Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2019 04 Focus 1

What makes us great dentists makes us bad business owners

April 22, 2019
That attention to detail that makes you such a great dentist may not be helping you when it comes to being a business owner.
Chris Salierno, DDS, Chief Editor, Dental Economics

We measure our clinical success by fractions of millimeters. We agonize over the subtle differences between shades C2 and C3. Being hyper-focused on minutiae is a wonderful trait as a dentist. It also turns out to be a lousy one as a business owner.

Let me clarify. It’s wonderful for business owners to have attention to detail. An owner needs to have patience to comb through P&Ls and spot trends in the numbers. An owner should be able to zero in on a problem and become a little obsessed until it’s solved. But I believe that routinely looking at tiny details, as we do, trains our brains not to think like businesspeople.

First, there is the problem of narrow vision on small details, which I discussed at the beginning. Routinely looking through 2.5x or higher magnification both literally and metaphorically gives us tunnel vision and blocks out the rest of the practice. When I have a full schedule of making sure the gutta percha is fitting perfectly at the apex and the crowns are fully seated, it doesn’t leave much energy between patients to investigate whether my medical waste bills are too high. We’re sweating the small stuff, as they say, and in that intense focus we may lose the bigger business picture.

Second, dentists are often more comfortable dealing with physical problems, not abstract ones. When we see a hole in a tooth or a fractured denture, we know what to do. But ask us how to improve accounts receivable and our eyes glaze over. We can’t see or touch most business problems, so we’re often not in the right state of mind to tackle them.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, dentists are afraid to fail. Pulping out, perforating roots, recementing crowns we’ve just inserted . . . we’re petrified of harming or upsetting patients, and rightly so. Making a mistake on a patient can cost us a lot more than a negative Yelp review; it can cost us our license. So, we become risk adverse. We don’t like experimenting. But as business owners we should enjoy the bitter taste of failure. It means that we tried to grow and that we learned a lesson. Successful owners frequently fail their way to success.

And so, the qualities that make us outstanding clinicians also harm us as business owners. It’s hard to shift mental gears from clinical to business. If you’re struggling with this, then you may feel like your practice isn’t moving forward. I’ll be meeting with our colleagues at the next Principles of Practice Management Conference this July and I’d love to meet you there. We can’t change the fact that dentistry and business require different skills, but we can build out our entrepreneurial and management talents.



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