This is the storyabout how I stepped away from clinical duties and became the CEO of Lakeview Dental Care’s six locations. This was always part of the bigger plan, but when it finally happened in the middle of the pandemic, I was terrified.
When I received my DMD from Temple University, School of Dentistry in 2002, I was well trained in the clinical aspects of dentistry and I went right to work in private practice. I worked in a few different offices to fill my days with as much clinical dentistry as I could. But I also paid attention to the business side of practice, especially leases and property ownership. My goal was always two-fold: to own patient-centric, highly productive dental practices, and to own the real estate they occupy.
In 2005, I purchased a three-operatory practice from a retiring doctor in my hometown. We were busy from day one. Within two years I brought my first associate onboard and we moved to a brand new six-operatory facility. My associate and I developed a great working relationship and very strong bond. Because of the strength of our relationship, in 2011 Jonathan Hill, DMD, and I decided to become partners and form Lakeview Dental Care (LVDC).
I knew we were ready for the next step in our journey together when we committed to something bigger than ourselves. By 2013 we had three thriving dental practices and a few pieces of real estate located in southern New Jersey. Acquiring financing is always challenging, so the strong relationship we had with our bank was important to getting these deals completed.
We formed a leadership team and defined our core values and how to achieve our vision around the principles of offering the best possible dentistry. We provided mentorship for associates, a strong culture modeling our core values, standardization across locations, and the goal of building the LVDC brand.
Achieving our vision was not easy. As I was cutting back on clinical hours, I struggled with the impact this was having on our patients and our bottom line. I struggled to be effective while wearing the entrepreneur and dentist hats at the same time. I struggled, and still do, with the reality of no longer practicing clinical dentistry, something that was a huge part of my life for so many years. However, I have the support of my partner and our leadership team, and we have the right people in the right seats.
After a real estate acquisition deal went south in early 2019, we decided to venture into the start-up world. That gave us the confidence to add de novo to our portfolio.
Life took a turn
Life happens and situations arise that are out of our control. But it’s important to keep going when you’re scared and to look for opportunities when times are uncertain. Just when 2020 was getting off to a great start, COVID-19 hit just one month after we opened our first de novo practice. It was LVDC’s sixth location, and like the rest of the world, we found ourselves in a tight spot.
The pandemic created an even greater need for leadership throughout our organization in both keeping the practices and real estate financially healthy and keeping patients and team members safe and productive. However, it also gave us time to plan our next steps. I leaned on collaboration with our leadership team, as I have many times in the past, to accomplish this.
Together, we crafted the future vision of LVDC with precision and clarity. Me doing clinical dentistry was not part of that vision. The pandemic accelerated my move to CEO. Clinical excellence in dentistry takes a lot of energy and focus to do it the “Lakeview Dental Care way,” and my heart had not been 100% in it for a while. I had stopped taking new patients a couple of years earlier and had decreased my clinical hours to 10 a week.
The opportunity to be a true CEO and take LVDC to new levels is exciting and is something I am very grateful for. As our practices reopened after the government shutdown, I finished treatment plans with long-term patients and said my final goodbye to the chair.
At LVDC we play to win, and we share our success. We are coming out of the pandemic stronger than ever with our teams and business intact. One of our long-standing goals is for all of our practices to be in visible, modern, and well-matched facilities. I’ve been searching for the right real estate opportunity to make this happen for some time in Cherry Hill. LVDC of Cherry Hill will relocate and open this month on a main highway in a state-of-the-art, standardized facility that we own.
Dentistry has been a very rewarding career for me, and I know this will continue. I have enjoyed overcoming the challenges it has presented. With our team at LVDC, we will stay true to our core values and culture and build our brand. We will seize opportunities and continue to create smiles and improve lives every day.
If you are thinking about taking the leap out of the chair, I suggest that you define your vision, build the culture, get the right people in the right seats, and go for it!
ERIC J. FORTE, DMD, graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry in 2002 and acquired his first practice in 2005. He’s since grown his dental group considerably. After partnering with the cofounder of Lakeview Dental Care, Dr. Jonathan Hill, in 2011, Dr. Forte split his time as a productive dentist and the partner seeking growth opportunities through practice and real estate acquisitions. Dr. Forte’s vision, enthusiasm, and professionalism show in his dedication to the patients and team members and the success of Lakeview Dental Care.