We dentists chose a hard road.
Not only do we “do the dentistry”, we wear perhaps a hundred or so other hats each day. It’s hard keeping it all in focus, all in perspective, all the time. If you’ve practiced long enough, you’ve undoubtedly buried your head in the sand from trying to do it all, made the easiest choices, or just plain ol’ gave in. It’s hard, I know. I’ve “been to hell and back” many times in my own career. You’ve probably, too.
As a professional business coach and practicing dentist, I work with dentists all over the country who have ‘been there, done that’. Because of the incredible amount of information available on how to manage a practice, it’s hard to discern fact from fiction, pipe dreams from reality.
I intend to contribute to the reality half. I also do that with my coaching. You know by now there’s more than one way to do things, and not one size fits all.
What are the components of a practice that can weather changes, deaths, turnover, economy, and any other disaster, yet remain productive, enjoyable, and challenging?
Here’s my perspective, and I hope you find deep truth in it all.
- Trust your hunches and intuition. I talk with many doctors who are kicking themselves because they knew better, but they talked themselves out of something. Our total knowledge is so vast; if you think you’re brainy, go by a $4.97 calculator at Office Depot and match wits. Learning to listen to, understand, and trust your hunch is tough because our mind is constantly working in overdrive. We can rationalize anything, and that includes decisions we make from diagnosis and treatment planning to hiring that too-good-to-be-true interviewee. It takes practice, but when you learn the art of listening to that inner wisdom, life gets so much easier (and not just for the women, who figured that out a long time ago).
- If your focus is not your practice, your practice will suffer. When I looked back over what made the difference from year to year, it wasn’t any new procedure or service, any consultant or staff member, any new technology; it was ME. When I was paying attention to what was going on in my practice, things worked. You can’t just show up for work and leave at the end of the day and expect much from your practice. It doesn’t matter if you love doing cosmetic procedures, endo, C & B, or dentures; it will all work out if you’re focused on your practice. I’ve seen dentists who’ve been “asleep at the wheel” for years on end and then wonder why their practice hasn’t done very well.
- If you’re not growing, you’re dead. Simply put, complacency = burnout. Those doctors who are committed to growth – both personal and professional – will be successful. In my book, there is no other way to live than to explore everything that life and our profession has to offer. The benefits to this are spectacular. Not only will you be a dynamic individual that your staff looks up to and admires, you’ll have an incredible experience of life. Your patients will respect and admire you, and they’ll send their family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
- Manage your practice as the business it is. So many doctors forget that! They either manage it like a family unit, make decisions to cater to employees, or give away thousands upon thousands of valuable services every year. Learn good business practices and manage it from there. If you’re generous and kind-hearted, there’s plenty of opportunity to give away your services, money, or time, but make your business your business. Manage employees to help you earn money and let them be responsible for their own careers; it’s certainly not yours And PLEASE don’t forget: We’re in a CARING profession!
- Keep both eyes open. Don’t be lazy and not question what your employees are up to. Hold them accountable – first to you, then to your Office Administrator (if you have one), then to themselves, then to each other. I find many doctors just look the other way until someone gets upset – be it a patient or a staff member. You have a right to know what your employees are doing while you’re paying them.
- Have a solid financial plan as early in your career as possible. Your practice is a cash machine; use it as such, and you will create all sorts of possibilities for your future. PLEASE don’t decide when you’re 45 or 50 to do this. Work with a CFP and a CPA, preferably ones who aren’t trying to sell you anything or make commissions off you. By creating a preferred future, you’ll be able to freely and generously give of your time and talents to the furthering of dentistry as a caring profession and to the health and well-being of those in need who cannot afford our care.
- Develop policies and procedures that address healthy workplace practices. This area is easily overlooked. You will avoid employee turnover, legal problems with employees, and a host of other items that eat away at your financial bottom line. You’ll enjoy coming to work each day with your team because you’ve developed healthy boundaries and standards for working together. They’ll be little or no gossip, and the focus can be on taking care of your patients and getting the job done.
- Give back to the profession. Call it karma, call it whatever you want. When you give back, you’ll receive many times over. Or as JFK asked (to paraphrase him), “Ask not what your profession can do for you, but what you can do for your profession.” In these days of declining professionalism, contribution to our profession, and the focus on “what’s in it for me”, there’ll be less and less there for you – and even less for those young men and women that follow in our footsteps.
- Take care of yourself – emotionally, physically, spiritually. In a profession that asks us to give all the time, if you’re not healthfully recharging your batteries, you’ll soon have nothing left to give. Get those needs met, trust what your body and soul is telling you that you need, and don’t ignore physical or emotional issues until your body gives in. The consequences of not taking care of yourself are huge, and you’ll have nothing to offer your patients, your staff, or your family when you’ve depleted yourself. What good would that be?
- Avoid being reactive; be responsive. As I see it, egos are the cause of most disagreements and problems. How do you know if your ego is in charge? Because you can’t see it any other way, you feel overly strong or sensitive about an issue, or you find yourself reacting or responding irrationally. Give your ego a rest; it won’t help you with patients, with your staff, or with your family. There’s no need to prove anything to anyone. Be yourself; live in integrity, openness, and aliveness. It will ALL work out!
You have incredible opportunity before you, and you’ve worked hard to have that choice. There’s so much more we could discuss, and I hope we have the chance to continue the conversation.