Visiting Professor S. Jerry Long, DDS (left) and Clinical Associate Professor Boyd Shepherd, DDS, JD, head up UTSD's new Professional Resource Center, helping new graduates and older alumni deal with business and legal aspects of practice. Photo by Brian Schnupp.
A newly-minted dentist entering the profession suddenly faces an array of challenges not taught in the classroom or the clinic – such as unfair employment contracts, securing financing for a new practice or finding that first job.
The new Professional Resource Center at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston aims to help current students as well as alumni navigate the sometimes-difficult business and practical aspects of dentistry, and also to provide career counseling and employment assistance.
The center, which opened earlier this year, is headed by two UTSD alumni with broad and diverse experience in the dental profession. Visiting Professor S. Jerry Long, DDS, Class of ’66, practiced dentistry in Houston for 43 years, building a successful practice while earning a reputation as a leader in organized dentistry.
The other is Clinical Associate Professor Boyd W. Shepherd, DDS, JD, of the UTSD Class of 1988. He’s a former dentist who now practices law and is well-versed in the legal and ethical issues dentists may confront.
The center is just getting off the ground, but Shepherd has already met with several graduates to review their employment contracts to avoid potential pitfalls in the fine print.
“About 30 percent of the contracts I see range from unfair to absolutely ridiculous,” Shepherd said.
Contract issues – ranging from terms of termination and non-compete clauses to laboratory arrangements and vacation days – need to be carefully scrutinized, he said.
Shepherd himself learned the hard way from his first job at a dental practice when he was refused compensation for work he performed but that was not collected on until after he left the office.
“Recent graduates don’t have the experience of having seen lots of contracts to determine whether what they’ve been offered is fair,” Shepherd said. “We want to provide a place of contract where they can feel safe to ask these questions.”
The center also provides advice and guidance on the array of business and ethical issues related to joining an existing practice or starting a new one.
The opportunity to have his own practice and be his own boss was one of the most satisfying aspects of his dental career, Long said. But dentists are often unprepared for the commercial side of practicing dentistry – such as devising a business plan, getting a bank loan, making payroll and hiring and firing employees, he added.
New graduates are usually just as clueless about starting a business as he was at first, Long said. But in four decades of running a successful practice, he has overcome just about every professional and business hurdle a dentist can confront. Now, he wants to share that wisdom and experience with UTSD students and graduates.
The school offers a practice management course but students and recent graduates often need a one-on-one consultation with an experienced hand, Long said.
The center will also serve as a resource and sounding board for career development – whether students need resume help, advice on managing student debt or want to discuss the pros and cons of joining a large corporate practice or a small office where each dentist has an ownership stake.
The center is open to current students and recent graduates, as well as longtime alumni with resources and advice for dentists at the various stages of their careers.
In addition to helping new graduates launch their careers, the center will help alumni stay connected to the school, said Long, who also chairs UTSD’s Development Advisory Council.
Both Shepherd and Long are available for individual meetings, and in 2013 the center’s outreach will expand to regular lunch-and-learn meetings for fourth-year students, where speakers will address topics such as job interviewing and practice management.
Also in 2013, the center will be integrated into various class curricula so that eventually, students will be required to check in with the center at least once a year.
To learn more about the center’s resources or to schedule a meeting, call 713-486-4437 or contact Shepherd at Boyd.Shepherd@uth.tmc.edu or Long at S.Jerry.Long@uth.tmc.edu. The center's website is under construction.