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13 ways to love what you do: A guide for new dentists

July 15, 2021
This 30-plus-year veteran of dentistry has learned a few things he'd like to share with those who are just entering what he calls "the greatest profession in the world."

Congratulations! You finished dental school! You’ve completed your residency or specialty program . . . now what? Where do you practice? Do you do a cold-start, associate, or buy an existing practice? These are glorious, complicated times, and you will be faced with hundreds of questions and decisions.

What type of leader you will be? How will you express your goals for your practice? What are the changes you’ll want to make? I’ve had the privilege of 32 years of private practice, the gift of an amazing team, and tremendous specialists and coaches who guided and inspired me to a level of success that I never could have imagined. I appreciate my coaches at Jameson Management and its founder, Dr. Cathy Jameson, and I want to share what I learned along the path as a successful CEO of a thriving and comprehensive care dental practice.

You might also be interested in: How to fall back in love with dentistry

What I've learned

1. Notice what the team does and what accomplishments they’re proud of. Note the big things and the small details. Be sure to notice team members doing things right instead of just pointing out what they do wrong. Always praise publicly and coach or redirect privately. Confident team members who are proud of their work will deliver better results than members who are unsure and nervous about being wrong.

2. Send thank-you notes, emails, texts, and tweets of appreciation. When thinking about who to make a “care” phone call to after treatment, remember anyone who you would like to arrive at the office on time, pay their bill with appreciation, provide five-star reviews, and refer their friends and family. Patients who feel seen and cared for are more likely to become regular visitors, and they will refer their friends and family.

3. Have the right tools on hand to educate patients and help them own their problems. I had eight operatories with eight DigiDoc intraoral cameras. We took a picture of every patient, for every procedure—before, during, and after. It is also important to make sure you have the right tools to help your patients maintain their oral health between visits. With the Philips Oral Healthcare portfolio of products, dental professionals can rest assured that they’re using and recommending products that are best in class and backed by years of research and clinical study.

4. Become part of your community with your time and resources. If your patients are in a community activity, send a note of appreciation and admiration. Doing so will help you and your practice build connections and establish deep relationships and loyalty with your patients. One of our patients played Dorothy in the community theater production of The Wizard of Oz. My team and I sponsored a show, then we all went to the performance and had a display table in the theater lobby. We were forever cemented with that family and in the drama community!

5. Invest in your team’s growth. Teach, encourage, challenge, inspire excellence, and model it daily. My involvement in the Dale Carnegie organization changed my life. I read and took the training in "How to win friends and influence people," and I sent my entire team for the training. Rather than wondering, “What if I invest in a teammate and then the person leaves?” think about not investing in them and then they stay.

Also, pay attention to the details of the business. Make sure the team knows the key performance details that you want to monitor each day, week, and month, and provide feedback consistently.

6. There is only one person responsible for your success—you! You are an entrepreneur, so act like one by investing in quality continuing education to ensure that you and your employees are always prepared with the most up-to-date information and practices. Get involved in organized dentistry or join a study club in your community or nationally. My time studying at the Pankey Institute changed my life forever. Hang out with the winners of dentistry, as they will open your eyes to new and exciting ideas that you may not hear about otherwise.

7. The foundation of everything must be integrity. Don't cut corners in any aspect of your business. The team is watching. If you do not lead with integrity, the team won’t either. Always consider long-term consequences of your short-term decisions.

8. Hire slowly and intentionally to surround yourself with rising stars who have passion, enthusiasm, and humor. I take attitude over experience any day. If you make a bad decision, take corrective action immediately. Give the team a chance to stretch and grow and document it in writing. We did a written 30-60-90-day performance review, and an 11-month performance review prior to reviewing a teammate for a raise. Let someone go if they are not the right person. Invest in a concise team manual so that policies are read, signed off on, and owned by the team so that everyone acknowledges the expectations they’re agreeing to.

9. Share the love and rewards so that your team members feel appreciated and supported. Always speak to the team about total compensation, not just their net paycheck. We did tons of bonuses, lunches, dream trips, uniforms, surprise cash gifts, continuing education, and complementary family dental care. We provided paid lunches almost weekly, held monthly two-hour team lunch meetings, and celebrated office Chanukah-Christmas parties. Share photos of these on your social media and website and display them in the office.

10. Step out of your comfort zone and inspire the team to step out too. Tooth whitening is the number one requested procedure in dentistry today. Don't just talk about offering more tooth whitening; train all teammates on how to do procedures such as in-office Philips Zoom WhiteSpeed treatments and offer this to all of your patients. Philips has a wide range of whitening offerings, including both in-office and take-home whitening services that are fully customizable based on patients’ needs.

11. Don’t be afraid to invest in your business. If you have a shelf full of unsold products, try something different. If someone needs four quadrants of scaling and root planing, add a free Philips DayWhite/NiteWhite take-home home whitening treatment to follow up. If someone is getting eight new porcelain veneers, give them a complementary or discounted toothbrush to keep their new smile gorgeous. Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Smart is clinically proven to deliver up to 100% less gum inflammation and up to seven times healthier gums in just two weeks compared to a manual toothbrush, plus it’s safe on veneers. The bristles contour to the shape of each tooth’s surface to provide four times more surface contact and remove up to 10 times more plaque from hard-to-reach areas than a manual toothbrush. This can help patients maintain their oral health and beautiful white smiles in between visits.

12. Budget to keep investing in the practice. New technologies keep you cutting edge, interesting, and delivering optimal care. Train the team on new technology, and this will allow you to do other things. Budgeting also means a commitment to fully funding your tax-free retirement savings from day one for you and your cherished teammates!

13. Life is too short. Smile. Enjoy. Stretch. Grow. Have fun. Laugh out loud.

Welcome to the greatest profession in the world!

Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 2021 print edition of Dental Economics.
Originally posted in 2021 and updated regularly

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