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Dental Mentoring Equals Dental Outreach

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It seems to me that part of the continuing attempt to refresh and recharge our enjoyment of practice is the chance to be a mentor. In these times, there is an obvious decrease in the ability to sit back and enjoy the practice of dentistry and medicine. Interference from many sources, stress of compliance, making the numbers work are so problematic that the doctor can lose focus on one of the things that brought him into private practice in the first place. These are indeed difficult times. The solo practitioner is almost extinct and the mega practices have their own set of problems.

One of the areas that I found to be energizing and helpful was mentoring. It started with teaching of residents in the early years of practice. This was a great way to relate and to also keep current. As all teachers know, you learn more from teaching than as a student. Not only is it challenging, but it is a great reward to bring the missing link to the “new doc” – experience. To be in a group and acknowledge an “ah ha” moment is so rewarding. For those who are fortunate enough to be in a university city with medical and dental students, there is ample opportunity to give (and to relate). You will find that the student is greatly appreciative that you took the time to help and point the way. You will also find that you return to the office or to your home with an exhilarating feeling yourself – remember, “it is better to give than receive.” From another view, these contacts become friends, referral sources, and associates that may lead to other projects and outreach possibilities. This is just another example of a means to refresh and recharge.

Knowing how good the feeling is to give a gift to someone, I also had a grand time in mentoring patients of mine. Actually, my staff also enjoyed it and related to the mission. There were numerous opportunities where a young patient, entering college, had no idea of his major or area of interest. This was an opportunity to chat and just become a friend and counselor. We would actually make an appointment in a off time (lunch etc.) to meet and advise. Did it happen every day? No, but often enough that we were invited to many graduations (and even some weddings). I am convinced that we know more than just how to be a good doctor and this ability can be a wonderful way to have that “feel good” day or moment. So you want to talk about marketing. This, if done from the heart, is number one in my mind.

So, it seems to me that you can make some fun out of your practice and have it actually become a source of an outreach program.

I would love to hear from you and share your ideas and experiences.

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Clinical Excellence = Business Success? My story.

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.

  1. Having business in my family tree.
  2. Taking business, management, and leadership courses pre-dental.
  3. Dental school bringing in practicing dentists (preferably non-faculty) to discuss the business of dentistry.
  4. Seeking out a dentist business mentor while in dental school.
  5. Seeking out a dentist business mentor in the early years after dental school and beyond.
  6. 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.
  7. Getting in front of world class leaders.
  8. 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?

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