Retirement option: don't!

Oct. 1, 2004
As self-employed dentists, the traditional retirement age of 65 has been a guidepost. Retirement choices are increasing. One excellent retirement choice is not to retire! I call it "Retire as You Go."

Bill Blatchford, DDS

As self-employed dentists, the traditional retirement age of 65 has been a guidepost. Retirement choices are increasing. One excellent retirement choice is not to retire! I call it "Retire as You Go."

Dental numbers have changed. From a high of over 14,000 dental school graduates, we now graduate 4,300 new dentists annually. The boomers seeking to sell their practices far outnumber the potential prospective buyers. There are now towns in America where practices are closing without a buyer. If your practice does sell, the purchase price will be about 18 months of net income.

Many boomer dentists planned retirement when stock portfolios were outrageous. For many still in practice, retirement may be five years away. Consider restructuring your practice to continue producing in some fashion.

Of the 4,300 dental school graduates, few are planning to purchase practices right out of school. Some 35 percent of these graduates are female. If they are married, their spouses usually are professionals who have specific job skills and location requirements. It is getting more difficult to find associates with buy-in potential. New graduates do not want to do the "smaller treatment" you no longer find exciting. Instead, within a short time, they want to do the reconstruction and cosmetic dentistry, too.

If you are contemplating complete retirement, reconsider. Presently, you have a steady patient base, freedom to choose treatments, a supportive staff, and you probably are in the top five percent of wage-earners. You enjoy the dentist status.

Financial planners indicate the need for 70 percent of your current income in retirement. We are not a generation known for frugality. With the inflation Pac-Man and longevity, will you have enough? Why quit a good thing? If you could wave a magic wand and practice anyway you wanted, what would that be? What would you change? What would you eliminate?

"Retire as You Go" can be motivated by money with a desire for continuing net income. It also can be planned to keep your mind and body active. The American male dies within 18 months of retiring, according to actuarial tables. Shock! If you could have the freedom of more time off, with the structure and stature within a dental practice and the net as a great bonus, could that work for you?

Start thinking of bigger-picture questions — Who are we? What do we do? For whom do we do it? That is, am I still trying to be Dr. Everything to Everybody? Could I be insurance-free? Could I attract a certain group of patients who appreciate my expertise? Is there a place for an experienced and highly trained dentist? Could I limit my treatment only to those cases that challenge me or that I really enjoy?

Dentists would like more time off, with freedom to travel for a month at a time. The ideal might be four days every other week, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. For some, it might be working with a smaller staff. Dentists are individuals, and "Retire As You Go" is an individual endeavor.

"Retire As You Go" is your dream of how you can stay passionate, technically current, and still utilize the momentum and reputation you have earned. Begin with the end in mind. What kind of skills do you feel you need to be practicing for the next several years? What will keep you in the game? What is the net you would like to be earning in two years, five years, 10 years, or 15 years?

I have helped many in this dilemma find attractive alternatives to retirement. Begin by contemplating some important questions. In full retirement, what will you do to fill a very large void in your life? You can only play so much golf or travel so much. How much do you want to travel or play? If you are thinking of selling and associating with the practice for five years, think again. After 30 years as the boss, do you really think you could be an employee? After 30 years of making all the decisions, would you really make a good partner? Could you handle having someone else in control of "your practice?" Perhaps it would be better to parlay your skills, personality, reputation and experience into a dental practice of your choice. Perhaps this is the time to practice without fear. Why quit completely when you have such a great thing going? For information and coaching on how to make this work for you, please contact me, the "Retire As You Go" coach.

Dr. Bill Blatchford's Custom Coaching Program is now available anytime, anywhere. Utilizing 18 years of practice-management experience with over 1,100 offices, Dr. Blatchford's custom program involves minimal travel and maximum personal time with the coach, interaction with other doctors and tons of support. Leadership, systems, case presentation skills, communication, and profitability are emphasized. He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at

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