Working smart

Nov. 1, 2007
It’s no secret. We have the best profession in America.

by Bill Blatchford, DDS

It’s no secret. We have the best profession in America. Dental school applications are higher than ever. For the first time, the GPAs of entering dental students exceed those of students applying to medical school. We surpassed physicians’ income several years ago. The average dentist makes a very good living. But is there more?

It’s all about lifestyle and balance. Americans are workaholics. Present dentists are sons and daughters of working class people who learned that hard work equates with good. Dr. L.D. Pankey spoke to dentists about balancing work, play, love, and worship. Where are you in the balance of life today?

It is a challenge for dental entrepreneurs to set parameters that keep dentistry from becoming their whole life. Life is precious. Slow down enough to ask yourself these questions: What do I want? What can I give? What do I want to be remembered for? What do I need to change to be on that memorable path? Who can help me?

During your 35 years of practice, you could have 70 months of vacation and still produce a very good income and provide excellence for your patients. The keys are passionate leadership, solid systems, updated clinical skills, sales skills, and current marketing strategies. These keys can help you gather a team of people who see what you have to offer and who want that same thing too. The 70 months of vacation time equals nearly six years, so you really only have to work 29 years! All of these rewards come from focused leadership and a team who serves your guests well.

Too often we meet dentists who can’t remember when or where their last vacation was. They work evenings and miss their children’s T-ball games. They work 4.5 days a week (really five) and go to the office on the weekends under the guise of “I love dentistry.” They take one week off each year and some long weekends, but do not take enough time to truly sharpen the saw and refresh. We are a nation of tired and frustrated dentists ... dentists who continue to work with staff members who drain their energy and schedule patients who cancel and don’t pay their bills.

Working longer hours at the office or bringing charts home to work up treatment plans on patients who have not indicated the slightest interest in your ideas does not create more income for you or help you serve your patients better.

Many dental offices are inefficient because they do not work as a team. There is a division of labor - “there are certain things I do not do.” Cross-training and accountability are a must, and it includes the doctor.

Demographically, dentistry is a desired and needed service. There are one-third more dentists of retirement age than new graduates each year. For this reason alone we must become more efficient during our office hours. The answer does not lie in hiring more help. It requires engaged and passionate leadership. The bigger plan must come from the top and be a consistent message to the team.

Good leaders commit to schedule blocking for efficiency. This means that once a guest agrees to treatment, that treatment will be completed in blocks of time rather than appointing patients four to five times for a crown and root canal. We are a busy society, so your reputation can be enhanced by excellent planning. Examine your schedule for the last 90 days to see where you could have been much more efficient, effective, and profitable. How many more hours were actually available in your schedule? A day? A whole week? Most dentists end up taking their vacation time at the office due to poor scheduling.

In observing dental office sales skills, most staff and doctors fold when the patient asks, “What do I really need?” They take advantage of the insurance trap or use the predetermination close. Lacking direction, team members defer sales to the dentist, who wants to please. Diagnosis remains small so the patient will say yes. We are a sophisticated society and modern sales skills are right-brained, the opposite of the scientific sales approach. It takes real leadership and dedication to master what is currently needed to sell dentistry in a general practice.

We must serve people well, yet we dislike the times when our charity work is not our choice. Set aside a day each quarter when your team and possibly other dental offices can join together in a volunteer effort to treat patients who do not have access to care. When you serve your profession and your community, it can be a spiritual experience.

You can design a balanced practice life that fulfills your every dream. But your practice should support your dreams - not take the leftovers. It is a challenge to do this on your own. That’s where a good coach comes in. Every great athlete has a coach.

Think about it today - how will you work smarter?

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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