23 Jun How To Be an Effective Dentistpreneur and Lower Your Debt
Mastering the business side of dentistry is something I completely underestimated. I knew I learned very little in dental school despite our professor’s attempts to teach us the basics of practice management. It seemed so irrelevant at the time, or at the least under prioritized. I really did want to learn how to manage my money, but passing gross anatomy and studying for the dental board exam ranked way above those money aspirations; I knew if I didn’t pass my dental board exams, there would be no money to manage. So, I accepted the fact that I would have to pick up needed business skills along the way–post graduation.
With a family background in retail, I figured I had a head start in this quest to be a good business person. Really…how hard could it be? I do dentistry, charge patients for the dentistry, pay my staff members, pay myself, and we are all happy. Did I mention I underestimated the complexities of the business side of dentistry?
I failed to realize how long it takes to master the category after category of business skills needed to be really good at this stuff. It wasn’t ever a matter of being able to do it. It was a matter of being able to spend the necessary time to do it. To expedite this process for anyone wanting to learn these traits more quickly, I offer you my top 10 business breakthroughs. Had I known about these shortcuts earlier, I would have saved myself a lot of time and grief. I might add that there is not a shortcut for every component in dentistry. We “practice” dentistry, and we “practice” our business aspects, too. Personal experience is the best teacher, but tips from someone experienced never hurts. Here are my tips:
1. Unless you are going to specialize or speak internationally on a certain clinical topic, resolve to the fact that you will not know every newest, latest, fastest, innovative way of practicing clinical dentistry–nor will you need to buy every latest gadget, technological must have, or innovative process that is touted to save you money. I know this sounds contrary to what you might have imagined. Yes, we should strive for keeping up-to-date clinically, but…we have to make time to learn about the other aspects of dentistry as well. I keep my continuing education goals at a 50:50 ratio–meaning I learn 50% about clinical concepts and 50% about other practice aspects. These are goals, not set in stone absolutes. If I am interested in learning more about endodontics, I take more endo courses that year. But, I also might spend a lot of time the following year learning how to market my practice better or how to build team consensus. Each state has varying requirements for CE qualification. Ohio, for example, does not allow any non-clinical based coursework to count as required credit hours for re-licensure. Michigan dentists, quite differently, are allowed to submit nearly 40 non-clinical hours of their required 60 CE hours when requesting licensure renewals. Regardless if it “counts” of not towards your state’s requirements, a great deal of time will need to be spent on non-clinical subjects. And, this business learning does not have to be done at a state or nationally sponsored event. It can be done by reading something off the New Your Times business best seller list. Study clubs are also ideal places to learn and hash through some of the business pains we all encounter. Reading really is fundamental; I think I learned that from a children’s literary organization as a youth.
2. Learn how to facilitate a meeting. This skill set will help you organize your thoughts, and others will feel valued for their input. Team meetings are needed, and I would encourage on-going monthly meetings at a minimum–more when new procedures or team members are added to the business. If you wonder if you are doing a good job, ask your team members; they know if you are boring, over-bearing, unorganized, or confrontational in team meetings. Then, once you have this skill-set mastered, teach your team, and have them lead meetings. It enhances empathy for the facilitator and makes meetings run more smoothly over time.
3. Learn how to confront a problem with grace and ease. This one may take awhile. I certainly claim no perfection on this one. It’s a work in progress always. Just when I think I have consistently handled a situation well, a new twist enters the mix, and something changes the energy flow. By practicing a centering, calm approach to difficult situations, I believe you can save lives– the person you want to lash out at and your own. I have said it before, but it’s worth repeating: you cannot change people, but you can change the way you interact with them. Maya Angelou said, “If you cannot change it, change your attitude.” It’s always our choice to react to something. How we react makes all of the difference.
4. Track your numbers. You will have no idea how well or how poorly you are doing without keeping track of key practice indicators. Here’s an article by Roger Levin in Dr. Bicuspid on the basic KPI numbers you need to follow. There are other numbers to track, but this is the basic start. Personal goals, such as overall health for patients, may be tracked differently. Whatever your goals are in your practice, there should be a number to attach to them, so they can be monitored.
5. If you own your own practice, hire an astute accountant–and consider someone who serves dentists exclusively, especially for your first years starting out. You may pay a little higher price for their services, but they will teach you a great deal about accounting, and if they are good, they will offer strategies to help you change your numbers as needed. If you work for someone, ask many questions about the business aspects of the organization or practice. Good financial advice is essential to your success, and not just in your business, the information is going to seep over into your personal finances and success as well.
