A recent grad shares her accelerated journey from lead dentist to owning two practice locations
Editor’s note: We met Anum Ali, DMD, in Dentaltown’s 2019 New Grads Edition as she shared insights on her first year as an independent practitioner with Aspen Dental. Ali is now practicing in her third year and shares an update on her journey from lead dentist to practice owner.
In 2019, I became the lead dentist at the Aspen Dental office in Alcoa, Tennessee, near Knoxville. At the time, it felt like a huge step for a dentist in year one, but I fully embraced it, knowing I wasn’t going into this phase of my journey alone. Practicing with Aspen Dental has given me support from seasoned dentists, an incredible mentoring network and decades of expertise I would never have found anywhere else.
Now in my third year of practice, I’ve had experiences I never anticipated. With each step, I’ve grown more confident in myself, in my team and in my choice to practice with Aspen Dental. My mentors, the teams in my offices and an amazing group of leaders have cheered me on in each phase, answered my questions and coached me through new treatment and leadership experiences, making me a stronger doctor.
Setting a goal
Setting a goal to be a practice owner was a defining moment. I worked with my mentors to become the first independent Aspen Dental practice owner in Philadelphia, targeting April 2020. We agreed on the path so I could focus on the additional practice and leadership skills I needed to grow and really succeed. With the plan, I took accountability to lean into the mentoring network and education resources available through the DSO to fulfill my goals.
While my personal and professional development plans were well defined, the world threw me—and everyone—quite a curveball as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold in March. State, local and community closure guidelines limited dental practices to emergency care only, to help slow the spread of the virus. My office in Tennessee temporarily closed, but with support from the DSO, we quickly transitioned to teledentistry, triaging patients in a virtual environment until we could operate more normally. It was a first-of-a-kind experience for me.
As communities began to reopen safely, I proceeded with my move to Philly. The April office opening was delayed to later in the summer, so I supported another location that was open for emergency care only. Then, I got a call about a new opportunity.
Aspen Dental is building a presence in and around Dallas–Fort Worth, with plans to open six offices in 2020. They needed a lead doctor, who was prepared for a practice ownership path, to jump in. That’s me! I made a quick visit to understand what the move looked like, and in less than a month I relocated to Texas.
Fast-forward to today and I am now an independent practice owner in two offices in suburban Dallas–Fort Worth, mentoring three new dental school graduates and working to open a third office in December.
Lessons from a fresh start
I took on the Euless, Texas, office in June, helping to get back to normal operations after the location had temporarily closed in March because of care restrictions in the pandemic’s early days. We’ve reopened with a very strong team, and in August, we cut the ribbon and opened our Grand Prairie location. It’s been full speed ahead now for both offices.
From Tennessee to Philadelphia to Texas, my first few years in practice have reaffirmed why I chose to be a dentist with support from a DSO. As a doctor and leader I’m learning valuable lessons that I would have never imagined:
Make the most of what’s in front of you. Practicing dentistry is not about how many patients you see or how much money you make. It’s about getting each patient the individual care he or she needs to be well, and building a team that puts patient care first. When you do that well, everything else follows.
Listening to patients matters. Many patients come to us in desperate need for care, having run into barriers elsewhere. Addressing their pain, developing a plan and then supporting them through treatment starts by just listening to how they feel and respecting what they need from you in the journey. There is not a formula. Each patient has different needs and it’s our job to care for those needs.
Flexibility really matters. Many patients are paid hourly, so they can’t miss work for the dentist. We’re here so patients have access to care, so we open early some days, stay open late on others and have Saturday hours. Similarly, we work hard to understand what a patient can afford and develop treatment plans that meet them where they are.
Transition for new grads. Before things changed in March, Aspen hired 10 new graduates across Dallas–Fort Worth, and with the pandemic, several of the students’ graduations were accelerated. As a mentor to three graduates, I want to create a development environment so these professionals can continue building their skills with hands-on experience.
Good leaders say, “I don’t know.” I have new experiences every day. Through the Aspen Dental network, there are hundreds of doctors I can reach out to with questions or for coaching. These dentists have already experienced what I am going through in their leadership and practice journeys. I’m comforted and reassured knowing we can find the answers together. Learning from each other is genuinely the best reward.
Pay it forward. Growing myself as a mentor is a commitment I’ve made so others get what’s been given to me. Because others saw potential in me, my path has been fulfilling and I want my team to have the same sense of support and confidence.
Life balance. Take time for yourself outside of work to travel, exercise and be with friends and family; do whatever makes you happy. Finding balance makes each of us better leaders and dentists. I heard this advice from DSO leadership during our first recruiting conversation.
I never expected to be where I am today in my third year as a practicing dentist. Yet, I’m comfortable in my career path because I’m part of an organization that offers dental professionals unmatched learning and development opportunities with business support, so patients always come first.
While my path has been far different than I expected, I’m on a rewarding and sustainable journey having the full support of a DSO, and amazing resources and people behind me. Although I’m in my third year of practice, like many new dental graduates I feel like I’m just beginning my journey, and I’ve never been more excited about what’s ahead.