EXCLUSIVE! Dr. William Dickerson interviews Dr. Burr Bakke

Dec. 27, 2001
Burr has a very unique practice in that he only has one employee. I thought some people would find his style of practice interesting.

Following is an interview conducted by Dr. William Dickerson.

Many dentist wonder today how some dentist have achieved so much success and why they themselves find it so difficult. Many blame the lack of success on their location and/or patient base. Many believe that in today�s world of dentistry a successful insurance independent practice is just an illusion. In an effort to inspire many to not give up hope and to try and achieve the success they have always wanted, I have been asked to do a series of interviews with successful individuals. Our goal is to give some insight into the thinking of those who have persevered and find out how and why they are successful. Continuing this series is an interview with Dr. Burr Bakke of Dallas, Texas. Burr has a very unique practice in that he only has one employee. I thought some people would find his style of practice interesting.

Burr, you have developed a very unique practice in that you have only one employee. Can you tell everyone how that happened, as I understand that you used to be a typical type of practice?

I used to have a traditional practice and actually always desired a large practice, the kind that you run from room-to-room and see a hundred patients a day. That was what all the practice management people of the day said you needed to have.

So, as my practice grew, I began to add staff I thought I needed and it grew to ten women at one point. This was a time of incredible infighting, bickering and generally hating each other. I walked in one day and gave them all a month to solve the problems or I would. Thirty days later I walked in and fired all but two of them. Believe it or not, it was an incredible relief and an instant drop in overhead. Boy, was that nice!

I did retain a front office person and a hygienist. The hygienist left six months later, just before Christmas, as she was pregnant and was going to retire. What I found was that my production doubled as I was spending more time with my patients on a one-to-one basis instead of the old run in and check routine. That was twelve years ago and I haven�t looked back since.

I think that you would consider yourself successful, and I ask this question of all my interviews, but how would you define success?

Success to me is being able to truthfully enjoy what I do for a living and at the same time be able to provide for my family. I would have never thought a few years ago that I would be saying this, but the changes in my practice have made this possible. Where I once dreaded going into the office and fighting the daily battles, I now truly can�t wait to go to the office and see what�s up for the day. Even better is that I am allowed to help other dentists learn what I have learned at LVI. For me, that is success.

What is the hardest thing about this type of practice?

The hardest part about this style of practice is getting used to the fact that I am not going to see a hundred people a day. The free time is actually hard for me to deal with. I like to be busy, so now I take a lot longer to do different procedures and spend more time just getting to know my patients. A key point in the success of my practice is spending more time with my patients.

What is the biggest advantage?

The biggest advantage to my style of practice is the free time. I have a lot more time to devote to my patients, my practice and my family, at home and at LVI. The practice does take a lot of attention and hard work to keep it going, as do all practices, but I wouldn�t change anything.

In hindsight, knowing what you know now, what has been the most surprising thing about the last few years?

I guess the most surprising thing is that I am actually practicing the way I want to and providing dentistry to my patients that few others can offer. I started out at LVI listening to those before me who said, "If I can do it, so can anyone." I think that is a hard thing for most of the dental population to fathom. I, for better or worse, have always loved to take risks and welcomed the challenge.

What do you think was the KEY to making this type of practice work?

The key to making this type of practice work is to be totally committed to the change. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice and stick with it at all costs attitude. I have seen many try and fail because they gave up. I have also seen many win!

If you could attribute one thing to your success, what would it be?

It is very hard to attribute any one thing to my success, but I have to put most of the credit to all of those at LVI that have always been there when I needed help, a push, or knowledge. LVI and everyone involved have been invaluable to my success.

If you could offer some advice to those dentists who want a practice like yours, what would it be?

Don�t be afraid to down size to what fits your own style of practice. One staff member to several can work in the right hands. Make your decision and stick with it. If it is truly what you want and believe in, then you will succeed. Further make sure you get the best training available, like the courses at LVI. I know that without that training, I couldn�t do anything close to what I am now doing in dentistry. You have to be able to provide the best available in order to be the best available!

How do you educate your patients on cosmetic dentistry?

As I have a lot of time to be with my patients one-to-one, I have a great opportunity to discuss Cosmetics. We always discuss the advantages of the non-metallic restorations and other possibilities I can offer them for treatment. I do ask every patient if they are interested or if I have spoken to them about veneers or bleaching, etc. I often take a digital photo to image so they can see how they would look with beautiful white teeth. We also will do a diagnostic wax-up to help them better visualize the need for treatment and the end results.

How do you educate your patients on insurance coverage?

Insurance is an easy thing to discuss. Sara, my only staff and office manager, tells all new patients about our office policy of not accepting insurance, however we will provide them with all the information they will need to file their own claims. We tell all our patients what to expect from the insurance company and the many things they do to avoid paying the claims. It is really fun when our patients call us and say, " they said exactly what you told me they would say, and I told them exactly what you told me to say and they paid the claim immediately." We always try to make the process for our patients as easy as possible. We provide them with all the forms filled out for them to mail in themselves. We do make them mail it themselves, so we don�t get the call that the insurance company said they never got the claim so we must not have mailed it. This is one of the points we coach our patients about, so they can say that yes it was mailed because the mailed it themselves. Once the patient understands all the problems they have to deal with, with the insurance company, they understand why we no longer accept it.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone who aspires to excel in dentistry, regardless if they want to practice the way you do, what would it be?

The single greatest piece of advice is get trained and never stop the learning process. The training is the key to the future success of your practice and without it the road is very long and tough. LVI made all the difference in my practice and where I am today.

What do you think about the future and the direction of dentistry?

The future of dentistry is great. We are in an incredible time right now with advances in treatment being made daily. We as a group are declining in numbers and the graduation classes are getting smaller. The opportunity to succeed is there for the asking. Cosmetics will come to play a bigger role in dentistry in the years to come. I have heard from some manufacturers that the sale of alloy is declining, not rapidly but steadily. Our patients are more educated now and demand more of these types of cosmetic services, and we need to be prepared to provide them. It looks like a great future!

What are your goals for the future?

My goals for the future are in part the normal goals of increasing production and collections with fewer patients and fewer treatment days. They also, however, include attaining a level of treatment for my patients that no one else in Texas can provide. With the continued training and commitment to excellence, I will achieve it and then find an even loftier one to replace it. Remember to always be positive and believe in yourself.!