Editor's Note: This article details how New York University is integrating practice-management into its curriculum. It's another sign that dental schools are understanding the importance of teaching business and clinical skills. In the interview below, I sit down with Dr. Roger Levin, long known as one of the nation's leading practice-management consultants, and Dean Michael C. Alfano of the New York University College of Dentistry, to discuss their new partnership and what it means to the future of dentistry.
Dr. Blaes: Where is NYU College of Dentistry today with all the changes you have incorporated?
Dr. Alfano: In recent years, NYU has worked to strengthen its faculty, staff, and programming. We have added 90 full-time staff members, 49 full-time faculty equivalents, and launched a new curriculum. We have also devoted considerable attention and resources to some of the key issues affecting dentistry today, such as access to care, oral cancer diagnosis, and terrorism preparedness. Perhaps the most deep-rooted change has been to focus on the fundamental business structure of the College in a way that controls costs and brings additional revenue to the school.
Dr. Blaes: Why is the NYU College of Dentistry interested in bringing more of the business world into their curriculum?
Dr. Alfano: Like every dental college, we want to continue to be successful. Success in dentistry is a combination of high ethical standards, diagnostic acumen, clinical prowess, and business skills. Nationwide, when new dental graduates are asked what additional training they wish they had had in dental school, their number one answer is business training.
Dr. Blaes: What is missing in dental education today?
Dr. Alfano: On a structural basis, we do not do a good job matching value to cost. For example, when prosthodontics and periodontics specialty programs went from two to three years in length several years ago, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Certainly the extra year could be used to enhance the educational experience. However, dental graduates determined that it was not worth three years of their life, and applications to these two programs plummeted. There are several other examples of mismatched price/value relationships. On a curricular basis, there are many areas which should be expanded and others shrunk, but that's another interview!
Dr. Blaes: How is business training changing dentistry?
Dr. Alfano: One measure of fulfillment in a profession is financial success. If a dentist is struggling to make ends meet, he or she will have less opportunity to take continuing education courses, may not be able to support an adequate staff, and may feel increased pressure, which will have an unfavorable impact both on patient care and on the dentist's personal life.
Dr. Blaes: What specific areas of practice management and marketing are needed to ensure professional success for dentists?
Dr. Alfano: Aha! That's exactly why we contracted with the Levin Group. While I have an opinion in this area, your readers will be far better served to get an answer from the Levin Group.
Dr. Blaes: Why is Levin Group venturing into the world of academia with this breakthrough new collaborative effort?
Dr. Levin: The mission of Levin Group has consistently been to bring the real business world to dentistry. As a consulting firm now working with over 550 practices each year we are highly committed to the success of every one of our clients. However, we have always had a strong interest in dental students and an understanding that they learn very little about the business of dentistry while in school. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring the expertise that we provide to our private practice clients in regard to practice management and marketing to dental students giving them an opportunity to be far more successful faster when they enter practice. With the debt levels of students today I could not be more excited about offering this level of expertise.
Dr. Blaes: How did the NYU-Levin Group concept begin?
Dr. Levin: I have to give full credit to Dean Michael Alfano of New York University College of Dentistry. After listening to Dr. Alfano's overall vision for dental education I became completely sold that not only could we provide excellent practice management curriculum to the faculty, post-doctoral and pre-doctoral students, but that NYU would be an ideal place to begin. Between Dr. Alfano's commitment and our strong desire to be of service we were able to put together a comprehensive program that tackles the business of dentistry on many levels.
Dr. Blaes: Why NYU School of Dentistry versus collaboration with another dental school?
Dr. Levin: Joe, that is a great question. As you know, in business most of the time companies have to go out and seek their customers or clients. In this case, as I mentioned above, we are fortunate that Dean Alfano took the initiative to pursue this significant breakthrough in dental education. Part of his vision was not only to educate the students, but the faculty so that everyone is working on the same page and in the same direction.
Dr. Blaes: Why do you think dental schools need practice management education?
Dr. Levin: Most dentists in this country at some point recognize that they received little or no business education in dental school. The truth is that it is very hard for them to focus on the business of dentistry while completing all of their clinical requirements and passing their boards. As the pace of dental school education has expanded further due to the rapidly growing number of materials and technologies, students are learning less and less about the realities of everyday practice management. While some schools have made attempts to put students in an office-like environment it doesn't usually create comparability to the operational challenges of a real practice.
