William W. Oakes, DDS
There are many definitions of the word "successful," but in dentistry it boils down to a couple of things. A successful dentist is one who enjoys his/her work, has little or no debt and makes a sizeable profit from the business of dentistry.
In short, you can never be a "successful dentist" until you are a "profitable dentist." The world is filled with those who work at being successful or treat their business as a hobby. Unless a business is profitable, it can`t exist for very long.
Yes, dentistry is a profession and our first concern always should be for those who choose us (and whom we choose), our patients. Their well-being should be our primary concern and we should strive to do what is best for them, regardless of what the insurance company, the HMO or our own financial desires may dictate.
"Success" can`t be indicated by numbers, either. There are unsuccessful practices doing $150,000/month just as there are highly successful practices doing $12,000 a month. The numbers alone don`t tell the story.
We all know dentists who live in the best neighborhoods, belong to the right clubs and drive a Mercedes who couldn`t come up with $100 in cash if their life depended on it. Likewise, there are those we refer to as "geeks" at the monthly dental meetings, who are happy, debt-free, have six-figures plus in the bank and do textbook dentistry for a core of dedicated patients!
My personal opinion as to why most dentists are never truly successful is that they don`t have a good role model. Most dentists are a "hybrid" of various dentists on the lecture circuit they`ve tried to emulate. In other words, a typical dentist might be part Howard Farran, part Bill Dickerson, part Pete Dawson, etc. What they need to do is establish their own identity and then dedicate themselves to developing into the most happy, successful, profitable dentists they can become.
Develop the vision, develop a plan and follow the plan!
One of the greatest problems I had in my 24-year career as a dentist was not staying focused on my plan. My practice would be doing great. Then, I would attend a weekend course and come back on Monday and try to change everything.
My weary staff finally learned, "Just ignore him ... he`ll forget about it by Friday." And they were right! I usually did. Oh, I incorporated a few good ideas, but I never really implemented the entire package and thus I never got the desired results.
What I`d suggest to a young dentist (or any dentist who still hasn`t found his way) is to find a mentor. Find a local dentist or one in a nearby community who is doing exactly what you want to do. Then, telephone that dentist and ask him or her to be your mentor.
I`ve had several great mentors in my career and I`ve been privileged to serve as a mentor for others. Next month, I plan to help a dentist who is buying my practice become the best, most successful dentist in our community. It will be fun!
If you don`t know a dentist who would be a good mentor for you, there are many other businessmen and women who can be of help to you. My career was blessed early on by my association with a local man who started his company from scratch and grew it to over $300,000,000 a year. (No, he wasn`t a dentist!)
Once you have found your mentor, learn, learn, learn! And - this is vitally important - write down your goals! You`ve heard the research over and over again, and it`s true. People who write down their goals usually achieve them.
To cite a personal example, 10 years ago, I put together a notebook of everything I "wanted" in the next 10 years. I even included a photo of the car I wanted, even though I knew at the time I`d never have it.
Well, 10 years later, I have that car and it`s the exact model and color of the one in my book, and I paid cash for it. Every other goal written in this book was achieved or surpassed. It was like magic!
I want every dentist in the United States to be happy, successful and profitable! If you follow the ideas and concepts in this brief article, you can be one of them. I promise!
But, alas, most will never follow this advice and that`s why most dentists will never be successful.
Dr. Oakes is editor of The Profitable Dentist newsletter and has authored five dental books. He founded the OralVision camera company and guided it to sales of nearly $10 million per year before selling the company. He currently lectures on intraoral cameras and other high-tech advances in dentistry. For information and dates on his lectures, call (800) 800-9511.