6. Utilize already been done handbooks. I went through the trouble of re-creating the wheel a couple of times, and then later realized I should have just bought the manuals the state dental society or national dental societies have for sale on their websites. One favorite is an HR manual, Staff Matters , and the other is an office manual. Dental Economics wrote a good article on office manuals and it gives the ADA’s resource person in it, too. Both are needed guide books for legal and communication reasons. Don’t worry, you won’t miss out on all of the fun of creating parts of the guides. Some portions are merely templates; you still have to fill in the blanks according to how your practice handles certain subjects. Also, when new compliance obligations surface, I would recommend ordering a handbook from an association. They are typically all-in-one (guidebook, teaching DVD, and update options) packages, such as the ADA’s HIPAA handbook.
7. Read leadership books: I like Good to Great, Whale Done, Strengths Finder, Spirit at Work, The E-Myth to name a few. I also speed read or skim-read a ton of materials, particularly articles or posts. With books, I tend to read them pretty thoroughly. Once you are done with books or articles and find ones that you really like, have a “team read.” It’s kind of like a book club–only it’s at work and pertains to very topical information that can help your team yield better results. Whether we like it or not, embrace it or try and erase it, dentists are leaders. Our team expects us to lead and our communities want us to lead. We have to find the time to develop our leadership characteristics.
8. Communicate Effectively: Start by holding your tongue and pause before you speak amidst a heated discussion. Ask the person if you can get back to them about their unhappiness or downright inappropriate behavior. Sinking to someone’s level of yelling or tyranting will not resolve the overall problem. If rationality stays with you during those times, then you can respond. Otherwise, I believe a cooling off period is warranted before hurtful communication oozes from your body or mouth, and then more issues will need to be resolved–not just the one that started the problem.
9. Forgive yourself for making mistakes. If we did not enter dental school as perfectionists, we certainly left there with a pretty good appetite for creating a perfect result. None of us is perfect, and when we hang on to our imperfections, it causes great bodily harm and great hurt feelings. Let go of being perfect and accept that everyone has limitations.We can work to overcome our weaknesses, but we must be at peace with failures when they happens. I try and utilize this “R You Forgiving?” approach: Recognize the problem, Reflect & Re-evaluate the problem, Re-arrange things for next time, and then Rid it from your mind. Notice I did not say Recklessly disregard the problem; that’s not healthy either.
10. Forgive others (particularly your team members) for making mistakes, and have the patience to teach them a better way. For the longest time I would internally bake about someone who wronged me or inconvenienced me. I impatiently wondered how anyone could mess up in so many ways. I realized it was me who was part of the problem. For my team members, I realized many mistakes were made because I failed to train them well enough in the early stages of learning. Sometimes, a team member truly is not a good fit, but many times it’s only because we have not equipped them well enough to be exceptional. Even if a team member needs to leave the practice, forgive them and yourself for not being able to meet initial expectations. It’s no one’s fault; Occasionally it’s just not a good fit and the skill set did not match up as originally desired. To minimize these mismatches, I would recommend using preliminary personality testing, such as the DiSC system, to help identify work styles in the hiring process.
There are only a hundred more tips I could provide, so have me speak to your dental group, study club, or educational institution to learn more. But, here is one last tip: I had the pleasure of interviewing an impressive business man, Mr. Chuck Blakeman. He started and built up several businesses and now focuses on teaching others to build up their businesses. I just read his book, Why Employees Are Always A Bad Idea. I don’t think it’s on the New York Times List yet, but you might like to listen to our interview (or buy his book) if you want to know how to engage your team members more. According to Chuck, and I would have to concur, we have to stop treating our team members like children that come to work and operate like machines. We get further ahead by engaging them and encouraging a participatory environment. Go to my YouTube channel and glean a few more pieces of advice from a couple of people who want others to succeed and live well. Here is the link: Interview with Chuck Blakeman on YouTube. And, yes, read (or listen) to books, posts, magazines, podcasts, journals, bathroom walls–whatever feeds your brain, encourages you to live on purpose, and be a better business dentistpreneur. These tips just happen to allow you to lower your debt and live more richly on a number levels. Be intentional, or it won’t happen!
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