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Why Most Dental Training is Useless (and How to Make It Better)

I’ve met dentists like this—have you? They do hundreds of hours of advanced continuing education but never apply any of it in their practices. They are technically educated and trained in being able to do full mouth restoration dental cases, but they don’t actually offer this service in their offices for their patients. And then I’ve met a few dentists who are the polar opposite, taking just one or two courses in something and then killing it in their office with what they learned.

Why is it that only some dentists have this kind of success?

Is it because one person is smarter than the other? Is it because one has better luck than the other? Is it because of their client base or their location? I understand that some of those factors might play into the end result, but overall, I have to say that the answer is no—there is no difference between the two, except for these two elements:

1. Did they know what they were trying to achieve or gain by taking the training?

2. Did they know how to implement the information they learned?

Many people feel their offices could do much better if they just acquired certain training, education, or knowledge they are currently lacking. It happens all the time – dentists sign up for training through my website and the first question they ask is, “How long will it take to finish this training?” And what that tells me right away is that this dentist or team member is signing up with the wrong purpose in mind. In short, you should never sign up for a class or courses if your only purpose is checking a box or with “finishing” as the goal. The purpose of training or learning something new should be to get better in a certain area or improve something specific.

When striving to increase your knowledge, it will be more effective if you begin with the right purpose in mind.

What is it you are trying to learn to do or implement? What problem are you trying to solve? What issue do you have that training may address? When you know what you want to accomplish by learning (or by teaching something to your team), that training will inevitably have a greater impact. Purpose also places energy behind the learning so the student will be motivated to absorb the material and put it into action.

The next big difference that makes one person more successful than another, is implementation.

The difference between people, offices, dentists, or teams that are failing and those that are succeeding is not necessarily about the amount of training, information, knowledge, or data they get, but how they execute it. The application of the education makes all the difference, and it will be more effective and impactful if it is for a bigger reason than to pass a test or check off the course to put on your resume. Implementation is key to the first issue, which is why you are learning this in the first place.

Begin with the end in mind. Imagine if you had the knowledge you or your team needed and you implemented it successfully. What would that look like for you? What would winning look like for you and your team? What does success of gaining this knowledge or education look like for you? Put it in your own words, not just the way it is outlined on the course syllabus. Really think through this question and clearly identify what that looks like for you and your practice. This will help you build a road map to determine what needs to happen for you to reach that goal.

You can then identify what should be learned, who needs to learn what, how will you implement the training, and what kind of help will you need to get to where you want to be.

By starting with the end in mind, you can articulate why you are pursuing the training or trying to gain the knowledge.

You will be able to really hone in on what it is you need to understand, and you will be able to learn with the mindset of implementation rather than just sitting back to learn passively by listening and watching. Have you ever sat in a class and learned from an instructor and thought to yourself, “No problem, this will be easy to do,” until you actually try to do it yourself—only to realize it is not as easy as they made it look? You end up having to start from the beginning, probably wishing along the way that you could go back in time to learn the task with greater focus and the intent of being able to actually implement it all correctly. That is the difference between learning just to learn or learning to improve and grow.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.