Three surprising ways to understand your practice

These three things may surprise most dentists

Bizzie Mom

Owning a practice – and I mean owning, not just purchasing – is a process that takes time.

There are multiple facets to know, learn, and understand, and it’s overwhelming when you feel you have to handle everything at once. I wish I could say pearls of wisdom miraculously appeared for my benefit, beautifully placed atop flower petals.

Closer to the truth is they arrived only after I’d stumbled and fallen on my rear end several times. Or they were head-slappingly obvious but I just wasn’t looking. Sigh.

Here are a few benefits of my thud—>butt—>floor experiences during the early years as a new practice owner my fellow dentists may find useful.

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1. Opening my own mail
When you take over an existing practice, it’s tempting to let many things run the way they were before. And that’s exactly what I did. Among other things, it was the simple task of my front desk opening the mail. I know most dentists delegate this task to an office manager or front desk. Call it silly, but I thought it was my mail and I should be the one looking at it first.

Well, turns out it wasn’t a bad idea at all. As a first time small business owner, I got a sense of who all my vendors were, my monthly bills (insert big eyeballs here), insurance payments, product/CE announcements, letters from specialists, and the ton of junk mail (what a waste of good trees). Over time, this simple act led me to trim some bills, pinpoint an error in our claim filing, and make decisions on adding or subtracting services the previous doctor was not interested in (these letters would have surely been thrown away).

When stuff is behind the scenes, or in our case, the teeth, it’s easy to forget. Now, I’m not saying you should know how to do each and every task in your practice. But sometimes dabbling a little into duties you delegate can open your eyes in a different way. I still open all my own mail. It works for me.

2. Doing my own taxes (the early years)
I bet you’re shaking your head right about now. Yes, for the first two years of ownership, I did all my own taxes, minus the granddaddy of the annual tax return. These included bimonthly payroll taxes (plus employee IRA contributions), worker’s comp, and the quarterlies. And I recorded it all on excel spreadsheets. All by myself. Most likely, I’ve just exposed you to new heights of nerd-dom.

The reason why – as a new business owner, I had more time than money, but more importantly, I had this crazy notion that I wanted to really know my business inside out. I had my CPA show me how to do everything (so I didn’t screw it up) and kept at it for about two years until I got pregnant and nauseous on a regular basis I finally decided to delegate it. Even though these days I’m happy to have made that decision, I’m equally happy I took time to understand the unglamorous details of business taxation.

Bizzie Mom

3. Learning from my team

Mail and taxes aside, our business (actually, any business) is about people. In our case, it is about our patients. You know, the ones that we take care of every day, the source of our livelihood. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is how to interact with patients better by listening and watching my two “oldest,” by which I mean they’ve been with me the longest, employees. Not to mention they’ve been doing this a lot longer than me.

Their great rapport with patients makes them feel comfortable, liked, and respected. Of course, this is easy to do when dealing with nice people in a good mood, but boy do they come out with flying colors when a patient is not. Though it doesn’t happen often, I’ve seen them deal with difficult situations with tact and patience. I know if it had been me few years ago, I would’ve let my frustration get the best of me.

Patience is a not a virtue that comes easily to me; I have to work hard at it (my kids will confirm this). I’m so glad that over the past few years, I was smart enough to learn from great examples of grumpy patients and potential conflicts handled with grace and respect, and they almost always ended pleasantly, or at least they did not get worse.

This has helped me tremendously, and I know it’s working when I see my relationships with my patients getting stronger, and they show their trust by referring family and friends to us. A skill, a practice, and especially our “self” – each is a work in progress. And it should be, or else we get stagnation. Understanding what, how, and why open the door, and if we let it, it’ll give us the clarity and growth we all seek.

This is reprinted with permission from Ritu Rao, a practicing dentist in Dallas and mother of two young children. She writes a regular blog at

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