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Turning a dental office into an oasis of comfort

Sept. 1, 2003
Imagine a dentist's office so relaxing, so comforting that patients don't want to leave. Imagine an office so welcoming, so inclusive that any patient of any culture feels at home. That's what Rochelle E. Hackley, DDS, imagined two years ago and realized on March 25, 2003. Here's how one woman dentist turned a vision for her high-end practice into reality with the help of her supplier � without mortgaging everything she owned.
Photos courtesy of Schein Creative Services, A Henry Schein Inc. Company
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In 1997, when Dr. Rochelle Hackley graduated from the University of Maryland Dental School, her focus was on beginning the practice of dentistry. Like most new practitioners, she faced a mound of school debt and daunting decisions about practice financing. When the bankers requested virtually everything she owned as collateral to finance her practice, she had no choice but to comply. On Aug. 1, her first practice was born in suburban Washington, D.C.

Most first practices are not ideal. Compromises must be made for a dentist to begin to establish herself. Dr. Hackley's practice was located in a small office complex — 880 square feet including three operatories. Despite its limited size and visibility, she infused it with a spirit of success.

From the beginning, the practice was a family-oriented business. Her mother, Dyetra, accounts manager, and her sister, Rhonda, office administrator, made it easy to accommodate the needs of Dr. Hackley's growing child, Brianna, now four-years-old. The two helped Dr. Hackley care for Brianna during their busy days. As the practice grew, Dr. Hackley and her team made patients feel like part of her extended family.

A distinguishing feature of the practice was its international clientele. With her office located near the nation's capital, Dr. Hackley treated an increasingly diverse group of patients from a variety of countries, religions, and cultural backgrounds. She discovered an important common denominator — everyone wants a beautiful smile. In fact, a smile crosses all borders. The theme of her first practice became, "A smile is the same in all languages." This was to become the theme that characterized her new practice as well.

The hard work and enthusiasm that Dr. Hackley, her family, and her team invested into the practice paid off. Their patient roster was full, growing at a rate of 40 new patients per month, with another dentist on board part-time. Practice growth was now limited only by the size of the office.

After just four years, Dr. Hackley began to envision a larger, better space for her practice — one that was designed exactly the way she wanted ... one that made a statement to her patients, with high visibility within the community ... one that reflected her commitment to family and provided a window into countries all around the world. She wanted to build a practice that was welcoming and comfortable, that fulfilled her needs, and where she, her family, team members, and patients all could feel at home.

Dr. Hackley addressed building a new office space with the same energy and enthusiasm that she had invested in her practice. She thought through design features, new equipment, and new services and how she would offer them to her patients. She selected a design and construction firm to work with her on the project first, and then she began to look for money.

That's when it became difficult. When she first started out four years earlier, the demands from banks and other lending institutions for collateral was understandable. But now — with a proven track record of success — Dr. Hackley couldn't understand why banks were so demanding, often in roundabout ways that wasted her time. She was getting very frustrated with banking institutions when, just in time, help arrived from an unexpected, yet familiar, source — her supplier, Sullivan-Schein Dental.

Field Sales Consultant Jim Monk's interest in her practice went well beyond that of some sales representatives — he was truly interested in her success. When it came time for Dr. Hackley to replace some major equipment, Monk introduced her to an equipment sales specialist, Tom Brosky. Brosky and Monk worked in partnership with Dr. Hackley for two years to meet her current and future practice needs with appropriate equipment.

Following another fruitless bank financing meeting, Dr. Hackley expressed her frustration to Brosky, who referred her to a colleague, Mike Whelan, the Henry Schein Financial Services regional manager. Whelan was able to help with her financial goals. "Dr. Hackley took the initiative, and we were able to make this transaction easier for her," he said. "From my perspective, putting together a package for Dr. Hackley made sense, so we provided the money she needed to run the practice properly. Based on her performance and motivation, we believed her practice was a good investment."

Teamwork and partnership with her supplier paid off. "Mike, Tom, and Jim kept their promises and accepted their responsibilities," said Dr. Hackley. "They prepared me for the project and helped with development. I couldn't have done it without them!"

With the proper funding, Dr. Hackley secured a strategic location — White Flint Mall in North Bethesda, Md. With neighbors such as Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale's, and Borders Books & Music in the 800,000-square-foot mall, her practice would be rooted in a highly trafficked center, drawing higher income families.

In October 2002, construction began on the new office. By March 2003, Dr. Hackley and her team welcomed patients to an all-digital, state-of-the-art dental facility unlike any they had ever seen before.

"Our new office is a dream come true," says Dr. Hackley. "We achieved the goals we set in the planning stage and for future growth. The practice meets my needs and the needs of my family and team, while providing patients with a comfortable treatment area. Patients' responses have been overwhelming — they call our office 'phenomenal.'"

"Phenomenal" may be an understatement. With seven operatories, the new practice boasts 3,500 square feet, with each operatory distinctive yet united by the theme — "A smile is the same in all languages" — which appears in each of the rooms in eight languages.

"I wanted to use that theme and make the office unique," says Dr. Hackley. "Because there are seven operatories, I decided to dedicate each one to a different continent. Patients brought in items from each of the seven continents to decorate the rooms, and we bought the rest from the Internet. All seven operatories have the common element of being soothing and comforting, meeting our other goal."

Five of the operatories — Africa, Australia, Asia, Antarctica, and Europe — are currently functioning, with North America and South America planned in the near future. "Because Antarctica is the only continent without a large human population, it is the only operatory with a door," explains Dr. Hackley. "The room is particularly soothing with tones of blue and white. We use this 'quiet room' when a patient is anxious so he can be closed off from the rest of the world, just like in Antarctica."

Reinforcing the practice's international theme, a large world map is the centerpiece of the reception area. When patients arrive for their first visit, they are invited to place stickpins in their country of origin on the map.

Patient comfort goes beyond the office décor. "We value patient comfort here," says Dr. Hackley. "We provide massage mats in the chairs, virtual reality glasses during procedures, and various massage techniques. We plan to offer reflexology in the future."

As a single mother with a demanding practice, Dr. Hackley designed the office to meet her personal needs too. "Because we spend so much time at work, the workspace should fulfill our needs," she says. "My daughter and I spend a lot of time here, so we designed an exercise area with shower facilities to use before or after appointments. For my daughter, there is a private room adjacent to my office with a play area, a wall for writing and drawing, a Murphy bed for sleeping, her computer, and a television and DVD player. She brings other children or siblings of patients to play there while they wait. She even hung her preschool diploma on the wall. The room is designed with a see-through window so our team can watch her too!"

Since relocating her practice, Dr. Hackley has seen a surge in new patients. "We are quite busy and have referrals from our current patients and our many new patients," says Dr. Hackley. "In our first full month here, we jumped from an average of 40 new patients monthly to 106, stabilizing at 75 new patients." With this increase in patients and procedures, the office can accommodate additional business. Plans are to add an orthodontist and a periodontist.

"The biggest concern of patients when coming to the dentist is fear," says Dr. Hackley. "In designing this office, we have tried to make it an oasis for our patients. Many of them tell us they don't want to leave after a procedure is done. Now, isn't that something you rarely hear in a dental office?"

Dr. Hackley can be reached at (301) 816-3232. Jim Monks of Sullivan-Schein Dental can be reached at (301) 529-4007.

Keith Drayer

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Keith Drayer is the director of Henry Schein Financial Services, which provides business solutions for dentists who are starting, growing, expanding, or purchasing dental practices. Mr. Drayer can be reached at (800) 443-2756 or [email protected].