Are you ready?

May 15, 2015
The alarm clock rings. It's 6:00 a.m., time to start a new day. You shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave for a day of treating patients in your dental practice. But what happens if you don't make it there?

Being prepared for life and practice challenges

Steven M. Katz, DMD, MAGD

The alarm clock rings. It's 6:00 a.m., time to start a new day. You shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave for a day of treating patients in your dental practice. But what happens if you don't make it there?

Unfortunately, life is an obstacle course of motor vehicle accidents, health crises, slips, falls, and other life challenges. There are no guarantees. Any one of these things has the potential to ruin a morning, a day, a week, or a life. If something were to derail your life, are you ready? Are you prepared?

Of course, none of us ever think, "It will happen to me." Fifteen years ago, I was an indestructible, weightlifting, athletic mesomorph until a freak accident removed me from my practice for two years. I know others who have been affected, too. A friend's life has been turned upside down by a diagnosis of lymphoma. A colleague's ability to practice has been shattered by a devastating bicycle accident. A sensational, vibrant, highly respected, and personable past-president of my home dental society was stolen away from all of us in a tragic hit-and-run accident only three months ago.

What can you do?

In the past, I was not fond of the "study club scene." Colleagues would join for a dinner, a lecture, and a night of bragging about how well their practices were doing, whether it was true or not. More recently, study clubs have included more meaningful presentations with dental corporate sponsorship, but they have also become places to commiserate through difficult times. When bad things happen to your colleagues, you start to worry yourself. I rarely arrive home after a study club meeting feeling energized and inspired.

A development of greater significance to me, and my life, occurred 25 years ago, when five colleagues and I separated from our study club and created, for lack of a better concept, a "DDS," which stood for "Dentists Desiring Success" support group. In the beginning, it was a night of honestly sharing the challenges that we were facing in our respective practices and, together, trying to sort out solutions. We discussed staff issues and difficult patient challenges. We complained about insurance companies, government regulations, and our lack of training in the business of dentistry. What made it more meaningful than other groups was that we each started to become more invested in the success of our five friends/colleagues' practices.

Over time, it became a much more intimate experience that included discussions of life challenges, marriage, children, family, finances, health, and emotional well-being. Some meetings occurred during Monday Night Football, at baseball games, amusement parks, or spas. We traveled to dental meetings together and a couple of times each year, played hooky from our practices together in what we called "mental health days," which consisted of massages and then dinner.

The most definitive expression of how this group evolved occurred after my two-year period of disability. It was then we realized the ultimate power of being committed to one another. We developed an informal agreement that, should anything ever again happen to one of us that prevented one of us from practicing dentistry, the others would make sure the practice would make it through. My two years of absence devastated my practice, and we wanted to make sure that it would never happen again to any of us. The commitment was that if something happened, such as a disability or even death, the other five would rotate a day per week into the affected member's practice to keep it running until the affected member could return. In the event of the unspeakable, the commitment would keep the deceased's practice running to ensure the surviving spouse would receive the greatest value for the transfer of the practice to a new owner. This gave all of us the safety of knowing that our friends would ensure that our practices remained viable for our return or for the welfare of our families.

These five gentlemen have become very important to me in my life. We have shared one another's life challenges and successes, celebrations and disappointments. We have attended family triumphs and comforted one another through tragedies. But above all, we have been there for one another. One of ours has retired and moved to a milder climate and the rest of us now bring more discussion of visits to our physicians for various ailments. But what has flourished is our mutual affection, respect, and commitment to being there for one another "come hell or high water," as occurred after Hurricane Sandy.

Preparedness does not have to entail such global challenges of disability or death. There are many areas where we can perform like Boy Scouts and better prepare for the unexpected. I often tell the story of how five years ago, between March and June, six members of my team (out of ten) told me that they were going to be unable to work beginning in September (five pregnancies and one team member beginning hygiene school).

Mercedes, our office manager (and presently, the administrator and third coach in Smile Potential) developed a practice systems and procedures manual that described, in detail, how to perform every task done by every member of our team. The book is almost 1,000 pages and lists clinical tasks and administrative responsibilities. Computer tasks are described with highlighted printed screens of every mouse click to show the flow of every operation. Systems run a practice. People run systems. When your systems are documented to this extent, it ensures the success of your practice regardless of the players. You remain prepared to succeed through almost any challenge. By the way, the last quarter of that year, when we had five new team members, was our most productive period of the year.

Life is full of surprises. You never know. Always be prepared and implement strategies to get you through whatever your practice and life can throw your way.

Are you prepared?

For more information about being prepared, please call (516) 599-0883 or send an email to [email protected].

The practice of Steven M. Katz, DMD, MAGD, was destroyed by a series of life tragedies 15 years ago. He systematically rebuilt it to become a multimillion dollar practice with an emphasis on relationships and customized care. He has been the team dentist for the New York Jets Football Team and a dental consultant to Channel 5 Fox News in New York. He is the owner of Smiles On Broadway Dental Care in Malverne, New York, and the founder of Smile Potential Dental Practice Coaching.

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