Th 127031

Inspiration

June 1, 2003
"Burnout" or a lack of drive may be due to bad coaching or an unclear vision. Enthusiasm listens only to inspiration and is not set back by obstacles.

by Paul F. Mitsch, DMD

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I think I had dreams of being a 50-year-old dentist. In fact, I know I did! During the time I was in school, I learned so much from men of this age. They were what I like to describe as "at the top of their game." These guys knew how to do things I hadn't even thought about! They understood things in such detail that when they explained something, it was crystal clear. They were secure with themselves most of the time and enthusiastic. I had the enthusiasm, but I was just a rookie with a lot of first seasons in different leagues ahead of me. I am grateful that I never lost my passion for the profession and maintained my enthusiasm. I constantly meet dentists who are my age and a little older that are "burned out." They have niched themselves into frustration and anxiety about the smallest details rather than seeing the whole picture. I see abundance, challenges — and most of all — I see the future as a wonderful, predictable area in which to compete and practice.

Since I am a 52-year-old dentist with 25 years in the profession, my vision and historical perspective are part of our record as a profession. Comparing dentistry today to dentistry in 1980 is one of the evaluations that only a certain number of us can perform accurately.

In the '80s and '90s, I was told the "golden years" of dentistry were in the 1960s.The '90s were described as the "platinum years." Now I believe we are entering the "diamond years."

What has changed so much in such a short 25 years? Why is my choice of professions so exciting? The first thing that has changed and is constantly evolving is the dental marketplace itself. There is more demand for dentistry than the supply of dentists. This is the best place to be in the supply and demand equation. In fact, if you review the hours worked by the average dentist in 1980 and compared that number to the hours worked by the average dentist in 2003, I think you may find that access to care was easier in 1980 than it is today. This is more of a societal and cultural phenomenon than it is a characteristic of the dentist. More people want to see dentists and fewer hours are available to see dentists than in 1980. Patients also better understand the importance of good oral health care.

This leads to another significant factor in dentistry today. The patient has the ability to justify elective procedures that once were considered "elitist" in nature. The "boom" in cosmetic dentistry may really be due more to demand than to marketing by the dental professional. Patients are driving the market to higher standards and are seeking out more comprehensive care because they are aware of its long-term value Patients might even order dental care on the Internet if they could!

However, dental patients today discriminate against a casual dental environment that does not display and promote new technologies. They also don't come back to offices where the dentist and staff are less than enthusiastic. A simple rule to remember, to paraphrase the Coast Guard, is to "move with a sense of purpose and move with a sense of urgency." Dental patients demand "on-time performance" and they expect a great deal. Patients relate to enthusiasm and a service attitude from you and your staff. They look for a dentist that has experience, one they can "bond" with and be proud to call "their dentist." Patients want ownership of the relationship they create with a dentist. Once this relationship becomes predictable and feels safe, the patient will be ready to commit to treatment.

To a degree, this is where my age really is a benefit. Patients not only identify with me, but they trust me. They demand and expect that I will be at the "top of my game." Patients expect and enjoy the high-tech office that I have built and love the Internet communications we offer. It is not uncommon for us to have patients make appointments to seek information about elective treatment from orthodontics to cosmetics. In short, information they receive from both the media and other people is prompting them to inquire about dentistry. Since the market demand for our services is now greater than what dentists can provide; it is like fishing in a stocked pond! The fish don't taste any different and the experience is as rewarding, but it is different because of today's supply and demand ratio. Today, a dentist's success may be due to location and demographics, not skill and knowledge. However, when today's dental professionals begin to inventory their clinical and communication skills, knowledge, enthusiasm, location, and demographic awareness, they realize how much they and the dental profession have advanced since 1980.

I often compare professions. I admired a certain quarterback who played in a black and silver uniform. He was called the "snake." He was at the "top of his game" in the late '70s. I noticed how he enjoyed and loved the game ... a game he had played since he was a young man. After 20 years of playing the game, he reached the top. This quarterback started playing football in high school and played until he was 40. He was at the top of his game when he was between 35 and 40! He could connect with one of his receivers from almost anywhere. Watching him was awesome and inspiring. I realized that if I followed his example, I would have 10 or 15 years more to enjoy my position— dentist — not five. I have just started that game ... and I love it!

Prevailing in any environment has always demanded discipline, acquisition of skills, and constant training and exercise. Dentistry is no different than any other form of competition. To this end, it is important to acknowledge the role motivation. plays This is where practice-management consultants and our successful colleagues come into the picture. They are the "coaches" in our profession. Many of us pick up tips from time to time and apply them to our game. The difference between dentists who are "coachable" and those who are not is the same characteristics that determines excellence and admiration. When we reach the top of our game, we may be privileged to stay there for many years. Our "fans" are our patients and our "teammates" are our staff and support professionals.

Demographics will be the only potentially limiting factor in your financial success. An area that most appeals to you in terms of lifestyle may not be the best place to achieve practice success. You must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your options.

My point here is simple — "burnout" or a lack of drive — may be due to bad coaching or an unclear vision. Enthusiasm listens only to inspiration and is not set back by obstacles. Dentistry clearly has its obstacles, but so many opportunities and options are available to overcome any obstacles that only the poorly trained or poorly coached dentist will not succeed.

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