The learning of business

June 1, 1998
During the past few months, I have been crisscrossing the United States attending dental meetings. I have been impressed with the interest and enthusiasm of the dentists and staff people attending the meetings. They are interested in the new materials and new techniques, but they are extremely interested in how to manage the business side of their practices. I spoke on Thursday (the pre-meeting day) at the California Dental Association meeting in Anaheim. The exhibits were not open, and most peo

Joe Blaes, DDS, Editor

e-mail: [email protected]

During the past few months, I have been crisscrossing the United States attending dental meetings. I have been impressed with the interest and enthusiasm of the dentists and staff people attending the meetings. They are interested in the new materials and new techniques, but they are extremely interested in how to manage the business side of their practices. I spoke on Thursday (the pre-meeting day) at the California Dental Association meeting in Anaheim. The exhibits were not open, and most people did not come until the next day. I was speaking on how to better manage your practice to a group of 350 dentists and their staffs, most of whom came back after lunch on a beautiful, sunny Southern California day. Since this was considered "practice management," the CDA did not give any continuing education credits.

For as long as I can remember, dental schools in the United States have not taught their students about the business side of the practice. I still can clearly remember my only practice management course at St. Louis University. It was an early-morning, 13-week course in the last trimester of our senior year, and it was taught by a carriage-trade dentist who regaled us with stories about his cars, planes, vacations, and boats - but nothing about how to manage a dental practice. Curriculum committees at dental schools usually will tell you there is no time to teach business courses. The student will have to get that part of his education on his own in postgraduate courses.

When you sit back and reflect on this, one thing is very obvious. Dental schools are turning out future CEOs with absolutely no training in sales, marketing, or people management. Dental practices today easily can be in the $500,000 to $750,000 range with a leader who has no business skills. Given the cost of tuition today, I think this is scandalous. Dentists are graduating with an average debt of $100,000 and no business training to market their professional skills. This has been going on long enough! Some-body needs to step in and make some changes!

The reality of our life in dentistry is that most of our postgraduate courses are weekend continuing-education courses provided by dental societies. The other source is to hire a consultant to teach the basic business skills or to help clean up problems that already have been created. Some of these are weekend courses, or some can involve programs that last one to two years with ongoing support. As you would expect, some of these courses are terrific while others are marginal. For the most part, it is up to the individual dentist to figure out which is which. (We are now helping in this choice with Dr. Larry Pearson`s column on continuing education.)

A few years ago, the state dental boards, in their infinite wisdom, decided to regulate continuing education by mandating a certain amount of CE hours each year in order to maintain your license. I am not against mandatory continuing education. The dental schools, in their infinite wisdom, have told the graduating dentists that they must get their business education on their own. The main way to do that is in continuing education courses. Now, the state boards step in and tell us that business courses are not eligible for CEU credits. This is ludicrous!

If dentists are to survive and thrive in providing patients with the best and finest that dentistry has to offer, they must be trained in the business of marketing, sales, and managing people. This is just as important as learning a bonding system or an endo technique, or a denture process. And yet, our state dental boards do not see it this way. It seems to me that this is an altruistic, ivory- tower attitude that must change.

Write your state board members and let them know how you feel on this matter.