Choose one: better or bigger

Nov. 1, 2011
There are two paths that lead to two very different experiences in dentistry, and two destinations. Bigger leads to more complexity ...

Michael Schuster, DDS

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: choose bigger or better, heart, character, Schuster Center, Dr. Michael Schuster.

There are two paths that lead to two very different experiences in dentistry, and two destinations. Bigger leads to more complexity, more stress, less fun, less fulfillment, less satisfaction, and less profit. How many books and management philosophies promoted to unsuspecting dentists tout the million dollar practice? As soon as you reach $1 million, you want $2 million, and on and on. After 10 years in this charade, you find yourself lost.

With bigger, you put your ladder against the wrong wall. Money is your motivator and money becomes your god. Your marriage, your life, and your staff fall apart. The only way you can motivate your staff is with more money. Pretty soon you have to pay a bonus just to unlock your office door. No one wants to be there, not even you.

Better is the road less traveled. Focus on getting better and you will reach a size in your practice that fits you. Follow the herd and you will end up in the abyss of managed care. I started out on the wrong path.

When I followed the 90-second crown prep king I landed in the hospital with distress, exhaustion, and an ulcer. But it was the best thing that could have happened to me at the age of 28!

Pain, distress, and frustration are signs that something is wrong. I learned at a young age that bigger isn’t better. In my last four decades of practicing, teaching, and coaching, I discovered the majority of people don’t hit the wall until they are 45 to 55.

I had great mentors and role models. Bob Barkley, L.D. Pankey, Pete Dawson, John A. Anderson, Henry Tanner, and Jim Trask guided me to build a practice that represented my true self.

I will never forget a conversation I had with John Anderson when I was teaching at the Pankey Institute. He said, “Don’t spend your time and energy competing with anyone else. Strive to become the best you can.”

Dentists who focus on getting bigger lose themselves and things that money can never buy, such as relationships in the office and in their personal lives. They are always worried about maintaining the monster they built.

Many let their offices become so big that they cannot afford to take time off. A dentist grossing $3.2 million in two offices told me, “Mike, I can afford the $10,000 vacation, but I can’t afford the $70,000 I’d lose by not working.”

And, of course, they lose their freedom. To keep the ship going they have to sign up for every plan to keep busy doing the same mindless dentistry they think will lead to some sort of salvation on earth. Bigger leads to entrapment, higher volume, and less interaction with partners, team, and patients. Bigger leads to complexity; better leads to simplicity.

I can only speak for dentistry but I suspect this is true for other professions. The dentists who chase money and production don’t get them. Those who chase quality and excellence focus their lives and practices on getting better.

Dentistry is a head, heart, and hands profession. We have a unique opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of our patients, and as we take the time to get to know our patients and help them set goals for a healthier mouth and life, we ourselves grow and evolve and become more alive, complete, loving, and caring.

Bigger is not better, it’s just bigger. You either have better in your heart or you don’t. Remember the multitudes of men and women who live in quiet desperation, who have lives they have inflicted on themselves.

Finally, and this is one of the wonderful aspects of dentistry, we get it in our hands. Dentistry is not simply about thoughts or ideas; it is a practical profession in which we actually do things with our hands to make people’s lives better.

The key word here is character. As dentists, we have a great opportunity to be the people we want to be. Individually, we impact the world by influencing and impacting our patients, teams, families, and yes, ourselves.

Choose wisely. Your life depends on your choices. Choose bigger or better. Choose learning, growing, evolving, serving, enjoying, being challenged, having fun, and making a difference, or choose a life centered on yourself and which may lead to eventually losing your freedom, and maybe your soul.

A practicing dentist, Dr. Michael Schuster founded the Schuster Center in 1978. Guiding thousands of graduates to achieve wealth and freedom, the Schuster Center is the first business school created exclusively for dentists. Dr. Schuster is a cadre and former director at the Pankey Institute, and adjunct faculty at the Dawson Center, OBI, and LSU Cosmetic Continuum. He can be reached at (800) 288-9393,, or [email protected].

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