Make It Your Business by Dr. Mac Lee

Make It Your Business 

After 49 years of practice, Dr. Mac Lee shares some lessons he’s learned about becoming a successful dentist

by Dr. Mac Lee

After 49 years of a successful career in dentistry in a small rural town, I’ve decided to hang up my hat and retire.

It’s a bittersweet thing. I come from a long line of dentists—my brother, my father and my grandfather were all dentists, and together we have well over a century of combined experience. The many years of my practice have been rich and fulfilling; I’ve loved treating my patients and helping them lead better, healthier lives.

I’ve been asked by other people in the profession what one thing I could impart to other dentists upon my retirement, and it is this: To absolutely make the most of your practice, you must think like a businessperson. Hopefully, some of my own experiences will help you have the kind of successful and profitable practice you deserve.

Lead and guide your team

It took me awhile to learn what it meant to not only think about treating teeth and the mouth, but to also to think like a businessperson. But once I did, I was able to make enough money to be debt-free, educate my children and retire without fear of needing money to live on. The most essential thing to being a businessperson is to develop leadership skills. Learn what it means to lead your office and your patients to thinking toward the same goals and outcomes. I believe my greatest achievement has been the leadership I offered to my team, my office and my patients.

The first epiphany in my leadership journey came decades ago, after a not-so-good year financially. I used the time between Christmas and New Year’s to dwell on what went wrong. Everything was there: I had a team in place, I took care of them, took them to CE courses, had team meetings—meetings where I was the cheerleader and the one to come up with ideas while everyone else simply looked interested. We made plans that were implemented but soon faded away. Something was seriously wrong, and I found myself sick and tired of being sick and tired.

After realizing it was me that was the problem, I got very mad, but I was only mad at myself. Anger fueled my decision-making process. It became clear there was only one primary reason for the existence of my practice; it was to serve me! Without me, there was no practice, nobody to treat patients and no need for a team. It became clear that I and only I could be responsible to hold my team accountable.

This anger at myself gave me the courage to face my team and make it clear to them their job depended on the business being a success. Because I had been overly nice in the past—and they all knew I was right—there was no mass exodus and no one quit.

Unfortunately, I was still not mature enough or savvy enough at the time to keep myself and them on track.

Get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.

In 1990, I found myself co-founder of Dental Boot Camp, a company that taught dentists and their team members communication, business and leadership skills. For seven years, I was on the road and on stage alongside tycoon Walter Hailey, a former insurance salesman and a showman who had sold his company for a hundred million dollars. I was thrown into a business world where if you didn’t learn, if you didn’t add to the bottom line and if you didn’t toe the line, you didn’t survive.

Over time, the pressure, the time on the road and the constant drive for profit was too much and I resigned. The benefits of those seven years were the life skills and business skills that became a part of my nature. They were life skills I was able to teach my children and my team—and I wish others would learn.

Leadership is not taught in dental school or any professional school that I am aware of. People who want to be dentists study science. Few come from a family with a business background, and many dentists are the first professionals in their extended family.

Family background, some spiritual upbringing and even dental school training can create “approval addiction,” when one is afraid to tell the truth in fear of being disliked. Not dressing down an always-late team member because you don’t want to upset the apple cart is approval addiction. Not telling a patient they have a dental disease for fear of rejection is approval addiction. If one truly believes that the purpose of the practice is to serve the leader, it gives the needed courage to overcome this disabling trait.

Training isn’t an afterthought.

All practices have different cultures and business models. While leadership may be different in different settings, the needed outcome is the same: a well-cross-trained team that works in harmony. A cross-trained team can only be achieved by constant training.

I have learned there are three main reasons a team member doesn’t do what they said they would: They haven’t been trained, they don’t have the skill set for that position or they don’t care. All three are leadership issues. In my case, my team was not trained to understand their job depended on how well they took ownership of their positions. It was a “If I have to do it, why do I need you?” moment!

Successful team training meetings are done during production time, not the lunch hour. They are serious—very serious—with everyone attending and everyone paying attention. Team meetings get out of hand if there is no agenda and the leader isn’t focused on the material at hand. They get off track when the leader is not listening and not controlling the dialogue and the needed outcome.

Training, technology and TMD

Businesspeople understand inventory and in dentistry, inventory can be thought of as services provided. Make a list of your own inventory. For profit’s sake, is there inventory that needs to be added? For sanity’s sake, is there inventory that needs to be removed, never to be done again?


My final message to you is to find a discipline of our profession that you like. Learn from others who have been where you want to be in the years to come. There is a tremendous amount of help available; you simply must seek it out and go for it!

Be in control of your own future no matter your age. I am so looking forward to my next stage in life!

Earn 3 CE credits from Dr. Mac Lee’s online courses!

Dr. Mac Lee has created two video CE courses for Dentaltown members, including one about patient education that was filmed live at Townie Meeting. To view the courses and earn three CE credits, click here.

Author Bio
Mac Lee Along with owning a private dental practice in Edna, Texas, Dr. Mac Lee co-founded Dental Boot Camp and created Ora5, a dental liquid-bandage product that was sold by Premier Dental.
Lee also was an advisor to Dr. Mehmet Oz for "The Dr. Oz Show" and the "You" series of books, until he began to disagree with Oz’s message. He is the author of two consumer books on dentistry and an executive director for the International College of Craniomandibular Orthopedics (

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