Risé Lyman, DDS — Dare to dream!

Sept. 1, 2003
We continue our focus on women dentists. This month, WDJ features Dr. Risé Lyman, a general dentist in Lakehills, Texas, and the current president of the American Association of Women Dentists. Dr. Lyman shares the "diamonds" she has found along the path to her dreams.

We continue our focus on women dentists. This month, WDJ features Dr. Risé Lyman, a general dentist in Lakehills, Texas, and the current president of the American Association of Women Dentists. Dr. Lyman shares the "diamonds" she has found along the path to her dreams.

Remember as a child how you would pretend you were a pilot, a teacher, a mommy, a doctor, a fire fighter, or whatever tickled your fancy at that moment? As the oldest of six children, I was usually the one in charge of our "chosen profession of the day." My brothers and sisters were the students, the workers, or the patients. It was fun to dream and strive to create our destiny then, just as it is now!

By age 12, after the transformation of orthodontic treatment, my dream was to be a dentist someday. The next year, when I was 13, my mother died suddenly in an accident; my make-believe mommy role had become a reality. Still, I never stopped dreaming.

By age 18, I was married, working full-time, and going to college part-time to complete the necessary predental courses. My family told me that I was crazy to put myself through such collegiate torture. They suggested that I should just be happy that I had a job (I made $175 per month).

By the time I was 23, I was in college part-time, working full-time, and pregnant with twins. My father thought that I should "get my head on straight and stay home and just be a good mother." Thanks to my daughters and the support of the women in the Mothers of Twins organization, I persevered.

Finally, at age 27, I entered dental school to pursue my life-long dream. I was motivated more than anything by my keen desire for my daughters to see me as a role model. I wanted them to develop independence, competitiveness, and compassion to pursue their own dreams.

Being an entrepreneur is not all it's cracked up to be — it's better! It's fun and rewarding. It's even hard work at times, but what isn't? It's like snow skiing — you have to be prepared. When I wanted to learn to snow ski, I had to do certain exercises to get my leg muscles in shape, since I'm not a natural athlete. Then I took lessons, made my way to the slopes, fell down, skied, fell, and at the end of a day of hard work, slept like a baby.

On my life's journey, I found this diamond right away: 90 percent of inspiration is perspiration! Worthwhile things are seldom easy. Even writing this article is difficult, with numerous hours spent on revisions. I like to feel natural and comfortable in my environment. And I like to have fun with work for balance ... but sometimes it takes a little perspiration.

Before dental school, I worked for a dentist for several years. While he was pleasant to work with, even encouraging me to pursue my dreams, he called me "one of my girls." He mentioned that after dental school I could come back to work in his office. Frankly, I knew that would never work for me. In fact, I knew I would never want to be an associate for anyone. Being an entrepreneur was one of my dreams. (Remember, as the oldest sibling, I was always the leader of the chosen profession during playtime!) To that end, I began the journey to establish my own place in dentistry.

Looking back, dental school was hard work! At the University of Texas Health Science Center Dental School in San Antonio, we had a strong practice-management curriculum. One mandatory project for students was to prepare a business plan that coincided with our plans after graduation. As tedious as the procedure appeared, my business proposal ended up being realistic, professional, and most of all, usable. I was able to take the proposal to a banker who readily accepted it for funding to begin a dental practice. My female colleagues provided connections to accountants, lawyers, bankers, and even brokers. My male colleagues made suggestions, but I didn't feel as comfortable with their contacts. I am indebted to my network of women dentists!

At the time, I was a single mother of eight-year-old twins, and I had school loans in the amount of $40,000 (while not much by today's standards, it seemed like a lot then) and no family member to co-sign a loan. In 1985, the interest rate on my car loan was 21 percent, and the oil crunch had hit Texas. Being frugal, creative, realistic, and hard-working kept me from financial demise. First, I did my demographic homework and determined an area where I wanted to live that had adequate growth. I found the next diamond in the process: A practice is all about location, location, location!

Although my chosen locale already had 18 dentists (including specialists), I would be the only female dentist. How could this be beneficial? As a mom, I imagined that the other mothers in the area would identify with me and seek my services for their children. I believed that they would feel comfortable obtaining general dentistry services for the entire family from me. As a woman, I knew I could be gentle and nurturing to my patients.

