Flourishing in Changing Times: "Fourth quarter" choices for your dental career

March 6, 2013
There are choices for your "fourth quarter" besides full retirement.

Boomer dentists are between the ages of 49 and 66. If you’re a Boomer dentist, do you have a solid retirement plan? Did you know you have choices toward the end of your career and into retirement, your “fourth quarter”? Unlike the first three quarters of the dental game, when you knew exactly your path and the results, your fourth quarter means facing change and the unknown, which is daunting for people who like plans and seek perfection.

In 2008, the world changed, and many would-be retiring dentists stayed in practice. Now, four years later, a record number of practice sales occurred during the final months of 2012 as the tax questions loomed large. In order to achieve a successful fourth quarter, it is important for both financial and emotional preparation to be meaningful and have purpose.

Let’s say the hypothetical Dr. Clark retires fully in the first six months, during which time he will reconnect with family and friends, play golf, paint the house, and reorganize the garage. But suddenly, what will he do when his chores and visits run out? Thirty years is a long time to practice, and a successful fourth quarter takes real planning and even counseling. It is strongly suggested that dentists start planning five years before they retire. No one wants to be stopped on the street and asked, “Didn’t you used to be Dr. So-and-So?”

Will you be ready to retire when the time comes?

One successful fourth quarter choice is to sell outright. Or, you could retool and choose a different second career. You could use your dental skills in rural or missionary settings and travel the world. Or, one choice that appeals to some is to continue practicing dentistry in a much different fashion and not touch their nest egg, even if they have enough money to last another 30 years.

If you choose to practice part-time, the successful criteria you need to enjoy practicing dentistry is to have no debt on the practice, and to feel like you have more to contribute. You can then choose how many days to work and what treatments you want to refer or add.

It could look like this — vacate every other week and practice eight days a month. This allows you to take a month off at a time. Refer out treatments you don’t enjoy, and specialize in treatments in which you have expertise. You could continue like this for five years, reorganize again for the next five, and transition into retirement.

Reinventing retirement

It is important to create a buzz in the community for those expecting your retirement. Tell people that you’ve had an epiphany because you love dentistry, people, and challenge. Continue at your own pace, perhaps with fewer people who hold the same vision for their fourth quarter. It might even be possible to find another dentist with similar goals who wants to share the office. Anything is possible.

The doctors we consult who continue to practice in some fashion in their fourth quarter are finding it an excellent emotional and financial transition into the next choice. Thirty years with no plan is a long time.

Dr. Bill Blatchford, America’s premier dental business coach, is CEO of Blatchford Solutions. He coaches dentists of all ages to be more profitable and efficient while taking more time away to rejuvenate. His next book, “The Boomer Dentist,” with Jeff Griswold, a financial planner, will be available in April. Dr. Blatchford can be reached at (888) 977-4600 and at [email protected].