How to Find Work-Life Balance as a Woman Dentist in Good Times and Bad

Katie Heald, DDS


Growing up, I had a lot of dental needs from the time I was six to when I was about 16 years old. I underwent a major cosmetic transformation, and the dental care I received made a huge difference in my self-esteem. From the experience, I learned firsthand how important a smile is to someone’s personality, and this early lesson has made me the empathetic provider I am today.

I completed undergraduate and dental school before doing my residency at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. After my residency, for practical reasons, I joined a local Aspen Dental practice in Florida. Seven years later and still happily within the Aspen Dental network, that practical decision turned out to be a wonderful life-fit and career partnership.

Early on, it was easy to see the value in being an Aspen Dental practice owner. When I joined, I was partnered with a managing clinical director and practice partner who, as my mentor, helped me gain strong clinical and leadership experience. With the support, my confidence grew, and I began to think about expanding my responsibilities and taking on new career challenges.

Long term, I wanted to base my career and business back home, closer to my family in North Carolina. With coaching from my mentor, I decided a path to practice ownership could help get me there, and together we made a plan. I maintained my North Carolina license, and then in 2019, with lots of encouragement from the Aspen community, I opened the first Aspen Dental practice in North Carolina.

Pursuing My Passion to Help People

My Morganton practice, like offices across the Aspen Dental network, fills a great need in the community by providing patients with access to care that can otherwise be challenging. North Carolina is an underserved state when it comes to dental care and Morganton is a rural community, which typically makes it harder for patients to find a dentist.

A single mom who came to our practice unable to afford a lot of dental work and with insurance that other dental offices did not take is one access to care example that really stands out for me. We accepted her insurance and worked with her to create a care plan. After we started, she looked at me and said, “We’ve been waiting for a place like you.” It hit home that we can serve people who feel they don’t have options. I am proud to be part of that solution.

Focus on Patient Care

As part of the Aspen Dental network, I know that I am never truly alone. There is a genuine spirit and belief in our culture that when practitioners are supported, they can take better care of their patients. Thanks to the service support of Aspen Dental Management Inc, I am able to spend most of my time focused on patient care and have little day-to-day worry about practice operations.

This support shows up in big and small ways. There’s a saying that when it rains it pours, which is reminiscent of a roof leak I had in an office that made me feel like it was raining in the practice. Thanks to my partnership with ADMI, I didn’t have to find a contractor. Instead, I sent a photo of the problem to facilities management. Someone inspected the issue the same afternoon, and the roof was replaced within a week.

This support has proved equally valuable during the COVID-19 crisis when I had to make decisions about staffing and planning, source hard-to-find PPE, and dissect important safety and infectious disease protocol. ADMI provided expert advice and helped me to pivot quickly with managing staffing and operations where needed to adhere to local guidelines, offering virtual care to help patients in pain, operating safely for care teams and patients, and recognizing that patients need flexible scheduling and treatment options based on what’s going on in their lives.

Work-Life Balance

Balancing work and home life is a challenge everyone faces. It’s not impossible, but practicing with support from a DSO is very valuable. I can focus my time on patients when I am in the office, and I can concentrate on my family or other interests when I’m home or after work. As an Aspen Dental practice owner, there is such depth in the business support available to run the practice that doctors can focus on patient care. That support has been more crucial through the pandemic with operations and patient care.

Since I began practicing, I’ve also become a mother. I went out on maternity leave reassured, knowing the office was set up for success. My team had consistent leadership and my patients were taken care of, so I worried less about my practice, and the team of dedicated professionals continued to thrive.

My family has grown, and my husband is away for work three days a week. It feels great to know that I can be there for my patients and still go home and be a mom and wife.

Opportunities for All

Within the Aspen Dental network, I feel empowered as a woman practice owner because I am part of a network of strong female leaders. I enjoy making connections with other female doctors at events like our Annual Leadership Retreat, and I have developed a network of strong women whose counsel I rely on to grow my clinical experience. I participate in several informal women’s focus groups and retreats, and we have social media forums to keep connected. These resources have helped me develop confidence while strengthening my professional decisionmaking.

Fulfilling My Dreams

I am fortunate to have found a career and a practice network where I can grow professionally without compromising my personal goals. I encourage women who are planning a career in dentistry to consider joining a network supported by a DSO. As a professional, having the support from a DSO relieves tremendous stress that can come with running a private office.

Dr. Heald completed her undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech and went to dental school at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. After dental school, she completed a general practice residency at the VA Hospital, in conjunction with the University of Florida in Gainesville. She has a strong background in medically compromised and geriatric patients and owns four offices where she and her care teams actively treat thousands of patients in need.

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