I found another diamond soon after: Team-building is critical for me and my practice. The American Association of Women Dentists (AAWD) showed me how to connect with other women dentists. These knowledgeable ladies were out in the real world already, owning their businesses just like I wanted to. They taught me that all things are possible, with plenty of optimism to be shared. I cannot stress enough the value of women working with other women.

The first continuing-education course that I attended following graduation — "Polishing Your Communication Skills" — was sponsored by the AAWD. The course specifically focused on how the woman dentist should present herself to her team and her patients. I still employ the skills I learned, and continue to use the many gifts that I have received from other women dentists and courses offered through the AAWD.

The next order of business along my journey was to find an office facility. I had shared an office with an orthodontist for six months, without a restrictive covenant to start a patient base. After that, I moved into a pre-existing dental office to minimize finish costs for the completion of my office.

I found this diamond in no time: Always get bids from every dental supplier. Sometimes the equipment used for demonstrations at dental meetings is available at a discount.

I think I have found the best diamond for practice-building: Market yourself in your community. Start by meeting your neighbors. You might consider other dentists the competition, but I prefer to think of them as colleagues. Visit with local pharmacists, area physicians, school nurses, and businesses. Volunteer to speak at community gatherings and schools. Get involved in your community.

I have an overarching diamond that I have held dear for years: Dentistry is a business, so treat it like one. Know your numbers! Remember the business plan. Set realistic goals. Establish a monthly patient and cash-flow projection spreadsheet. Estimate monthly revenues and expenses to determine an accurate amount for working capital. Don't forget to compensate yourself. Review projections with actual data. Compare your numbers with other similar dental practices to determine percentages out of the norm.

As I mature, I realize just how physically taxing dentistry is. One day I noticed that my hands and body were straining during many dental procedures. The discomfort was due to the size and shape of the equipment or poor ergonomic features. In fact, in 1990 the tendon ruptured in my middle finger on my right hand. Surgery and rehabilitation difficulties forced me to discontinue clinical dentistry for an indefinite time. Fortunately, I was asked to join the Practice Dynamics Division of the UTHSC Dental School in San Antonio. During this period, I researched dental ergonomics. I thought, why should I have to wear gloves with a half inch of excess material at the fingertips? Why should I have to stretch my fingers to squeeze out that impression material? More and more women — assistants, hygienists, and dentists — comprise the total number of providers in our profession. Consequently, I have been working with several companies to address the need for gender-specific dental instruments and equipment. I am proud to be part of the exciting changes that are beginning to occur!

After 16 years at my initial office location, I decided to start another practice closer to my home on the outskirts of San Antonio, surrounded by farms and ranches. I developed a new business plan and did the necessary demographic studies before making any decisions. Then my husband and I purchased some land and designed a building. Only this time we would be the owners of a strip center and lease space to others as well as house a dental office. I kept remembering the wisdom I gained from others: "Build something so you can sell it in the future." "Diversify your assets." "Make your office a place where you enjoy being every day." We clung to this diamond: Be bold in pursuing your dreams!

The strip center was completed and our dental office opened in November 2000. However, life sometimes throws bumps on the pathway. In 2001, my husband, Frank, was involved in a serious automobile accident. After multiple treatments, rehabilitation, and medications, we knew that he would need daily therapy to alleviate pain and maintain a normal routine. Thus, a fitness center in our strip center was born. Of course, I knew nothing about this type of business at the time, but I learned! I visited every fitness center I could and questioned the owners until I felt comfortable with design, equipment, services, and software. Our grand opening was April 1, 2003, and we have enjoyed the fitness center every day since. What a blessing a dream can be!

I enjoy sharing my dreams — which are better now that they are real — with our daughters and their children. With three grandsons, I am excited about the upcoming birth of our fourth grandchild who is female. No matter what the statistics tally by the time she seeks her future career, she will still need a mentor and role model. I will cherish each diamond that I can share with her.

Some women do not feel the need for a female friend when they begin their career. But after about five years in practice, many of us experience transitions and new opportunities. The same thing happens at 10- and 15-year intervals, it seems. Knowing and connecting with other women can help us get past the rough spots. I am proud to be a part of the AAWD that forms the real "net" of connections that can help women bounce back and reach new levels!

My faith has taught me that all things are possible for those who believe. Life hasn't always been easy, but the support of my family and the network of women at AAWD has made all the difference for me!