Levin Group recognizes that there is a major missing link between the clinical education in dental school and the management and leadership issues that occur in practices. We are extremely excited to be able to bring a focused curriculum that involves the faculty and the students over a period of time in their dental school education that will make a tremendous difference when they enter practice. I have no question that students experiencing practice management education at this level will be able to use the practical guidelines that will be provided to set on a more successful career track. Ultimately this will dramatically improve the ability of new dentists to launch their careers more effectively and to manage it with enjoyment, fulfillment, and financial success.
Dr. Blaes: What is that you hope the students will take from their practice management and marketing training?
Dr. Levin: The proposed curriculum will train students on the Levin Group Method™. This is the only data driven, proven practice management system to achieve lasting improvements. The method adapts world-renowned business models developed by leading management experts to the realities of a dental practice. The Levin Group curriculum covers a wide scope of practice operational areas such as scheduling, case presentation, patient management, financial arrangements, customer service, marketing and budgeting. In each area, the Levin Group Method™ identified the appropriate "best model" and outlines the Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) to be used in assessing the tracking operations and results. As you can see, this advanced method is very much a scientific business model based on extensive research and statistically valid data, but taught in a practical easy to learn step-by-step method.
Dr. Blaes: What is the scope of the engagement with the Levin Group?
Dr. Alfano: NYU is committed to identifying more efficient approaches to dental education. Since clinical activity represents such a large component of the dental curriculum, every aspect of clinical operations should be optimized and the Levin Group is an excellent partner to move NYU forward in this regard. In addition, NYU is committed to providing its students not only with the behavioral, ethical, scientific, and clinical skills to succeed, but also with the critical business skills that are essential in building the sound financial foundation upon which quality dental care can be practiced. Again, the Levin Group's expertise will support this objective. Last year NYU ran more than 300 faculty and staff enrichment programs, which were attended by more than 7,500 people. Our collaboration with the Levin Group will further expand our enormous commitment to in-service education by making the business and practice management skills of our faculty a priority.
Dr. Blaes: Why the Levin Group?
Dr. Alfano: There are many fine dental practice business consultants in the U.S. We selected the Levin Group because, to the best of our knowledge, they are the largest and most successful group working in this area. In addition, they have extensive experience with dental specialty practice, and since our curriculum development program encompasses both the predoctoral and the graduate specialty curriculum, this is a major advantage.
Dr. Blaes: What are your expectations from this engagement?
Dr. Alfano: We expect that our faculty and students will become more knowledgeable, efficient, and productive. This will help them in their private practices, and will also help the College by increasing clinic revenue.
Dr. Blaes: Dr. Levin, you are a third generation dentist, correct? Looking back, do you wish you had this type of curriculum available to you when you were in dental school?
Dr. Levin: I am a third generation dentist and was extremely fortunate to come out of dental school into an established and well-run practice. Entering my professional career, I did what most dentists do and focused on my continuing education on gaining clinical skills. However, in 1982, when I graduated, dentistry was changing rapidly and necessitated that dentists learn a set of skills relative to practice management to deal with issues such as insurance, managed care and a host of other issues that were emerging. Like most dentists, I pursued increasing knowledge in the area of practice management in order to build my practice. I was also fortunate to have clinical programs in continuing education such as the L.D. Pankey Institute and earn my AACD Accreditation. It became obvious to me quite early in my career that in order to excel, the clinical skills would have to be supplemented with management and marketing expertise. I completed an MBA program to master the business aspects of my practice and then proceed to develop what is now the Levin Group Method™ over the next 10 years. Had this information been available to me at the start of my career, I know it would have saved me a significant learning curve. I am very proud of the fact that Levin Group is now in a position to offer dental students and dental faculty this valuable and effective method to enhance practice success.
Dr. Blaes: What is your vision for the NYU College of Dentistry moving forward?
Dr. Alfano: The College will continue to improve its faculty, curriculum, and clinical services. In addition, our research enterprise will likely continue its rapidly expanding focus on health disparities, biomimetics and tissue engineering, infectious diseases, and catastrophe preparedness. The College will also continue to leverage its location in the media capital of the world in support of such programs as oral cancer awareness and detection, the links between systemic and oral health, and access to preventive care for youngsters through programs such as the ADA's "Give Kids A Smile Day."
Dr. Blaes: How do you think this collaborative project will affect the dental education and the industry as a whole?
Dr. Levin: Change is a process that does not happen at one point in time. I hope that this innovative program will be a first step in providing the future generations of dentists with the business skills they will need to achieve success in practice and make their careers enjoyable. Too many dentists today are frustrated by the business side of dentistry and can benefit tremendously from a more formalized practice management education. Lastly, I hope that we will be able to expand these programs to help students nationally and internationally with the best interest of the future of our profession.