Overcoming Isolation in Private Practice: Q&A with Dr. Timothy Bizga

Timothy Bizga, DDS, FAGD, shows how meaningful relationships with peers can be a compelling catalyst for success in your practice.

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Q: Dentistry has changed quite a bit during your career, hasn’t it?

A: When I got out of school, they told me I was graduating into the platinum age of dentistry. The statistics said dentistry was growing year over year. It was heralded as being recession-proof. And then 2007-2008 happens. Just two years out of school, the mortgage crisis hit, and everything went haywire. Everybody started running for the hills and said dentistry was in trouble because for the first time ever, we saw it plateau. We saw a decline, and then a very flat growth projection. Not to mention, 2007-08 happened to coincide with the year of the iPhone, which changed how marketing was done. Now everyone is walking around carrying a computer and a social media device in their pocket. Their phone is their entire world, and they’re commenting on everything from restaurant food, to dental office visits, to cleanliness. We are in a new normal today.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing private practice dentists today?

A: I really see it in two areas. The first is getting the business skills you need to be successful in the current climate. We all know one of the big areas that’s lacking in dental school education is how-to run a successful business. The second challenge private practitioners are facing is in the area of marketing. How do you get the word out in an effective manner? Younger generations tend towards finding their information via social media and yet we have all these clients still somewhere in-between worlds--one foot in the analog world they grew up in and one foot in this new digital age. The challenge is how to best target each group and to have a reliable method of tracking return on investment.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days about mental health and dentists have had one of the highest rates of suicides statistically. What do you think is driving that and how could we change it?

A: Isolation. There’s a difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is time we all need time to withdraw, ponder, think and come away with a fresh perspective. Isolation is the lone-wolf mentality. “I’m all alone and no one understands.” Like we’ve seen in the news with Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade — people who seemingly had it all — in all the articles I read, they felt very isolated. So, it's nice when you come into community. I believe life was not designed to run the race alone. I ran track and field. Even if you have individual events, you’re still part of a team. The goal is for you to stay in your lane, and I’ll stay in mine, but we’re both in the race together. That’s the beauty of being part of communities and why people want to belong. Very few people really, really enjoy being out there all alone. For the majority, it’s about having community and getting complete understanding without judgement.

Q: How important do you think relationships are in dentistry?

It’s the bedrock. You’ve got to build a really good team to be successful today. Do I have the right people on my team? Are we working toward a common vision? That’s going to be important. I would also say having a good network of colleagues and people you can be connected to in order to gain new ideas is equally important. This concept today that you’ve got to go it alone — it’s why I don’t like the term independent practitioner — because I think being an ‘island’ is a bad thing. Our industry’s biggest problem is that for too long the mantra has been once you graduate, you go your own way and don’t talk about your struggles or your business. We were worried about collusion. We’ve set up these rules where we’re destined to fail because you’re having to take up a posture of secrecy. So you have to get out of that box. That’s why some online dental communities on social media have thrived. Because dentists are saying, “This is nice. I can find out the information I need.”

Q: There definitely are a lot of people coming together in online dental groups and forums. What do you think of these?

A: Coming together in an online community is wonderful, but I believe we have to be careful with the information found among these online forums. My mom always taught me that somebody else’s opinion of you is none of your business. For that reason, I don’t put much stock in what anonymous people in these groups often have to say. Respectfully, I don’t have the time to debate/fact check in a virtual world when there's so much that needs to be done in the real world. Again, there can be value in these online community groups. What I am suggesting is a little common sense about it. When engaging in these group, one should take the time to ponder the information one is reading and taking in from individuals we do not know.

Q: It sounds like you see more value connecting personally rather than simply online. Have you found a solution for this?

A: I’m part of a group called Smile Source. Some people mistake it for a buying group because it offers you similar discounts you’ll see elsewhere, but it’s so much more. The main reason I love it is the synergy created by being with like-minded people. Smile Source is very successful at bringing dentists together to share their experiences. The idea is you’re tapping into a network of people who are successfully doing it already, who share a common vision, and practice in different regions so you get a feel of what’s happening nationally.

Q: What is the greatest value Smile Source provides?

A: It’s the camaraderie. It’s the people you get to meet. When you spend time with your local membership, you really get to know them as people. I’ve had some amazing sharing at my meetings. I know if I have a question about something, I know I can go to these people and ask them without hesitation. Without our local member meetings, there are some amazing people I otherwise would have never met.

Q: Tell me more about the Smile Source meetings. What happens there?

A: At every meeting, we spend the majority of our time in what we call Peer Mastermind. This gives everyone in the group a chance to discuss a decision they need to make. The topics span the gamut from really personal stuff to strictly business decisions. The members are encouraged to ask questions and dive deep into the topic without judgement. Here’s an example. Someone in my group brought an issue about whether or not he should hire an Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) to help increase his practice’s profitability. This dentist is in his 50s and he’s in practice with his dad. He wanted to know what to pay an EFDA and if anyone could share their experience of having an EFDA on staff. It was a great dialogue. When he was asked about the motivation for hiring the EFDA, he said, “The other day when I came into work, I was so busy, I didn’t even get a chance to sit and talk with my dad.” And he said, “He’s getting old. I’m not going to have him forever.” It was so touching, because the real reason he was struggling was he was realizing, “I’m so busy, I’m missing out on getting to enjoy the last few years working next to my dad.” It was so cool. It made the decision crystal clear. And now he says, “It was the best thing I ever did.” It was never a business decision, but the decision affected his business. Because of Smile Source, he had a trusted group of peers he could count on to help him work through this decision. Not every dentist has that, but everyone should.

Q: What is the one thing can independent dentists do to ensure their practice is viable in 5 to 10 years?

A: Adapt. Adaptation is key to survival, and it starts with awareness. You have to become aware of what the changes are, see the trends and the patterns, and understand things are not the same as they were 10+ years ago. Having a tribe of like-minded peers can help because they have experienced change in their own practices. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can never step in the same river twice.” Why? Because it’s always changing. Change is inevitable; growth is optional. I see more change coming, and yet I still see a lot of hope because you still have the ability to determine your own destiny.

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Bizga 1Timothy Bizga, DDS, FAGD, focuses his practice on comprehensive care, with special interests in implants, cosmetics and facial aesthetics. He’s a general dentist practicing in Cleveland, Ohio. Bizga serves as an administrator and advisory board member for Smile Source, the leading dental organization supporting private practice dentists across the U.S. As a well-known speaker in the industry, Bizga is actively involved in continuing education, lecturing, and clinical consulting as well as giving back to the community and dental missions around the world.