Retire as you go

June 1, 2004
Many important factors are creating an opportunity for dentists to practice their skills years beyond what was considered the normal retirement age.

Bill Blatchford, DDS

Many important factors are creating an opportunity for dentists to practice their skills years beyond what was considered the normal retirement age. Due to changes in our demographics, economics, longevity, and a renewed passion for dentistry, we have reached a new career opportunity in what I call the "Retire As You Go" program.

The factors making "Retire As You Go" a real force include:

* The number of dental boomers reaching retirement age number about 15,000 a year, while dental schools are currently graduating about 4,500 students a year. Consequently, the dream of selling your practice for a bundle is over. The formula for practice sales has been approximately 1.5 times net. Keep practicing for 18 more months and you can throw the key in the river on the way home!

* Females comprise about 40 percent of graduating classes and, statistically, practice 12 years. Many are becoming associates so they can more easily raise a family. A new dentist is usually married to a professional whose employment may be limited in your town. Consequently, dental graduates are forced to be more selective in their location choices than 40 years ago.

* Many dentists were depending on the stock boom to retire early. For some, the retirement nest egg now has a big crack.

* We are living longer. How old are your parents? The self-employed American male dies within 18 months of retirement. Why? Because the status and structure of what has been the norm is gone. It takes emotional and spiritual skills to retire well psychologically. Why retire at 55 and become depressed?

* Newer technologies in all phases of dentistry allow the passion to return within the profession. Sixty-five-year-old dentists are saying, "I wish we had these materials 30 years ago and I was 30 years younger. This is great fun."

* The paradigm can shift about what actually constitutes a dental practice, when you work, who will work with you, and what treatments you will render.

Every person's retirement dream is different. As with dentistry itself, there is no set box you must fit into. The true "Retire As You Go" program is filled with personal choices. As you reach middle age, you have earned a reputation of excellence in your community for 25 years. Keep the same patient base, one that generally matches your age.

If you continue practicing in some fashion, you need to revisit the vision of yourself and change your paradigm of practice. "Retire As You Go" means your days of practicing full-out four days a week, 10 hours a day, are over. Our longevity is not ours to choose; however, you still can make some smart choices and plans. Ask yourself three questions about the future: Who am I, what do I do, and for whom do I do it?

Then think long and hard about what patients you have enjoyed the most, what treatments still offer intrigue, and what services you would like to eliminate. Think of the offerings outside of dentistry and build your dental life around those. Would you like to take a month off at a time? Would you like to practice three days a week with a week off every month? The choices are yours. If you are clear about your practice plans and have enthusiasm and direction, you will find a staff that wants what you want.

Talking to staff and patients about your feelings is positive — i.e., "I am so in love with dentistry, the thought of fully retiring is appalling. What I am doing instead is staying in the field and continuing to be technically competent. Instead of rushing here and there to take continuing education, I will take a week to enjoy the museums, golf, and dining."

You must continue to show enthusiasm and amazement with dentistry. You can create this any way you wish. For it to be successful, you must communicate your love of dentistry, rather than wanting to escape from it. Dr. Omer Reed is an excellent model. A curious, bright man, he practices nine 10-day cycles annually. He and his wife attend continuing education and take notes like they are hearing it for the first time. Will Omer ever retire? I doubt it. You, too, can create your own "Retire As You Go" in dentistry.

Dr. Bill Blatchford's Custom Coaching Program is now available anytime, anywhere. Utilizing 18 years of practice-management experience with more than 1,100 offices, Dr. Blatchford's custom program involves minimal travel and maximum personal time with the coach, interaction with other doctors, and tons of support. Leadership, systems, case-presentation skills, communication, and profitability are emphasized. He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at

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