Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine bought an office building as an investment. The prior owner was a dentist, who was also one of the tenants. My friend wanted to know if the dentist was going to stay on as a tenant, but the dentist said he was going to just let his practice dissolve. The equipment was old and his patient base was almost entirely gone, so he was going to lock the doors and walk away. What a shame.
As a reader of Dental Economics, you have surely heard our financial experts tell us that we shouldn’t rely solely on our dental practices to fund our retirements. I’m sure the dentist in this case made some good money from the sale of the office building, and hopefully he had maxed out his 401(k)s and IRAs and dabbled with other investment vehicles. But what a tremendous lost opportunity to be financially rewarded for running a practice for decades!
The truth is that he stopped running his practice years ago. Sure, he showed up for work, treated some patients, and paid his bills. But he stopped growing his business a long time ago. He let his active patients and the goodwill of his practice slowly erode each year until there was nothing worthwhile left. Sometime, perhaps about a decade before he retired, he started to give up.
But what if he had taken a different path? What if he had ramped up his production and reinvested in his education and his team? What if he had challenged himself to adopt new technology instead of shrugging his shoulders and letting it pass him by?
Your last 10 years in practice can be the best of your career. Your diagnostic skills and reputation in the community can be at their zenith instead of at their nadir. You can get excited to offer new treatments to your patients. You can hire an associate to take care of the procedures that no longer interest you. You can take more vacations or work fewer days a week on higher production cases. Your last 10 years can be whatever you want them to be. Then, you can be paid handsomely when you decide to ride off into the sunset.
We are fortunate to be members of a profession that still has independence. This means that it’s entirely up to us to choose how we hang up our handpieces, for better or for worse. The age of 55 is pretty young, but I propose that is precisely when you should start evaluating your practice if you want to retire at 65. The third act of our careers should be written now—not when the show is almost over.