How to love being a dentist!

Can you love being a dentist ... and still make money? My father always taught me that if I love what I do, the money will follow.

Can you love being a dentist ... and still make money? My father always taught me that if I love what I do, the money will follow. This quote was on a course evaluation as a reason why the study of practice management wasn’t very important.

The first year I lectured on practice management at Indiana University, I received a few course evaluations that were negative. That was a little bit of a surprise because I thought I was great, but that quote really hit me hard. Didn’t they understand? That was exactly what I was trying to teach - how to love being a dentist. This person didn’t get it and I didn’t teach it very well. So here is the fundamental truth about dental management. If you want to love being a dentist, you absolutely must work in or have a well-managed practice.

The first step in studying practice management is also the most important first step to loving your profession. You must develop a vision and mission for your future. Making a living is always good, and you will make a nice living from patients who want their teeth cleaned, need some fillings placed, and have teeth that need crowns.

You must develop a vision for your future that goes beyond these few procedures or you will be extremely bored with your work life in only a few years. Most dentists who become bored seek out training in new procedures. Loving what you do comes from being inspired by what you do. New procedures are short-term. Your vision must inspire you for the long haul. A compelling vision cannot be downloaded from the Internet. Take some time to think about what will motivate you to be excited about going to work everyday.

The second step in managing your practice is strategic planning. Some of you would like to get rich. That is actually a very professional goal ... if you intend to achieve it by providing excellent dental care and superior customer service to your patients. You do not have to get rich to be happy in dentistry, but you must produce enough to pay all your bills if you want to be happy. A yearly baseline goal will ensure that you know how much dentistry must be produced to fully meet your financial obligations. Even though we are professionals, we still have financial obligations.

To calculate your goal on a daily basis, you must forecast your yearly expenses. This includes your fixed office expenses, your variable office expenses, your personal expenses, as well as your reserves for savings, retirement, new equipment purchases, taxes, and just for fun. If you know this total number and divide it by the number of days you expect to work next year, you will know your daily production goal. Failure to reach your basic production goal will create incredible stress in your life. You absolutely must produce to pay all your bills. Do this and you will be ahead of 90 percent of the dentists in this country.

The third step to loving what you do is to learn how to lead and motivate people. Our dental school education teaches us to do everything ourselves. We have no appointment coordinators, no hygienists, and, on rare occasions, we work with assistants. All of our dental school accomplishments are achieved on our own. From the moment we graduate, our goals will only be achieved with the help and partnership of other people. How well you inspire your staff members with your vision and how well you motivate them to operate systems and achieve goals will ultimately determine your success.

OK, I have been talking about management, but the secret to loving our profession is leadership.

Dentistry is such a wonderful profession that we will survive even if we have a poorly managed practice. However, we will never be happy or love our profession if we fail to lead our practice.

Top Three Leadership Challenges

1) Define the vision.
2) Plan for success and set goals.
3)Inspire others to achieve greater things than they ever imagined were possible.

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches The Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130, or e-mail to

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