Build Your Dental Career Around Your Personality

Dawn J. Renner, CPA, MBA


We know you’re smart, driven, and up for a challenge, or else you wouldn’t have applied to, gotten into, and graduated from dental school. But what about after that? What about the decision to work for someone else or find a buy-in position? Dental articles go to great lengths to inform you about making the right decision based on economic factors. 

But, doctor, look at your personality too. Do you have the temperament and drive to be an entrepreneur and lead your own practice? Or do you value the ability to leave work with time and energy to spend on your life outside dentistry with no after-hours commitments? A work situation that doesn’t suit your personality can have an adverse effect on your pocketbook.

Dentists who don’t have the skill and desire to lead their staffs may find their employees making short-sighted decisions on their own. Conversely, dentists who choose for-hire situations but still like to be in charge may annoy their practice owners—sometimes enough to be let go. Don’t undervalue your own personality.

Mid-Career Choices

When the time comes to take on your own practice, the question that shapes your company more than any other is if it will be a group practice or solo. It may appear, based on your specific circumstances, that one or the other is slightly more lucrative. The choice that suits your personality, though, often will be the more lucrative one in the long run.

Look inward and find out if you are a person who can work with and enjoy a collaborative setting such as a group practice model or if you’re a lone wolf. Consider your potential group practice as you might consider a marriage. You want your ideals to be congruent and your skills to be complementary.

If you share a similar vision for your practice and your patient care and one of you enjoys managing your staff while the other is comfortable keeping an eye on your books, you’re likely to have a long and fruitful practice. But if you find that no one in your group practice is comfortable managing your staff, take some human resource classes, trade off with your partner, or find advisors to help you through the process. You may find that you have skills in these areas, but they may not be things you have previously enjoyed.

It’s even more important for dentists who have a solo practice by necessity (perhaps their community only has the patient base to support a single dentist) to keep an eye on their own needs and proclivities.

Be honest with yourself about the skills you lack or the tasks you simply hate doing. Where can you find help to fill these gaps? Do you need assistance with the entrepreneurial side of your business? Seek out dental school colleagues in a similar situation. Chat with a dental consultant or dental accountant.

Do you dread dealing with staff issues? Most entrepreneurs find them challenging. Set up procedures that make situations more automatic. Put together a reliable office manual. Do money worries absorb too much of your time and energy? Find an accountant you trust and be honest about how much (or how little) you want to know about the details of your financials. 

Late in Your Career

When is the right time to retire? Do you have hobbies and interests and friends outside of being a dentist? If not, start developing them well before the time you leave. Retirement, counter-intuitively, can be a difficult transition. Just like your practice, be honest with yourself to craft a retirement plan that suits you.

Join a boating group. Volunteer. Paint. Find the next passion in your life. If you don’t already have the golf bug or travel bug or expanding network of grandchildren to give you purpose, don’t sell the practice turnkey. Yes, you might be more likely to walk away with more dollars doing so. But selling and continuing to work can give you the time you need to develop a fulfilling life. For many, that’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

Conversely, if you can’t stand to see someone come in and do things differently than you’ve always done them, don’t work for the new doctor. It’s not a personality deficiency. It’s just a symptom of decades of being the boss and doing things your way. Don’t let an incongruent exit strategy bring a less than ideal ending chapter to a wonderful, successful career.

So, doctor, know thyself. Look in a mirror, and check in with your friends, family, teachers, and mentors. Valuing your personality will add value to your practice!

Ms. Renner, CPA, MBA, a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants (NSCHBC), has been assisting dentists with their practices for more than 20 years in her accounting firm, Management Accounting Group. While she has always been drawn to accounting, receiving her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and master’s degree from Regis University, her work with a variety of dental practices has brought insights gained only through real-world experience. She can be reached at (952) 933-8444 or

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