Win-Win: Summer Student Practitioners Program Facilitates Student-to-Associate Transition

Fall 2015

Q: How can a dentist add a good-fit associate to their practice?
A: Hire a dental student during the summer for a trial run.
Q: How can a dental student find an associate position—one that is compatible with their career goals—before graduating?
A: Join a dental practice during the summer between third and fourth year for a trial run.

In British Columbia, the Summer Student Practitioner Program (SSPP) matches dentists with students for a “trial run” at working together in the dentist’s practice. Dental student placements take place during the summer and range from two to six weeks in duration.

The SSPP is a win-win arrangement. It gives students additional clinical experience and to be part of the day-to-day operation and management of a dental practice. It gives both parties a chance to check out the “fit” for those seeking an associate and for those seeking to be an associate. And, it also encourages more new graduates to practise in geographic areas away from the Lower Mainland, where there is a greater need for dentists.

Testing the Fit

Not only does the SSPP provide students with additional clinical experience, but it also provides opportunity to gain valuable insight into what it is like to practise dentistry in regions beyond Vancouver. And for the principal dentist, the program provides an opportunity to observe how the dental student treats patients, interacts with office staff and generally “fits” in the practice. Essentially, the principal dentist is able to “try out” a potential associate and then make decisions based on actual performance witnessed first-hand.

If the student was a positive addition to the practice during the program, there is a very strong likelihood they will be a good associate. With a positive assessment, the student may be offered an associate position for after graduation.

Meet Three Recent Grads Who Are Now Associates

In the past few years, there have been a significant number of SSPP dentist mentors who have recruited their summer student as an associate after graduation. The transitions have, invariably, been smooth and positive. And, through the SSPP, many new graduates have begun their practice careers away from the Lower Mainland including locations as far away as Fort St, James.

We spoke to three recent graduates who, after participating in the program, became associates in the practice of their SSPP placement after graduation:

  • Danielle Coulson DMD 2014, associate with Kevin Doyle DMD 1980, Parksville
  • Matthew Francisco DMD 2013, associate with David Ciriani DMD 1987, Kamloops
  • Bryan Wong DMD 2013, associate with Joan Eaton DMD 1987, Comox

From left to right: Drs. Danielle Coulson, Bryan Wong and Matthew Francisco (seen with his wife Sylvia and son).


Read what they have to share about their transition from student to associate.

What was the main value of your SSPP experience in terms of test-driving the idea of being an associate?

Danielle: The main value was finding a good mentor to help me adapt to a new community and to get comfortable with non-school-related dentistry. I started looking while in second year and found one with a similar philosophy of dentistry and matching values, like a high standard of ethics.

Matthew: I completed more restorations in the six weeks of my SSPP than in third and fourth year combined. From an experience standpoint alone this was extremely valuable. Some of the other aspects of dentistry that are not directly related to teeth, like business management, staffing, billing, etc., are all important things to begin to learn about. If you are at all interested in potentially practising with your mentor dentist, you have a multiple-week working “interview” to observe things like: how the dentist/practice cares for patients, the quality of their work, how they take care of staff, how they deal with difficult patients, and so on. It can help to decrease the issues that can potentially arise with owners and associates. Both myself and just about everyone else I talked to who took part in the SSPP felt much more confident coming back into fourth year.

Bryan: Experiencing dentistry in a school setting was one thing, but experiencing it in an “actual” real-world dental practice, where relationships with patients can be a lifelong one, is completely different. The SSPP allowed me the chance to experience this.

Was there an “ah-hah” moment for you—some insight or gold nugget—that helped you realize the possibilities of being an associate?

Danielle: The SSPP shows how hands-on the mentor will be when you’re in actual practise. My mentor provided interesting cases for me during the SSPP, not just routine stuff.

Matthew: There wasn’t really one “ah-hah” moment for me, but just gradually feeling more and more comfortable providing the variety of treatments we performed in the practice setting.

Bryan: Having a mentor who is encouraging, patient and always supportive is instrumental in developing the skills and confidence a student dentist may require. Moreover, the SSPP permitted the experience of working with other dental staff—a dental assistant, hygienist and receptionist—which, as a student, we never had the opportunity of doing.

Were you specifically looking to become an associate after graduation and did the SSPP provide a pathway? Or did you try the SSPP just for the experience and did you remain undecided about what direction to take after graduation?

Danielle: I toyed with the idea of being an associate, but it was the SSPP that provided the fit. My mentor approached me first about being an associate, a couple weeks into the placement.

Matthew: I had heard from multiple students that Dr. Ciriani was a great mentor and created a great learning environment for students. At first I didn’t think I would be interested in working outside of the Lower Mainland, but after spending a summer in Kamloops I was excited at the opportunity to come back.

Bryan: I was born and raised in Metro Vancouver—my friends, family and everyone I grew up with lived here—thus, I had always thought I’d come out looking for an associate position in Metro Vancouver after my graduation. I was surprised that I loved the Comox Valley as much as I did. I can honestly say that, had it not been for SSPP, I wouldn’t have come here. However, the fishing, the skiing (when and if there ever will be snow…), the golf, the food, the people and Costco—I discovered more than I ever could have bargained for.

What are your final thoughts about your SSPP experience—and perhaps any insights for future students?

Danielle: I was lucky—I had an amazing experience. I think it’s beneficial to scout possibilities in second year, well in advance.

Matthew: This was a fantastic opportunity, and I would have paid to get the experience I had through the SSPP. I highly recommend that students get involved with this program. Whether you end up working for the dentist mentor or not, you will learn a lot and have a great experience seeing a different area of BC. I would recommend that students commit to an extended period of time, as with each week you get better and better as you become more comfortable.

Bryan: What I loved most about my mentor’s office was the focus of her patient pool: mostly families with children. My experience with children prior to working in dentistry—working at BC Children’s, running toddler day camps and being involved in group music lessons for kids—was instrumental in my “fitting into” the office dynamic. I believe it was this prior knowledge and comfort working with kids that allowed me to gain the trust of the patients I saw during the SSPP experience.

Bring Another to Practice

Dentist mentors are needed for the Summer Student Practitioner Program. The success of the program has an ironic twist: each time an SSPP mentor recruits their summer student practitioner as an associate, a potential mentor for the subsequent summer is lost. And generally, there are more dental students interested in the SSPP than available mentors. So the program always needs to recruit new SSPP mentors. If you are a dentist interested in this program for the summer please let us know.

Bringing a student into your practice during summer is a simple process; a few clicks is all it takes to get started. For more information about the Summer Student Practitioner Program and to facilitate student matches, visit