I clearly remember the date, March 17, 2020, when the city of Chicago placed a mandatory shelter-in-place order. I locked up the practice and said to my team, “I will see you in 2 weeks.” In the meantime, panic struck me, and I needed to devise a plan for my 2 pediatric and orthodontic offices. I know now that I was not the only one fearing for my business and patients. And the word “fear” wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg of how I felt during the mandate. I’m sure many of you can relate.
There were a myriad of questions: What is COVID-19? What are we dealing with here? Why is it so contagious? Isn’t it like the flu? Where and how is it spreading? How does it affect children? The questions were endless. I remember calling a patient’s father and pushing his son’s expander delivery until after the shelter-in-place order. I said to him, “I’m not sure if there is an emergency, if I can get to you or you to me, so let’s wait. We have never had this situation, and there is an adjustment period for kids.” I was so glad to have made that decision.
How much has changed since March 2020? What did we learn throughout this pandemic? There were many lessons from all angles. But there was one in particular I was interested in doing some research on. What were the practices that outperformed the year of the pandemic, even with a mandatory shutdown? What did they do differently than our peers that made them more profitable, even more than the previous year? How did this happen? I took a poll of my Facebook group called Mommy Dentists in Business (MDIB) and asked 8,000-plus dentists (the number of members at that time, there are now more than 10,000) what they thought.
Before I share their responses, I want to share some background information on what MDIB is about and what we do. MDIB was founded in June 2017 for women like me—a mom, dentist, and practice owner. We are a private Facebook group of moms who share best practices. We have found that those of us who work collectively instead of competitively have outperformed our analytics in business. Not only do we perform better, but we also report an increase in happiness because we no longer feel alone or isolated in our offices. In fact, research supports the idea that women who support one another are more successful, as Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, discussed in her column for Forbes.1
Many dentists have similar personality traits. I think we would largely agree that dentists can be risk-averse, perfectionists, ambitious, studious, and perhaps “to themselves.” What MDIB provides is a space where moms can feel supported, heard, and share ideas. The start of the pandemic to the present day demonstrates the true purpose of MDIB, which is that when one rises, we all rise together. Now how we all gathered together to outperform COVID-19 is an example of this. I put out a poll to the members of the group and aggregated their results.
Here are their responses.
- COVID-19 protocols were adopted and set in place early. The offices that prepared their teams and secured their PPE in advance were able to perform emergency treatment throughout the mandatory quarantine and were able to “open” in time when their local health departments and states permitted them to. The practices that trained their teams and kept them in the loop during quarantine had the ability to open their doors in confidence.
- The offices that called their patients individually rather than sending out mass emails were able to fill their schedules quickly. The patients felt cared for and were able to get their questions answered and their fears resolved. The team handled all questions with compassion.
- Practices that dropped PPO insurances became more profitable. Most doctors would be afraid to drop insurances, but the ones that did saw an increase in their profits. The work they were doing was being compensated at 100%. The patients felt their communication was sufficient and that the explanation of rising costs of PPE and other reasons drove the practice to go out of network was acceptable.
- Practices that ran “lean and mean” and “trimmed the extra fat” also saw their profits rise. They ran on a skeleton crew and were able to provide the same level of care to their patients.
- Many doctors saw an increase in emergency patients. Perhaps the stress of not working, staying home with kids, and not having childcare caused more bruxism or clenching? But doctors reported an increase in broken restorations and, therefore, more dental work. Again, those that secured their PPE early were able to take on new patients with emergencies whose dentists’ offices were not yet open.
- The practices that increased profitability also reported increased elective work that patients consented to—perhaps due to the stimulus money from the government or the money that was saved from not going on vacation or dining out? Patients were asking for Invisalign, bleaching, and cosmetic work. Perhaps the virtual meetings caused patients to notice their teeth and smiles more and felt self-conscious? Nonetheless, patients were seeking elective services more than ever.
- Finally, doctors who provided a strong work culture also reported an increase in profits compared to 2019. The doctors who engaged their team members during the quarantine made sure to have text message chains or use apps like WhatsApp to be in constant communication. They provided meals and gift cards to their teams, and they made sure to keep morale high during trying times. The practices that were able to keep their work families happy and the culture outside the office happy were able to retain them. When it was time to return, the team was able to trust their leader(s) and come back to a safe and happy environment.
I found the research to be interesting and helpful in understanding why those practices had profitability that was higher than in prior years, including during the pandemic. The methods by which the doctors were able to secure PPE, find ideas on work culture, develop plans on training with ever-moving guidelines, learn how to handle the PPP loan, and learn how to furlough and terminate properly while staying emotionally stable were a large part of belonging to the MDIB community. We learned as a collective to put competition aside and collaborate. If one person was lagging, another came and offered support. This, in essence, is what we call our beehive. The camaraderie and online support offered during the most difficult times is what helped thousands of dentists endure a global crisis. This is what is different now in dentistry and what sets this group apart. Like the work family in a dental setting, we are an online family of like-minded mothers in dentistry. The community is strong, with solid values and a culture of our own. A combination of work culture, preparation, empathy, and positive thinking propels our group of dentists to be “outperformers.”
- Zalis S. Power of the pack: women who support women are more successful. Forbes. March 6, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleyzalis/2019/03/06/power-of-the-pack-women-who-support-women-are-more-successful/?sh=22b1902f1771
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Yum is a board-certified pediatric dentist, a certification achieved by only 5% of all dentists in the United States. Dr. Yum is the founder and former practice owner of Yummy Dental & Orthodontics for Kids, in Chicago, and she is also the founder and CEO of Mommy Dentists in Business. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Dr. Yum reports no disclosures.