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A positive ending

Feb. 1, 2008
As the boomer dentist approaches retirement, MAJOR DECISIONS LOOM. Transition is the buzz word.

As the boomer dentist approaches retirement, MAJOR DECISIONS LOOM. Transition is the buzz word. Advisors are offering you their version of transition. Traditionally, boomers have been independent operators, so the proper disposal of your practice requires great thought. Offerings are being made that sound so attractive. But are they right for you? Examine your options to determine what will make a positive ending for you.

You have worked in your community for 30 years creating a presence and a brand. You are known among your peers, and you have a level of technical skill of which you are proud. Generally, you have been an independent operator and made your own decisions. Examine the reasons you decided to work on your own. You have earned an excellent living and yet your standard of living has met or exceeded your large net. You have some money for retirement and believe you have 10 more years of productive life to feel needed and you want to give to others.

You are a solo practicing dentist age 55 or older. You represent one-third of the dental population. Financial advisors once said to plan on spending 75 percent of your current income for retirement. Many boomers are finding they want 100 percent of their current income during retirement. Boomers have reinvented each phase of their lives, so what will retirement be like for them? What is right for you?

Bringing in a partner is a financial and emotional question. Are you capable of being a good partner, or do you like to be in control? How much money are you willing to sacrifice to make a partnership equitable? Are you currently turning patients away because you are so busy? If you still have time in your schedule to see all the patients, how will the extra net be created? Think long and hard about this because once you bring in a partner, it is very difficult to undo.

If, during the last 10 years of your practice, you were to bring in a young partner, your expectations initially might include:

  • Mentoring a young dentist by using your 30 years of dental skills
  • Sharing leadership, management, and staffing issues
  • Having the younger dentist take care of pediatric patients and do the lesser treatment so that ...
  • You can concentrate on larger, more technical cases
  • You can take more time away from the practice
  • You can continue to produce and net as you have always done

A dentist 30 years younger than you may have these initial expectations upon becoming your partner:

  • Joy that you can help her become more efficient, effective, and skilled
  • Happy with the possibility of making money to cover school debts and purchase half of your practice, while creating a life for herself and her young family
  • Eventually may want to be the solo practitioner in this practice

Within a year, reality sets in. Here are some possible results:

  • The senior doctor now realizes he is splitting his formerly great net in half. The new doctor was told the practice would increase when she arrived, yet she arrived with no patients of her own.
  • The staff is not interested in having a younger dentist tell them what to do. Their loyalty remains with the senior doctor who originally wanted to “share” the leadership and staffing issues.
  • The younger dentist has taken some classes to discover that the senior doctor is – in her perception – not all that technically current, and now the younger dentist is not interested in just doing small things and children. She wants to increase her net. Who will pay for the marketing to attract those patients? The younger doctor is already paying for half the practice.

Real conflicts are developing because both doctors made an emotional decision with their eyes closed. They did not communicate their expectations to themselves, each other, or the team. Their dreams are not being fulfilled.

My suggestion for an alternative to practice partnership is: keep your own practice and create a schedule that works for you to fund your retirement, take more time away by working with a team who wants the same, focus on particular treatments in which you have passion and skill, eliminate treatments for the types of patients you no longer enjoy, give back to the profession and your community in your own unique way, and continue to practice as long as you are able. This way you are still in control, and you can retire as you go. Die with your boots on.

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Dr. Bill Blatchford is a leading dental business coach who has worked with more than 2,000 offices to help dentists achieve more time off, more net, and more enjoyment. Become a member of Blatchford FILES, Dr. Blatchford’s monthly CD on winning at dental business. The first two months are free. Call (541) 389-9088 or visit for more information.

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