Dentists At Crossroads

Is the corporate world taking over dentistry?

Dec. 11, 2014
Dentists can take a lesson from their peers in ophthalmology and optometry, who were told their way of life was disappearing. Well, it didn't, and neither will dentists' way of life. They can choose either private practice or a corporation.

Dentistry, we’re at a crossroads. Student debt is at an all-time high. The average seasoned dentist is practicing 10 additional years. The traditional associateship option has measurably decreased. There are mid-level providers – hygienists pushing to own their own businesses – and Obamacare. Add those together, and many in our profession are very concerned about the title of this article and the direction of dentistry.

What do you think? Is the glass half empty or half full? Until now, maybe it hasn’t mattered, as the corporate world has very wisely and very simply grabbed the glass, smiled, and said, “I’m thirsty.” (If I were a meteorologist reporting the weather, and the preceding paragraphs were all I had to go on, I’d be predicting one heck of a storm.)

Now, would you like the great news? The weatherman is often wrong. Storms pass and gray skies clear. If you and I want the real deal in the world of meteorology, our best bet is to consult the Farmer’s Almanac. History is often a better teacher than what we read in the news.

What history can we look at? Where can we turn to see our future? Is there a profession that has already faced what we’re now facing?

Well, if seeing is believing, then all we need to do is open our eyes and look to those who take care of our vision. It wasn’t all that long ago that the traditional private practice worlds of ophthalmology and optometry were supposed to be blown away by the corporate hurricanes. Forecasters were screaming from rooftops that the polar vortex of retail vision care was the only way to exist. So here’s the million-dollar question. Has that happened?

The million-dollar answer is no, it has not. Did the optometry El Nino roll through and blur the traditional vision model? Sure it did. I’m not here to tell you the corporate model is a poor one. I’m also not here to push or pull you in any direction. I am here, however, to tell you that traditional dental practice, just like the traditional optometry practice, is very much alive and well, and that you, as a dentist or dental student, have a choice.

So what would the Farmer’s Almanac say? Look at it like this. I’m a Buffalonian, and winter is right around the corner. Will I see massive amounts of snow over the next few months? Maybe. Will I be hitting the links any time soon? Not so much. But heck, my game can always use a break.

Here’s my choice. I can get up every morning, watch the weather channel, see that the cold and white stuff is on its way, and hibernate. Or, I can reach in my back pocket, grab my American Express, invest in some Under Armour, and learn to ski or snowshoe. I can enjoy the countless amazing restaurants I lose sight of all summer long. Essentially, I can understand that the weather’s going to shift for a few months, I can adjust, and I can thrive.

The crossroad where we are now is certainly a gut check. But what if it’s more than that? What if it’s an opportunity? What if it’s a chance for each of us to re-evaluate where we’ve been and where we want to go?

Do you know what people told me when I bought my practice 15 years ago? They told me I was crazy. They told me I was going to be $250k in debt and I didn’t even own a home yet. They said, “You can’t do fee-for-service dentistry in the second poorest city in America,” and “You’ll have to work nights and Saturdays.” And one of my favorites that I’ve never forgotten, “When you show up to close at the bank, your parents will have to co-sign your loans.”

Guess what? Crazy or not, by year three, the $250k debt was paid. By year five, the practice note was paid. By year 10, we quadrupled our practice. All in all, 15 years later, we can do fee-for-service dentistry in the second poorest city in America, and we can work three days a week doing it with no evenings, no Saturdays, and no need for the parents’ autographs.

How can you do this? Here are three critical lessons:
1. Know yourself
Experts in every business talk about vision and mission. For some, these are simple concepts. For many they are elusive. Don’t get snowed in with the verbiage. Simplify knowing yourself to this. If you could design your perfect day at the office, what would it look like? Knowing yourself is all about looking in the mirror and knowing whatyou loveto do and knowing what you’re willing to do to make it happen.

2. Know your audience
A wise man once told me that the three most important words in any business are location, location, location. This is where knowing your audience comes in. Once you know yourself, the next question is, who wants to buy what you’re selling? Where do these people live? Where to they shop? What do they like to do for fun? Do they have kids? Are they married? Single? Male? Female? You and I want to know our patients better than anyone else knows them!

3. Know your competition
Be honest. Since day one in dental school, you’ve been taught that your competition lies in your patient’s choices. You’re competing with vacations, shoes, smartphones, televisions, etc. Is that true? Yes, and, kind of. The lesson lies in building value. But do we also compete with each other? Of course we do. Let’s call it like it is. If there were only one of us in a town of 3,000 people, even if half the people didn't value what we did, we’d still have more dentistry than we could handle. However, if we lived in that same town and there were 100 of us, we’d compete. It’s not right or wrong, and it’s not good or bad. It simply is.

So once you know yourself and your audience – if you want choice and the freedom to have a traditional practice or be a part of a corporate model – you need to know what the other guys do well and what they don’t do well. When you know who you are and what you can do better than the other guys, do it, master it, and own that niche. When you maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, the choice is yours.

One final note
I promise you that I’m not the most intelligent person DentistryIQ reaches. I’m a regular guy who studies and pays attention to trends. I learn systems and strategies that continually help separate my practice from the 10 others I can see from my front door. I know myself, my audience, and my competition.

It ‘s true that the dental climate has changed. Winter is coming. It does every year. However, I am you, and if I can do it, if I can choose to ski or snowboard, or shift gears and enjoy the cozy fire, so can you! So what do you think? Is the glass half empty, half full, or are you just thirsty too?

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Dr. David Rice graduated cum laude in 1994 from The State University of New York at Buffalo’s School of Dental Medicine. In 1995, he completed his general practice residency from the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Penn. With a strong belief in continuing education and mentorship, Dr. Rice went on to complete continuums at the Pankey Institute, The Dawson Center, and The Spear Center, all while building the restorative practice of his dreams and maintaining an associate clinical professorship at the SUNYab School of Dental Medicine. Seven short months ago, Dr. Rice combined his passions for teaching, mentoring, and making a difference, and igniteDDS was born. Today, he continues to maintain his private practice and travels the country, inspiring dentistry’s future to live his dream, have great success, and make that same difference that has brought him so much joy.