DO THE THING YOU LOVE
Loving your work establishes a foundation from which all other professional success will follow. Could Michael Jordan fly through the air so gracefully and powerfully if he did not enjoy his work immensely? You are the superstar in your office. It is your home court, the place you display your special talents and competence. Dentistry is just too difficult to perform well if money is the only reward. The public does not appreciate how difficult our jobs are, and those close to us may not either. The pats on the back we give ourselves are the most important. We know when we have nailed a case, and we should be our own worst critics when we fail to live up to our best. A critical re-examination of all the powerful reasons we opted for our career is a great place from which to reaffirm our commitment to dentistry. If you don’t really love going to the office, maybe you should do something else.
WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS AND HAVE A VISION
MISSION, GOALS, VALUES, BUSINESS PLAN
- A mission statement
- A concise statement of practice values
- A clear statement of practice goals (financial, clinical, and nonclinical)
- A brief history of the practice (financial and otherwise)
- An honest and comprehensive assessment of company strengths and weaknesses
- An assessment of potential markets and practice trends
- Clear short-term and long-term projects that align with the company mission, values, and goals, and address areas of weakness
- All financial goals, projected revenues, and expenses.
In short, by reading the plan, an unbiased observer should be able to ascertain clearly and concisely your “brand” of practice, what you stand for, where your practice is headed, how you intend to get there, and where you’ve been. In addition, the document should motivate others (most importantly your staff) to want to move with you in the same direction you want to take your practice.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT STAFF
BE COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE IN YOUR TREATMENT: EARN YOUR FEES AND BE PROUD OF THEM
DEVELOP A GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SPECIALIST
You have a wealth of good information at your fingertips. Being on a first name basis with your specialist team allows you to both learn and expand your treatment capabilities. It will also allow you to focus energy on the things that you most like to do. Your specialist should be available to you within a day to return your phone calls, be willing to host you in their offices to observe them, and be available for lunch and dinner on short notice. Use them as equal professionals, not a dental Siberia where a patient you don’t want to work with is sent, never to return.
CONSTANTLY RE-COMMIT YOURSELF TO CONTINUING EDUCATION
CE is the hallmark of the truly professional dentist. CE will re-invigorate your attitude and enthusiasm, as well as increase, over time, the depth and range of the services you provide. CE will also expand your circle of professional friends and take away the isolation so prevalent in solo practice by giving a sense of camaraderie. The details and nuances of clinical practice are the things that bedevil us. CE brings directly into our hands the very best ideas, equipment, and tools available for enhancing our practices. Clinical techniques, equipment, and materials are changing rapidly. CE taught by those actually in practice is vital. Wet-fingered practicing educators can tell you what works in real life. Abundant CE is the strongest means to learn which manufacturers’ product claims are true and which are not. How many products have we bought that now gather dust because they did not quite work the way they were advertised? CE can help minimize this.
DEVELOP A NETWORK OF COLLEAGUES WITH WHOM TO SHARE YOUR IDEAS AND FRUSTRATIONS
The phrase “nothing new under the sun” applies. If a problem confronts you, it’s been a problem for someone else before, and a solution exists. We should be encouraged to talk about our failures. Keeping secrets breeds shame. Many is the solo practitioner I have observed who is working in an isolated cottage away from his colleagues and frustrated by a lack of emotional support and professional stimulation. Don’t let it happen to you. Be involved outside your dental cottage in the larger professional world at all levels possible.
REVIEW ALL OF YOUR INTERNAL SYSTEMS CONSTANTLY
Room for improvement exists in every one of our practices if we look for it. For example: Is your medical emergency kit up to date, are the drugs expired, is there oxygen in your cylinders? Can your paperwork be updated to be more user friendly? Could you make your office paperless? Are your computers antiques? Can your tray set-ups be reduced in numbers of instruments? Is your office manual clear and concise? Do you even have an office manual? Make use of your internal experts, your staff, for feedback about the status of your present systems and what needs to be done. It’s amazing how much we can find that needs tuning if we look for it.
BE YOUR OWN BEST CONSULTANT
Consultants have done remarkable things for some practices. Modeling successful colleagues and visiting the business section of the local bookstore can provide much of the same information, much more economically. The business section of your local bookstore is filled with creative ideas and axioms designed to make small businesses more competitive. Most consultants are not dentists by training. Most have never sat on the operating stool with a syringe in their hand with an anxious patient. Consultants telling dentists how to manage a dental practice would be like me telling the members of the English National Soccer team how to kick a ball. Consultants learn their craft by working with dentists, and I would hazard a guess that they learn a lot more from their clients than vice versa. Asking those you consider successful how they’ve achieved what they have can help you become your own best consultant. Look at things from the patient’s perspective When was the last time you actually sat in your own waiting room to see how it feels and appears to someone walking into your office for the first time? What is the first thing you see? Are your magazines all antique copies of the titles that you read at your grandmother’s? Is the patient offered a drink or a hot towel upon entering? Are business and collection calls handled out of earshot? Have you ever had someone not related to you or your office call your practice to see how he or she is treated on the phone? Does your equipment look like it belongs in a museum or is it state of the art? Do you have a logo and mission statement clearly visible to the public upon entering your practice? An exhaustive list of what the patient experiences is too long for this paper, but suffice it to say that patients experience many things in our practices that we do not. We just don’t see it. They are the final judges of our success and competence. Excellence in care is not just related to marginal fit. Excellence incorporates what the patient perceives about you personally and your office. Perception is reality when it comes to customer service and satisfaction. See it as they do, and we will never look at our practice the same way again.
DEVELOP A SOUND RELATIONSHIP WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY, FINANCIAL PLANNER, AND ACCOUNTANT
Is your will up-to-date? Do you have adequate insurance of all types? Are you saving for retirement at a rate that actually will allow you to retire? Are you paying too much in taxes? Are your children’s college needs being taken care of? We are trained dentists, not legal or financial specialists, although we need some basic knowledge in each of these areas. The right advice can literally allow you to work because you want to, and not because you have to. Bad investments and bad business decisions can saddle an otherwise successful practice with an unnecessary millstone. This can make an old person out of a young one very quickly. Treat patients like they were your mother and father DVD movie glasses, fancy patient napkins, scented rubber dams, lavender hot towels, and other amenities are nice, but they are not why patients see us. The basics are key. The patient cares about four things: (1) Is it going to hurt? (2) How much is it going to cost? (3) How long is it going to take? (4) Am I important to the people in the office? Patients’ expectations that they are going to receive excellent technical care is a given. What sets you apart is the patient’s answer to question No. 4 above. Take care of your patients and they will take care of you. In short, “Do unto others…” and “The customer is king.” Be genuine. People can tell the difference.
Model the success strategies of the practices you admire to develop your vision, and execute your written plan with commitment. Success does leave clues.
Dr. Mounce is an endodontist in Portland, Ore. He has published articles in many journals and lectured worldwide on innovations in endodontics. He writes a weekly endodontics newsletter via e-mail,
“Mounce’s Apex,” which is available free of charge. To receive the newsletter, contact Dr. Mounce at Lineker@ aol.com and give your email address.