Dr. Joe Blaes interviews Dr. Mike Schuster

April 1, 2010
DE Editor Dr. Joe Blaes interviews Dr. Mike Schuster about why and how he started The Schuster Center and its focus on creating wealth and freedom for dentists.

by Joe Blaes, DDS

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: wealth, freedom, business development, Dr. Joe Blaes, Dr. Mike Schuster.

DE Editor Dr. Joe Blaes interviews Dr. Mike Schuster about why and how he started The Schuster Center and its focus on creating wealth and freedom for dentists.

DR. BLAES: Mike, while I am familiar with you and The Schuster Center, many of our readers have yet to understand who you are and what services you provide through your business school. For a start, can you share how you gained expertise in business development? Also, explain your reputation for creating wealth and freedom for dentists.

DR. SCHUSTER: Well, Joe, I think everyone has a story, and mine goes like this. I worked my way through college. I then worked three jobs when I went through dental school. My parents were teachers and were predictably frugal and conservative. I think that influence made me sensitive to going too far into debt. When I graduated, I went into the U.S. Navy for two years, and then I started my own dental practice in Dyersville, Iowa. (Dyersville is where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed.) It didn’t take me 18 months before I ended up in the hospital with an ulcer from stress, overwork, and fatigue. I was only 29 years young!

When I got out of the hospital, I vowed that things would be different or I would quit dentistry and do something else. I’d had more fun tending bar at the Black Kettle when I was in dental school! Then, my life took a sharp turn.

DR. BLAES: What exactly happened to you, Mike?

DR. SCHUSTER: Well, during the next few years I met three pivotal people who made all the difference in my practice and life:

  • Jim Trask taught me systems management.
  • Elliot Simon, my corporate attorney, introduced me to the “Richest Man in Babylon.”
  • L.D. Pankey introduced me to a way of practicing dentistry that made sense to me.

At 34, I was invited to be a cadre at The Pankey Institute, and I think that was the most eye-opening experience I’d had up to that point. Dentists were going to Pankey to learn how to improve their technical and diagnostic skills, but when we went out to eat, the conversation was always about:

  • TAXES they couldn’t pay
  • STAFF members that weren’t doing their work
  • CASH FLOW problems and debt/investment issues
  • PATIENTS that didn’t move ahead with treatment

I began to realize that I wasn’t the only one that had these kinds of problems and issues. I realized that none of us were really prepared to run the “business of dentistry.” How could we? We had no training.

DR. BLAES: Is that why you started The Schuster Center?

DR. SCHUSTER: I started the first business school in dentistry so that other dentists wouldn’t have to experience the same frustrations and distress that I battled and overcame. In 1975, while teaching at The Pankey Institute, I went to Dr. Pankey and told him that I was going to create a place where dentists could learn how to “run a business that did dentistry.” He looked at me and said, “Go ahead! Lord knows, we need it.” So I did.

DR. BLAES: So here you are, 32 years later, and you are still at it. Why?

DR. SCHUSTER: Joe, I think it’s like people who have lost a child to a drunk driver. They are emotionally involved because of their terrible loss, and many strike out to do everything they can to prevent further losses for others. Heck, I was lost as a young dentist. I thought I knew what it took to run a successful dental practice. I know what it’s like to wander without structure and guidance. You get lost every time.

DR. BLAES: So, what’s next for The Center?

DR. SCHUSTER: Well, being a former student yourself, you will remember that we are a small organization and we’ve stayed small so that we can really interact with our students and alumni. That is a key point of difference — being a school vs. a consultant. We will always provide a place of refuge and truth.

The Center is a place of higher learning where development of the dental practice aligns with the development of self. It is a lifelong network of like-minded professionals in community and spirit.

What’s next is that we’ve broadened our ability to help dentists. We offer different tracks of learning for the varying problems and needs dentists may be experiencing. We now deliver much of our current curriculum online, saving our students thousands of dollars in time and travel. We can serve dentists anywhere in the world!

The Center is appropriate for dentists who are striving for a balance between money, time, relationships, and purpose. I think the most difficult part of being a dentist is finding that balance between our practice life and our personal life. No doubt, how well our business is working influences our personal life. But the nature of our personal lives also impacts our business lives.

DR. BLAES: Here you are, in your late 60s, and still so passionate about what you do and about telling it straight up! What fuels you?

DR. SCHUSTER: My fire comes from being shown repeatedly by our students and graduates that the principles, the methods, the models, and the strategies we teach in our curriculum work! I relate to our students. I don’t let them fool themselves! I can remember back when I was really in trouble, not financial trouble, but emotionally and physically overwhelmed and overworked. You know, there is a spiritual price for being out of balance in life. There is no reason for any dentist to go through such turmoil when there are systems and strategies to learn to overcome the insanity. It’s just the truth!

I was on an “escape” vacation to the Doral Country Club to play tennis when I called Dr. L.D. Pankey. L.D. was 61. I can still remember our phone call. No cell phones, no blocked calls. He just picked up the phone and listened to me for more than 30 minutes. He then told me what I needed to do to get on with my life and my practice. I took his advice.

I think, without fully understanding it at that moment, my passion for making a difference in the lives of dentists was then born. People often ask me why I don’t apply the business principles and models to other businesses, and the reason is that I believe I was called to minister to dentists, their spouses, children, teams, and patients.

Thanks for asking ... and for noting my passion for truth, learning, and making a difference in the lives of dentists.

DR. BLAES: Thanks for your candor ... and thanks for helping me and my team so many years ago! Keep it up, Mike. You are definitely one of a kind!

A practicing dentist, Dr. Michael Schuster founded The Schuster Center in 1978. Guiding more than 3,500 graduates to achieve wealth and freedom, The Schuster Center is the first business school created exclusively for dentists. It celebrated 30 years in 2008. Dr. Schuster is a cadre and former director at The Pankey Institute, adjunct faculty at The Dawson Academy, OBI, and LSU Cosmetic Continuum. Dr. Schuster can be reached at www.schustercenter.com or [email protected].

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