Lessons learned along the journey
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe believed that there is nothing ...
by Kristen Manolovits, DDS
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe believed that there is nothing permanent except change. However since we as people and dentists are creatures of habit, change can be stressful. The skill to adapt quickly to change is a desirable characteristic of successful people and a successful dental practice.
Reflecting on my own journey in the dental profession, I have encountered many situations that called for adaptation. We all can relate to the transition from the classroom in dental school to clinic rotations to graduation into real-world dentistry.
It was during my undergraduate studies at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., that I explored the option of dentistry as a profession. Several classmates were perusing this career path and after discussing the benefits of dentistry, I felt it was right for me. This profession would allow me to fulfill my goals to return to my hometown of Mott, N.D. (population 800), own my own business, work in health care, provided services to the public, and allow for diversity and creativity in my work. I approached my family dentist in Mott, Dr. Gjerstad, to discuss the transition. He had been practicing dentistry for nearly 40 years and was looking for someone to join him and eventually take over the practice. Before I had begun working at Dr. Gjerstad’s clinic, we had planned a two-year transition period. As I would later discover, this plan would change.
After my matriculation from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, I returned to Mott to work as an employee-dentist for the local dentist Dr. Gjerstad. The state of North Dakota awarded me funds to assist in paying off my educational debt through the state’s loan repayment program. In exchange for four years of dental work in a rural area of North Dakota, I received $20,000 for each year of service. Within the first six months of my employment, Dr. Gjerstad and I discussed and agreed upon an earlier transition and I purchased the practice. He continues to treat patients as an employee dentist at my office, Apollonia Dental (named after the patron saint of dentists). In order to facilitate the purchase I utilized the support of a dental certified public accountant and an attorney who specialized in dental transactions. We also used the services of a practice management firm, Mercer Consultants, to assist in the transition. In order to finance my business purchase, I worked with a company that specialized in dental practice loans, Wells Fargo Practice Finance. I was able to avoid the process of acquiring a traditional building property loan by using seller financing by Dr. Gjerstad to purchase the office building as well.
In the Mott office, the computer system and digital radiographs were already being utilized however the software was changed to Patterson’s Eaglesoft and a CEREC machine was purchased. Both new technologies required adaptation and change to how things were done.
During my first two years as a business owner I continued to use the business consulting firm Mercer to help cope with changes and structure my business. I was attending a business course at their Scottsdale Center when I received a phone call informing me of an area dentist sudden death and need for a replacement. I contacted his widow and offered to be the temporary dentist to serve the patients until a permanent solution was found. After meeting his dental team and patients, I knew it was the right decision for me to buy his practice. Although it was not in my plans to acquire another business, the opportunity had presented itself and I felt compelled to act. My local Commercial Bank of Mott was willing to finance the purchase of the practice. For others in rural areas, small local banks may be a good option to consider for financing practice loans. The office was in desperate need of new equipment. Patterson dental worked with me to furnish the office with state-of-the-art equipment and had financing available through GE Money, which is now a part of Wells Fargo. Recently I was able to consolidate both my Wells Fargo loans into one at a lower interest rate.
Aside from all the changes within the business, there were the equally important changes with the practice of dentistry, which involved my dental team and patients. Alike many offices, staff turnover is a constant. It is important that the team be dedicated to the practice philosophy, the doctor, the office policies, and patients. In order to achieve a more perfect harmony, we attend dental continuing education classes, have daily huddles, and monthly meetings. One particular CE course about coping with change at Minnesota’s Star of the North dental conference was particularly influential. The team still talks about it and implements it today by remembering the message, “Mind the Gap”. This refers to the gap that exists when the reality and expectations are not the same. One must accept the reality and adjust one’s thoughts to accommodate the reality that cannot be changed. It is often difficult to understand why things happen, but in hindsight it is easy to appreciate that everything happens for a reason. In order to more easily accept the change, I frequently remind myself of my mother’s words, “God never closes a door without opening a window.”
The most important change is found in the lives of the patients we serve. As the president of the West Slope District Dental Society, member of the North Dakota Dental Association, and American Dental Association I work toward improvements in our profession for the good of our patients. Every day we strive toward improving the oral health of our patient along with enriching their lives through kindness and compassion through our smiles and conversations. Even though the reimbursement rate is low, we accept and treat new and existing Medicaid patients. Every year we participate in Give Kids a Smile Day, which is a nation-wide event to serve those children in need of dental care. In serving these people, our team is rewarded in smiles and the satisfaction of giving back to the community.
As I continue my journey treating patients, I eagerly await change in business structure, technology, staffing, and patient care. I have learned to be open-minded, take risks, embrace change, and realize the possibilities.
You may contact Kristen Manolovits, DDS, at email address: pansies7_99@ yahoo.com
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