Q&A: Overcoming Isolation in Private Practice

Timothy Bizga, DDS
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Timothy Bizga, DDS, FAGD, shows how meaningful relationships with peers can be a compelling catalyst for success in your practice.

Q: Dentistry has changed quite a bit during your career, hasn’t it?

A: When I got out of school, they told me I was graduating into the platinum age of dentistry. The statistics said dentistry was growing year over year. It was heralded as being recession-proof. And then 2007 to 2008 happens. Just 2 years out of school, the mortgage crisis hit, and everything went haywire. Everybody started running for the hills and said dentistry was in trouble because for the first time ever, we saw it plateau. We saw a decline, and then a very flat growth projection. Not to mention, 2007 to 2008 happened to coincide with the year of the iPhone, which changed how marketing was done. Now everyone is walking around carrying a computer and a social media device in their pocket. Their phone is their entire world, and they’re commenting on everything from restaurant food to dental office visits to cleanliness. We are in a new normal today.

Q: What are the biggest challenges today?

A: I really see it in 2 areas. The first is getting the business skills you need to be successful in the current climate. We all know one of the big areas that’s lacking in dental school education is how to run a successful business. The second challenge private practitioners are facing is in the area of marketing. How do you get the word out in an effective manner? Younger generations tend toward finding their information via social media, and yet we have all these clients still somewhere in between worlds—one foot in the analog world they grew up in and one foot in this new digital age. The challenge is how to best target each group and to have a reliable method of tracking return on investment.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days about mental health, and dentists have had one of the highest rates of suicides statistically. What do you think is driving that, and how could we change it?

A: Isolation. There’s a difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is time we all need to withdraw, ponder, think, and come away with a fresh perspective. Isolation is the lone-wolf mentality. “I’m all alone and no one understands.” Like we’ve seen in the news with Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, people who seemingly had it all. In all the articles I read, they felt very isolated. So, it’s nice when you come into a community. I believe we were not designed to run the race alone. I ran track and field. Even if you have individual events, you’re still part of a team. The goal is for you to stay in your lane, and I’ll stay in mine, but we’re both in the race together. That’s the beauty of being part of communities and why people want to belong. Very few people really, really enjoy being out there all alone. For the majority, it’s about having community and getting complete understanding without judgment.

Q: How important are relationships in dentistry?

A: It’s the bedrock. You’ve got to build a good team to be successful. Do I have the right people? Are we working toward a common vision? A good network of colleagues to gain new ideas is equally important. This concept today that you’ve got to go it alone—it’s why I don’t like the term independent practitioner, because I think being an “island” is a bad thing. Our industry’s biggest problem is that for too long the mantra has been once you graduate, you go your own way and don’t talk about your struggles or your business. We were worried about collusion. We’ve set up these rules where we’re destined to fail because you’re having to take up a posture of secrecy. So you have to get out of that box. That’s why some online dental communities on social media have thrived. Dentists are saying, “This is nice. I can find out the information I need.”

Q: Many people are coming together in online dental groups and forums. What do you think of them?

A: Coming together in an online community is wonderful, but we have to be careful with the information found there. My mom always taught me that somebody else’s opinion of you is none of your business, so I don’t put much stock in what anonymous people in these groups often have to say. I don’t have the time to debate or fact check in a virtual world when so much needs to be done in the real world. Again, there can be value in these online community groups. What I am suggesting is having a little common sense about it. When engaging in these groups, ponder the information you are reading and taking in from individuals you do not know.

Q: You seem to see more value in connecting personally than just online. Have you found a solution?

A: I’m part of a group called Smile Source. Some people mistake it for a buying group because it offers amazing discounts, but it’s so much more. The main reason I love it is the synergy created by being with like-minded people. Smile Source is very successful at bringing dentists together to share their experiences. The idea is you’re tapping into a network of people who are successfully doing it already, who share a common vision, and who practice in different regions so you get a feel of what’s happening nationally.

Q: What is Smile Source’s greatest value?

A: It’s the camaraderie. It’s the people you get to meet. When you spend time with your local membership, you really get to know them as people. I’ve had some amazing sharing at my meetings. If I have a question about something, I know I can go to these people and ask them without hesitation. Without our local member meetings, there are some amazing people I otherwise would have never met.

Q: What happens at Smile Source meetings?

A: At every meeting, we spend most of our time in what we call Peer Mastermind. Everyone in the group has a chance to discuss a decision they need to make. The topics span from personal stuff to business decisions. Members can ask questions and dive deep into the topic without judgment. Here’s an example. Someone in my group asked whether he should hire an expanded function dental assistant (EFDA) to help increase his practice’s profitability. This dentist is in his 50s and he’s in practice with his dad. He wanted to know what to pay an EFDA and if anyone could share their experience of having an EFDA on staff. It was a great dialogue. When he was asked about the motivation for hiring the EFDA, he said, “The other day when I came into work, I was so busy, I didn’t even get a chance to sit and talk with my dad.” And he said, “He’s getting old. I’m not going to have him forever.” It was so touching, because he was realizing, “I’m so busy, I’m missing out on getting to enjoy the last few years working next to my dad.” It made the decision crystal clear. And now he says, “It was the best thing I ever did.” It was never a business decision, but the decision affected his business. Because of Smile Source, he had a trusted group of peers to help him work through this decision. Not every dentist has that, but everyone should.

Timothy Bizga, DDS, FAGD, focuses on comprehensive care, with special interests in implants, cosmetics, and facial aesthetics. He’s a general dentist practicing in Cleveland. Bizga serves as an administrator and advisory board member for Smile Source, the leading dental organization supporting private practice dentists across the United States.