Leaps of Faith
I can remember like it was yesterday. I had gone to see my father’s banker to secure a loan to begin my dental practice in 1981.
Written By: Dr. Susan Hollar
I can remember like it was yesterday. I had gone to see my father’s banker to secure a loan to begin my dental practice in 1981. As I began filling out the paperwork, I came across the words “What collateral do you have?” and I actually had to ask him what that meant! He was very kind and said that I should list my assets. After much deliberation, I slowly wrote “a car, a couch, and a dog.” When the bank president read my application, he asked, “Susan, would you be able to have your father co-sign this note?” I informed him that since my parents had paid for my dental education, I felt that their job was done and it was time for me to take charge of my own debt. Somewhat hesitantly, he signed the $70,000 loan (at 21 percent interest!). I then asked if it would be possible for me to take a $10,000 check to my computer consultant, whom I would meet within the hour. To my amazement, I left the bank with that $10,000 check and went directly to my new lease space for my appointment with Kip Parker, owner of Compedent Dental Systems.
It turned out that I was Kip’s first paying client. (He later told me his hands were shaking as I handed him the check!) Our business relationship has continued through the years, and I am still his client. But back in Arlington, Texas, in 1981, as we launched our respective careers, I had no idea how many other “leaps of faith” I would take - or that others would take with me - along my life’s journey.
After my first six months in practice, the bank president called to tell me that the interest on my loan was due. I sweetly (and naively) asked if I could just add that to my tab, and he said it would be OK. What a guy! By that time it was pretty clear that I wasn’t much of a businessperson, so I thought I’d better hire a business consulting team. They sought the opinions of my staff members, family, and friends about my decision, and their consensus was that my boyfriend, Mark, had an exceptional business aptitude and I should hire him to manage my practice. About that same time, Mark asked me to go to San Francisco with him to a friend’s wedding. I went, we fell in love, and on the way home from the airport he stopped at his office at the bank where he worked as a computer programmer. He cleaned out his office and never looked back. Talk about another leap of faith! We have lived and worked together ever since that day 25 years ago.
The consultants whom I had hired presented us with a notebook full of goals and objectives they projected would take us a year to accomplish. To save money, we decided to forge ahead without the consultants, and we accomplished every goal within three months - we were rolling! After a year of working and living together, we decided to get married. From the beginning, we’ve been a team at home and at work, with a balance that enables us to grow and have fun. We were well-grounded in this philosophy of teamwork even before we had our wonderful children, Sam and Sara, and it has served us well. Now that they are 16 and 15 years old, I can honestly say that Mark and I have both contributed to the family and our business on a 50/50 basis (give or take 10 or 20 from time to time). We work hard to maintain that balance, but even more importantly, we trust and love each other, our kids, and our work.
A couple of years ago, I sat on a women’s panel at a meeting of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) in Honolulu, Hawaii. When I told the female audience that my husband does all of the grocery shopping and cooking and that we have at least four dinners a week as a family, he received a huge round of applause. In addition to being the business manager for our practice, this multitalented man does 90 percent of the photography and all of the computer imaging in our office. He types all of the treatment plans and dental reports for our patients (he hasn’t missed one in 15 years), and handles the marketing, including helping to create our Web site, www.susanhollar.com. He also does about 85 percent of the driving for our children. However, he’s not perfect - he snores and acts like a you-know-what on occasion, just like all husbands do!
After being in practice for several years, I realized I had a lot to learn about occlusion. I did my research and informed Mark that I needed to take Peter Dawson’s courses. He planned and budgeted for it (he’s so much more left-brained than I am), so we were able to go through the Dawson continuums and most of the programs of the L.D. Pankey Institute in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This education totally changed our practice. We bought articulators and began taking mounted study models on all of our patients, as well as performing much more thorough exams. We went from 120 new patients per month to 16 per month, and found that our patients and staff were much happier. I now see three to six new patients a month, perform an even more involved examination, and stay busier than ever.
In the 1990s, I became interested in the accreditation process sponsored by the AACD. I took courses from Jimmy Eubank and Jeff Morley to learn about esthetics, photography, and case selection. After becoming accredited in 1999 with help and encouragement from my consultant, Corky Willhite, I went on to take more courses from Jimmy and Jeff that gave me the confidence to charge the necessary fees to accomplish “comprehensive” dentistry, the ultimate combination of function and esthetics. I can say from a woman’s point of view that function and esthetics are like family and work; they are equally important and must be combined like an algebra equation to create balance and harmony.
Dr. Susan Hollar with her husband, Mark, son, Sam, and daughter, Sara.
In 2000, I completed the continuum at the L.D. Pankey Institute under the direction of Dr. Irwin Becker, and have since had the honor of teaching there. I am also an examiner for the AACD accreditation process and a lecturer at several university continuing-education pro-grams and dental meetings. What a wonderful feeling it is to give back to the dental profession! I am thankful for the mentors on my journey who have had faith in me, challenged me, and helped me to become a better dentist and a better person through their teaching and role modeling.
One of my favorite examples is Dr. Pankey. In 1984, I wrote a letter to him, thanking him for his contributions to dentistry. I promptly received a reply in his own handwriting. The letter was dated July 4. He sat down on a holiday to write one of his thousands of students. It made a big impression on me. My love of dentistry is fed by the exhilaration of helping others and the opportunities to continue learning and growing alongside people like Dr. Pankey.
Mark and I wanted to set a certain tone for our practice, but each of our staff members has played a vital role in actually creating the relaxed, caring atmosphere we envisioned. Patients tell me on a daily basis that they can feel the empathy and concern that emanates from our people. I frequently thank God for all of them. Mark, my assistant Rhonda, my hygienist Mary-Beth, and I have all worked together for more than 20 years. My associate Diana, my in-house dental ceramist Richard, and my second assistant Kelly add incredible amounts of energy and talent to our practice and have been with us for more than six years. Like Mary, our receptionist, our younger staff members keep us feeling young and on our toes. These are the people who have developed the systems that make our practice such a great place. To reward their hard work and to help ensure our continued growth, we take a yearly trek to an exotic destination or a dental meeting where we set goals and celebrate our successes as a team.
Thanks to my loyal and talented staff, as well as the awesome teachers and mentors of our profession, I have been able to limit my practice to comprehensive, restorative care, which I define as maximum function and esthetics. Comprehensive dentistry takes a lot of time - no shortcuts. Consequently, six years ago we doubled our fees and stopped taking insurance assignments. I take twice as much time with each case, so that I am able to make the same amount of money. However, both the practice of dentistry and the relationships with my patients are 10 times more fun and rewarding.
Ever since I can remember, my mother encouraged me to have a career and a family. She pursued landscaping as her six children got older, and found that the balance of work and family was more fulfilling than either one alone. She felt very strongly that women should have options in their lives. Her encouragement was a tremendous catalyst in my decision to apply for dental school after I graduated from dental hygiene school at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. My parents took that initial leap of faith in funding my education, and then I had to take my own. I am awed by the example of my mother and others like her who showed that it is possible for women to reach their full potential both as women and as professionals.
As I write, my 50th birthday is in exactly two weeks; it seems an appropriate time to reflect on my life. In approaching this milestone, I am thankful for so many things. Having two wonderful children like Sam and Sara to love and watch blossom like beautiful flowers, enjoying a happy and cooperative marriage, and doing work that I have passion for are blessings I will treasure forever. Of course, problems and challenges will continue to arise, but we take one day at a time and appreciate the opportunities each moment brings. We still have faith, and we’re still leaping! ■
Dr. Susan Hollar can be contacted at susan@ susanhollar.com.