I worry about dental students, new graduates, and those in their early years of practice. Are they as naïve nowadays as was I a few decades ago? I hope not, but chances are that many will have difficulty finding their way in the first few years (perhaps much longer) for lack of business knowhow. I wonder how other dentists with extensive practice experience, looking back, would rate their preparedness for the real world of dentistry upon graduation.
When I was going to dental school, academic and clinical demands precluded even the slightest thought about the business of dentistry. It was only when graduation was approaching that I started to think about my future, but in kind of an indirect fashion, in the context of what clinical situation was I going to place myself in – associateship, partnership, or solo practice? My perspective was 100% clinical, which is no big surprise when you consider that no family member, relative, or personal acquaintance owned a business, dental or otherwise. The business blind spot had in no way been addressed in dental school. In four years of training not a single course, instructor or guest speaker had dealt with how to set up the business structure or run a dental practice as a business entity. I had filled the void by becoming a passionate clinical perfectionist, but I was unprepared for the world of business challenges that I was about to enter.
The only business advice I got in my first four years of practice was from an accountant. No offense to accountants. They do have an important role to play. However, for someone who had a complete void of business knowledge, an accountant could never fill that void adequately. There were matters of leadership, management, acquiring and training staff, personal development, etc., all of which were critically important in building a successful practice. I simply didn’t know to look for help, and my only hope defaulted to doing perfect dentistry and praying that alone would lead to success. Didn’t happen. I learned the hard way that clinical excellence did not equal business success, except of course for the very few dental savants out there who were so good that movie stars, the wealthy, and dentists themselves, flocked to them for care and clinical training.
Looking back it seems to me that any one of the following could have provided a healthier, more certain, and shorter path to practice success.
- Having business in my family tree.
- Taking business, management, and leadership courses pre-dental.
- Dental school bringing in practicing dentists (preferably non-faculty) to discuss the business of dentistry.
- Seeking out a dentist business mentor while in dental school.
- Seeking out a dentist business mentor in the early years after dental school and beyond.
- Undertaking personal development training early in my career, learning more about human nature, and becoming a more powerful person so I could be a more powerful dentist leader.
- Getting in front of world class leaders.
- Reading many books throughout the early years about leadership, management, marketing, advertising, innovation, personal development, etc.
Recently, I met a newly graduated dentist who related that she learned nothing about the business of dentistry during dental school. The guest speakers were all non-dentists with a personal agenda to sell the graduating students a service or a product, and she felt completely confused about how to weigh the practice options in front of her. Guess the same problems do persist today.
What was your experience in the years following graduation? Smooth sailing or rough waters? How prepared were you for the business of dentistry? What were your biggest setbacks and how could they have been avoided. What would you recommend to dentists to help them navigate their early years? What can we do as a profession to help those new to our profession?
I am particularly interested in pursuing the idea of approaching dental schools with a view to pair up experienced dentists as mentors for those students that are interested in having a coach as they begin their careers.
Dentistry has been very kind to me and many others. However today, according to a recent ADA article, dental students graduate with student loans averaging over $200,000, the same individuals who will step out into a business world that many are ill prepared for. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to support these young colleagues as they start their careers in our chosen profession?