Goal setting and self-reflection tools

Damian Siderides
In a results-driven and technical profession like dentistry, it’s easy to get carried away with success stories.


This is especially true in the age of social media, where high achievers proudly share their work, drawing admiration and praise. For those more recent graduates, perhaps there may be feelings of discouragement or inadequacy. Unfortunately, we tend to only hear about the best outcomes, and not so much the journey to that point, or the years of practice and training, let alone the failures and mistakes!

Goal setting will ensure your ideas can be implemented in a meaningful way to achieve growth and success without losing sight of what’s most important.

SMART goals:

  • Specific: setting precise achievements. Have you set out what it is exactly you are hoping to achieve? Are you trying to do everything at once, making your goals too diffuse? Take a step back and choose your wording strategically to better direct your time and effort. It can be helpful to summarise each goal in one sentence starting with one verb. 
  • Measurable: keeping track of results. How can I keep an eye on my progress? What is the unit of measurement? Lists and spreadsheets can really help with visualising your progress better. Take the time to jot down notes as you go and try to keep things organised. Set alarms, calendar events and reminders to prompt you so there is no missing data. 
  • Achievable: being grounded and practical. Can I reasonably attain my goal? Do I have the resources that are needed? Will I need further training or support? Am I stretching myself too thin? Do I have mentorship and expertise to call upon when things get tricky? Setting goals that are impossible are not going to be feasible. It’s great to be ambitious! But smaller, gradual goals can help scale your performance. And reaching out to mentors and more experienced and qualified members of the team is crucial. 
  • Relevant: ensuring the reason for setting the goal in the first place makes sense. Why am I pursuing this goal? Why is it important to me? What does this goal mean for the bigger picture?
  • Time-bound: setting checkpoints, deadlines, and stages of the goal. How long will I need to work towards my goal? Do I need to achieve it by a certain time? Are there moments along the way where I will need to reassess and rework things?

Self-reflection is a powerful way to ensure that you continuously improve and take stock in your achievements and room for improvements. But it can be tricky. Some dental practitioners are too caught up in the daily grind to maintain the space and time to self-reflect. Others over analyse and get so fixated on what didn’t go well, throwing aside their progress and results. 

It can be tricky to navigate the codes, guidelines and regulations. But recently, there has been a shift away from prescriptive rules. Instead, we are entrusted to use our professional judgement, knowledge and skills to ensure we are providing the expected standard of care. That doesn’t mean our obligations have changed. Rather, as practitioners, it’s up to us to use the tools, training and resources available, and to think twice about what we are doing to get better at dentistry.

The Dental Board of Australia has some neat little templates to help guide you with this vital process. 

Scope of practice and continuing professional development

As an oral health therapist, I have conversations about my division of practice and scope every day. But this tool is something all practitioners will benefit from. The pace of change in our profession is fast! There’s a lot of new background knowledge behind the things we do every day, and the technology we use. There are also lots of different kinds of CPD activities, and different divisions of dental practitioners. Familiarising yourself with these things, and going over your record keeping, knowledge gaps and room for improvement will help you be a stronger practitioner. 

Infection prevention and control

Many of the items in this document sound familiar. but they’re crucial to patient safety. And, as practitioners, we are responsible for this. However, bad habits stick, and you may not be in the loop about things like reporting lines, waste management and the documentation that’s required. Have you familiarised yourself with the latest evidence-based resources? Is your practice manual due for an update? This tool can help bring you up to speed with what’s required.

I encourage you to set aside some time to complete the self-reflection tools. Yes, they do count towards your CPD requirements! But what’s more important is that they’ll help you to start planning for more conscientious, safe and up-to-date care for your patients. It’s a win-win and you’ll always be able to look over them down the track as things change or if you have any questions.