit your disability.
Contact the dean of the school you are interested in working at. Consider contacting your state dental association for contacts in the appropriate departments. Here is where networking will pay off, and you must pursue every lead like a detective. Many instructors start out as volunteers only with part time positions being offered much later. If you have the right skills and background, you may get lucky and get a full time position immediately. Consider additional training or schooling in dental materials. You may have the background for the basic sciences such as biochemistry or anatomy. Use your entire educational experience to find the right niche for you.
If dental school is not a good fit, consider simultaneous application to dental hygiene or dental assistant schools. You will likely need to have a valid active dental license. Don’t let your license expire and keep up on your continuing education. Dental hygiene/dental assistant programs do need dentists. Both as clinical instructors and didactic teachers. Consider applying to several programs simultaneously. Remember when you first went to dental school, you likely applied to several institutions.
In addition to didactic/clinical instructors, most dental education programs do have full/part-time administrators. They may be deans/presidents/vice-presidents or executive directors that function to supervise and lead their programs. These positions often do not require active clinical dentists, but need competent/wise administrators. Your past experiences and success in managing your dental practice(s) may give you an advantage in applying for these positions. Again, networking is a key skill. Make contact with the people who make the decisions and do your best to gain influence. Let them know of your disability, but also let them know of your strength, resilience, and determination to be a capable leader.
Do not limit your pursuit of an educational position to institutions nearby. Look nationally and regionally. The ADA and federal government have opportunities. Look internationally if you are interested. Recently we have documented many teaching opportunities in other countries. They often will not require any specialized training, other than you dental license. You would be able to teach in most basic sciences and dental specialty areas such as endodontics and orthodontics. Of course the majority of these opportunities will be in third-world countries. Don’t discount Eastern Europe or Asia, these developing nations are often desperate for help. You may not be significantly financially compensated, but the personal reward is invaluable. It will take a determined research effort on your part. Plan on many phone calls/e-mails.
We hope this information gets you started on your dental education journey. By no means is our posting all inclusive, but it should give you an idea for what is out there. If dental education is not feasible, consider teaching at a trade school,high school, or elementary school. Many school districts will be happy to permit an individual with a doctorate degree to instruct their students. Even if a brief certification requirement is there, you will likely coast through the application process. You are valuable, use your dental experience to inspire a new generation and create a legacy worthy of your years of determined effort.
GO GET THEM PROFESSOR