How to love being a dentist

"My father always taught me that if I love what I do, the money will follow." This quote was on a course evaluation as a reason why the study of practice management wasn't very important.

Michael Gradeless, DDS

"My father always taught me that if I love what I do, the money will follow." This quote was on a course evaluation as a reason why the study of practice management wasn't very important. The first year that I lectured on practice management at Indiana University, I received a few course evaluations that were negative. That was a little bit of a surprise to me, because I thought I was great.

The quote that I began this column with was and is very meaningful to me. So when I received the negative evaluations, all I could think of was didn't they understand? That was exactly what I was trying to teach them — how to love being a dentist. Some students didn't get it and I didn't teach it very well.

So here is the fundamental truth about dental management. If you want to love being a dentist, you absolutely must work in or have a well-managed practice!

The first step in studying practice management also is the most important step in learning how to love our profession: you must develop a vision and mission for your future. Making a living is good, and you will make a nice living from patients who want their teeth cleaned, some fillings done, and crowns placed. However, you must develop a vision for your future that goes beyond these few procedures or you will be extremely bored with your work life in only a few years. Most dentists who become bored seek out training in new procedures. Loving what you do comes from being inspired by what you do. New procedures are inspirations for the short term. Your vision must inspire you for the long haul.

The second step to managing your practice is strategic planning. Some of you would like to get rich. That is actually a very professional goal if you intend to achieve it by providing excellent dental care and superior customer service to your patients. You do not have to get rich to be happy in dentistry, but you must produce enough to pay all your bills. A yearly baseline goal will insure that you know how much dentistry must be produced in order to fully meet your financial obligations.

Even though we are professionals, we still have financial obligations. To calculate your goal on a daily basis, you must forecast your yearly expenses. This includes your fixed office expenses, your variable office expenses, your personal expenses, as well as your reserves for savings, retirement, new equipment purchases, and some money set aside just for fun. If you know this total number and divide it by the number of days you expect to work next year, you will know your daily production goal. Failing to reach your basic production goal will bring incredible stress to your life. If you know the minimum you need to make yourself happy, you will be ahead of 90 percent of the dentists in this country.

The third step to loving what you do is to have effective systems in your practice. Our dental school education teaches us to do everything ourselves. We have no appointment coordinators, no hygienists, and only rarely do we have assistants. It is no wonder that we try to control everything ourselves once we get into actual practice. The predominant problem-solving mode in most offices is "ask the doctor." If you are asked the same question more than once a month, you have a broken system. For example, how many times has a staff member interrupted you while you were with a patient to ask you where you want an emergency patient scheduled? Loving what you do is much easier if you don't have to do everything yourself!

The final step in loving what you do is to study leadership. The success of your career up until this point has been a measure of how good you are. Virtually all of your awards, honors, and grades have been achieved on your own. Your future goals will be achieved by working with an effective, efficient, and caring staff. Your leadership skills will attract the best people to your team and inspire them to greatness.

Many dentists believe that practice management is only about making money or buying burs in the clinic pack to reduce overhead. Practice management is actually about building the practice of your dreams and loving your profession.

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or e-mail to drmike44@aol.com.

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