Got your attention, didn’t I? I hope you will quickly understand that I am referring to your spouse. I’ve waited a long time to chime in on this issue because I needed a good decade of experience to be able to share what I’ve learned. I’ve read arguments for both sides of this issue and, surprisingly, the negatives from most consultants definitely outweigh the positives. I am here to proclaim that it is not only a good idea to have your spouse involved with your office, but also, if you don’t have a spouse who intimately knows your business, then you are putting your practice at risk. While I could list many advantages, for this discussion I have narrowed it down to my top five.
1) Retirement contributions - This might be the most obvious and I’m sure many of you have your spouses on the payroll for this reason alone. If for some reason you have not set up a retirement account for your office, please do so as soon as possible, even if it makes your budget slightly uncomfortable. Tax-free contributions and compound interest are a great combination. This part of your portfolio should be maxed out to whatever the law allows.
2) It acts as both life and disability insurance - Have you stopped to think about what would happen to your practice if you died or became severely disabled? Could your spouse hire a new dentist and run your practice? Does your spouse know what your practice is worth or who to contact to value your practice for a sale? If your spouse doesn’t have a clue to these questions, then you are putting your family at risk of being exploited. We all know of situations where a dentist died and his or her practice was stripped down and sold for parts all because the spouse had no idea what to do. Unfortunately, it’s not always the older dentist down the street whose practice is down to one day a week; it’s often the younger dentist in his or her prime with a growing practice and a lot of debt.
3) Removes opportunities for embezzlement - Your spouse doesn’t have to be Adam Smith to safeguard your office from crime. A couple of weeks of training in the day-to-day business side of your practice will allow your spouse to be your primary watchdog. How many times do we end our workday sprinting for the door, half crazy and completely exhausted from patient care? Personally, I don’t have the strength to check the numbers. I have mentally moved on to the “kid function” - for which I’m already 20 minutes late. What’s nice about good dental software (we have Dentrix), is that your spouse can check in on your business several times a day from a remote location, whether it be your home or his or her laptop. If your production, collection, and accounts receivable don’t jive, then it’s time for a phone call to get an explanation. Employees take a little more accountability for their jobs when they know “big brother” is watching.
4) Our spouses are co-owners of our businesses - Dentistry is a family business and, whether we admit it or not, we take our businesses home. We get calls on the weekends, we do semi-consultations in the lobby at church, and we take our families with us to continuing-education courses. The majority of us in this country are sole practitioners. Our spouses are a vital resource that we can use to make decisions about the practices we share. Who is making key business decisions about your practice right now? Is it you, or have you delegated decision-making to an employee because you are too busy with clinical dentistry? Decisions for the future of your business should be made by the people with the most at stake. Those people are you and your co-owner - your spouse. When our spouses are involved in our businesses, they can offer us a great second opinion because of their knowledge of how the business works from their perspective. They also can offer some clinical insights because they have received treatment in our dental chairs. If we’re not careful, we might just learn something to help us improve.
5) Their presence can “affair-proof” your office - There, I said it and I’m glad I did. How long can we bury our heads in the sand and ignore the epidemic called infidelity that plagues our profession? When are we going to at least talk about the prevalence of affairs in our offices? I refuse to be quiet on this issue. I’ve seen one too many colleagues split his practice, his children, and his possessions right down the middle because he felt his hygienist was his “soul mate” (give me a break!). If there is something going on - physically, verbally, or emotionally - in your practice that you cannot share with your spouse, then I guarantee you it shouldn’t be going on! Having a spouse who is active in your practice will eliminate these opportunities as well as keep your ego “in check” while surrounded by members of the opposite sex.
Despite some good minds in dentistry who advise against it, I see every reason to have your spouse involved at your office. Not only does it protect one of your biggest assets, but it allows your spouse to share in the growth and operations of the business you own together.
Dr. Spilman’s office is located on the Gulf of Mexico in Clearwater Beach, Fla. Together, he and his wife, Heather, manage their dental practice and their scrub business (www.luvinwhatIdo.com). Dr. Spilman regularly speaks to dentists and their spouses about the “family business” within the business of dentistry. The Spilmans can be reached at (727) 586-3207, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.