The Rule of 32

Nov. 1, 2006
The most abused commodity in all of dentistry is time. Instead of being invested, it tends to be wasted.

The most abused commodity in all of dentistry is time. Instead of being invested, it tends to be wasted. And for some of us, this is the greatest tragedy of all. We can all work harder to make more money, but we can never get this time back. That is why I firmly believe that there shouldn’t be a dentist on this planet who works more than 32 clinical hours a week.

The Rule of 32 quite simply states: If you can’t make more than enough money to support your lifestyle by working 32 clinical hours a week (or less), then something is dangerously wrong with your practice or your lifestyle.

Read that rule again. It applies only to those who demonstrate a true commitment to applications of patient-centered, comprehensive dentistry. It does not apply to well-meaning dentists.

As many of you know, there is a direct relationship between clarity of vision and fewer clinical hours. I see it time and time again. Many of the highest personal net incomes I have ever seen in dentistry come from those who work the least number of clinical hours. This is not by accident - not by a longshot.

One thing you will find with these individuals is that they understand and value their time much more than they do their money. They have realized that money, in fact, is a byproduct of providing tremendous value to others.

Most important, a dentist who strives toward mastering a 32 clinical hour workweek (or less) has clearly demonstrated one variable that very few people understand: Over the course of their careers, they work harder on themselves than they do on their jobs. A course in Seattle or Key Biscayne is never considered an “expense.” It is an investment that is necessary for them to become more valuable to their practices. They understand that owning a dental practice will never get easier, but rather they - as entrepreneurs and clinicians - have to get better at what they are doing.

I feel very strongly that maintaining a workload of more than 32 clinical hours a week sets you up for breakdown in the near future. It is the catalyst for the “something has to give” syndrome.

If you aspire to thrive in a quality-focused realm of dentistry, you just can’t keep such an excessive clinical pace going for a long period of time. True comprehensive dentistry requires intellectual energy outside of chair and chart time. It requires communication time with your specialists. It requires thoughtful lab time. You have to think more about what you are trying to co-create with each of your patients. And, you can’t give these efforts any attention if you are emotionally spent from a clinically intensive week.

You may have the energy to maintain a workweek of more than 32 clinical hours for a few years but, over time, erosion will be apparent in one or more important areas of your life -

  • Your health
  • Your emotional well being
  • Your due diligence on the intellectual time needed for high-quality dentistry
  • Your willingness to accept new and exciting challenges in dentistry
  • Your staff
  • Your identity in this world outside of your practice walls
  • Most regrettable of all, your marriage and your relationship with your children.
  • It’s sad, but one of the realities of our work is that I consistently get calls from dentists in their 40s who say, “I need to get my life under control.” I will ask them why. And they say, “Because my oldest child is 16, and she will be leaving home in the next two years … I want to spend more time with her.” You and I both know where 16-year-old children want to spend their time. And it’s usually not with their parents. This happens a lot. I have a client out east who says, “I want to cry when I think of my early years in practice because I missed so much of my son’s life.” Another dentist said this to me at a break during one of my speeches, “I have been divorced twice. My first wife was my soulmate, but I was never able to control my time enough to see that. The erosion happened in a way that I never saw it coming.” Don’t let this happen to you. Life comes first; the practice comes second. Your practice should be built around the life you desire. You should be driving your practice. If your practice is driving you, then you have to change it - today! The extra time you spend in your practice may look like it’s helping the bottom line but, in reality, it may be costing you way too much.
    Kirk Behrendt is the director of ACT Dental Practice Coaching. He has lectured nationally to major meetings and study clubs. He has extensive experience on practice profitability, team building, leadership, and dental practice marketing/branding. Behrendt and his team primarily focus on positively impacting the future of dentistry one practice at a time. Reach him at (800) 851-8186, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.actdental.com.

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