What is a 'portfolio career' in dentistry?

Jonathan Lewney​I used to wonder 'Why would anyone want more than one job?'

And now here I am having finished another week of specialty training and getting on with my 'Saturday job' as Associate Editor of the British Dental Journal. 

Why? For me it was simply that an opportunity for something exciting came up which I could do alongside my main employment, and it's working great so far.

 

Why a portfolio career in dentistry might be good for you

There are a growing number of dentists turning to portfolio careers, and many perhaps aren't even aware of the idea

Many dentists are now working as a GDP some days with more specialised care on others, and/or teaching and training alongside their clinical work

It seems that more recently-qualified dentists are also now looking beyond just their clinical work, often outside of dentistry completely. 

Dentistry means you can have a more stable and relatively well-paid job a few days a week, and do something completely different the rest of your time. 

I know dentists who split their time doing things such as being app designers, start-up developers, investors and a singer (also known as 'the dentist from the Voice'!). 

 

Loving a portfolio career in dentistry: the pros

1. Variety 

Some people feel they enjoy clinical dentistry but not five days a week, every week. Others feel having a range of options offers more security than having all your eggs in one basket. I think most people doing more than one job would agree that splitting the week up keeps them motivated and engaged for longer.

2. Control over your time 

Working on a freelance or consultancy basis can give you more control over your own time. This is great if you want the flexibility to work around child care or a challenging commute. Even without those incentives, being in charge of your time is a real bonus.

3. A testing ground

A portfolio career gives you an insight into career change opportunities, while making sure you still have something more stable to fall back on. You get to try doing the things you really want to do, whether that's related to dentistry or not. 

 

Succeeding in a portfolio career in dentistry: the cons

1. Time management

Time management is everything in a portfolio career.

And 'time management' should not mean working quicker to hit your multiple deadlines. It means learning what to accept and what to turn down.

 

2. Needing to 'clone' yourself?

It can be particularly difficult if your portfolio career means being employed across a number of organisations. 

Doing 50 per cent of a working week in two organisations will often need considerably more than 100 per cent of that working week.

You end up with two e-mail addresses (with associated 'Dear all' e-mails), two lots of 'obligatory' team meetings, and the possibility of being inducted to within an inch of your life, if you start at more than one organisation at the same time.


3. Juggling competing priorities

When all your work is for the same organisation, it's easier to negotiate when you're over committed.

That goes for for clinical time, targets and project deadlines or simply being where you need to be. 

But with separate interests asking for more time for one interest is essentially telling the other that it's a lower priority, and you could quickly find yourself with a very slim portfolio.

 

Dentistry as a career: finding the right balance

Finding the balance that is right for you and your career is essential.

Embarking on a portfolio career usually means a period of uncertainty, at least initially. But uncertainty is perhaps the only thing dental graduates can be certain of these days. 

A portfolio career presents a real opportunity to accept that uncertainty and make it work for you. 

If you're not sure where to start, ask any dentist doing 'something else' how they got started; you'll find that dentists are far less homogenous than many people give us credit for. 

Go along to your local BDA branch or section meeting and network, you'll find people there doing a range of different roles and career pathways, who I'm sure will be very willing to talk to you!

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