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2 Things I wish I Knew When I Was Fresh Out of Dental School.

by | Mar 16, 2024 | Articles, Tips and Tricks | 0 comments

2 Things I wish I Knew When I Was Fresh Out of Dental School.

Everyone hears about the upsides of success; financial freedom, personal fulfillment, illustrious careers, impressive feats, and so on. However, we often hear less about the downsides of success and the mistakes it took to get there. 

The downsides are a more important piece of the puzzle, because they have a lot to teach you. By knowing what pivots you can make after experiencing pitfalls, you can be better off in ensuring that your errors don’t overcome you and leave you more behind than they should. 

That’s why, for this week’s article, I want to offer some dental practice ownership insights by diving into two things I learned the hard way when I was fresh out of dental school.

1. Consistently being on site will make dental practice management so much easier.

Upon venturing into dental practice ownership, one aspect that became abundantly clear to me was the significance of consistent on-site presence. If you’re on site, you’re able to put out any fires, train people, and counsel them when they make mistakes. You get daily influence; you can model for people day in and day out. You can exemplify your company’s core values on the daily and on the hourly. People don’t have a choice but to either put up or shut up because you’re modeling your values and living them everyday alongside your team. In other words, your presence alone is one of the most effective staff motivation strategies.

It also makes dental practice management so much easier. If something doesn’t go according to plan, you’re there to serve as a safety valve, confront issues, and manage your team in real-time. You’re able to audit the schedule. You can listen in on how your associates are talking to patients. You’re able to pull a hygienist aside if they don’t present treatment the right way or something pops up during the exam. You can counsel the insurance coordinator if one of the verifications wasn’t done right. You’re able to talk to the scheduler in case they crammed an emergency exam in the wrong spot. The list goes on. I’m not advocating for micromanagement, but maintaining a consistent on-site presence allows you to actively exercise dentist leadership skills and ensure the efficacy of your systems. 

If you’re off-site, however, dental practice management becomes a lot clunkier. Holes in your systems become much more apparent. You start to hear about the breakdowns while the good stuff isn’t mentioned so much. You get a clouded, slanted view of what’s really happening in the practice because you only get the text message from the office manager when stuff is wonky. Meanwhile, if everything is going right, you’re getting fewer and fewer text messages with each successive week. Sure, being able to take a hands-off approach might seem like a good sign, but how can you accurately gauge the health of the practice when you’re so far removed from the day-to-day?

That doesn’t mean being off-site is impossible. It just means you need to be more proactive with utilizing your dentist leadership skills by periodically having check-ins. A good dental practice management model is to do dentistry in-office two days a week and then just have the discipline to be on site and available for meetings, training, calibration, and quality control during one or two of the other days per week. If you wanted to have a 3-day work week you could be clinical on Monday and Wednesday and then have an admin day on Tuesday or something like that. That said, it takes a long time to build the practice up to the point where you can do that and keep the business growing and scaling in a way that stays aligned with your vision.


2. Without a “why,” your staff is going to struggle.

Every dentist has a “why” when it comes to owning a dental practice. Perhaps they want the autonomy that comes with practice ownership. Maybe they like the idea of serving patients on their own terms. Maybe it’s keeping the lights on and providing job security for themselves and their team. Your “why” is basically your purpose and, without it, your staff is going to struggle to find meaning in why they’re hustling and bustling each and every day.

The truth is that your team won’t be motivated by (nor necessarily understand) you droning on about different metrics and measurements for accomplishing your goals. They’ll be motivated by the underlying reasons behind accomplishing those goals. When it comes to staff motivation strategies, you need to get your team to understand why you care about certain things—tie their hard work into what you’re all building towards and what your vision is for the practice. 

For example, if you’re trying to motivate your hygienist, telling them about what numbers you want them to hit isn’t going to fire them up. But if you build in the fact that the reason you need to get those numbers hit is to render a really hig- quality level of patient care or make enough profits for them to earn a nice bonus, then the conversation shifts. They start to understand why you give a hoot about measuring statistics like patient re-care, case acceptance, and so on. 

You can’t just roll the ball out there and expect them to play; leadership in dentistry requires talking about why the ball needs to go in the hoop. Whenever you’re announcing a change or an adjustment or a new direction or a new goal, staff motivation strategies start with telling your team about the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Dentist leadership skills are often learned the hard way.

Again, there are downsides to the success story of every dental practice. The path to achieving your vision is very much like a rollercoaster with ups and downs and everything in between. Sometimes falling flat on our faces is the best way to teach ourselves dentist leadership skills, believe it or not.

That said, you don’t always have to learn the hard way. Fellow dentists who have gone through the thick of it can be your greatest resource, and I run a community full of dental professionals who can teach you all about dental practice management, leadership in dentistry, staff motivation strategies, and more. So, join the Nifty Thrifty Dentists Facebook group and reach out! People from all across the globe will be happy to let you in on their two cents.

Glenn Vo
Author: Glenn Vo