My purpose as a dentist can be summed up in one simple phrase: Break down barriers to better care, better smiles and better lives. Following that principle has helped me develop a successful multioffice practice; two years ago, one of my Massachusetts offices became the first Aspen Dental practice to reach $4 million in annual patient revenue, and last year that figure grew to $4.4 million—a 10 percent year-over-year increase.
While many things affect your ability to be successful as a dentist, I consider these three goals to be among the most important—and they're all things that are under your control:
- Create an office culture that nurtures trust, collaboration and teamwork.
- Find ways to deliver more access to care for patients.
- Reflect on your leadership.
Define roles, but
Team dynamics can make or break a practice's success, which is why I believe in hiring for attitude. You can train someone to do a job, but you can't teach them to be a team player.
Our office environment is best described as "all hands on deck." Each employee has her own clearly defined roles and responsibilities, but if the office is busy and the dental assistants are taking care of patients, someone else on the team—me, a hygienist, the office manager—will jump in to clean an operatory, no questions asked.
Our constant lines of communication have created a real sense of family among the team, and that translates to how well we interact with patients. The team gets to know each patient on a personal level: We listen and make sure patients feel heard. Because they feel valued and respected, they're more likely to come back and complete treatment. In fact, some patients feel so comfortable that they'll come just to visit, long after their treatment is completed.
Give patients more
access to dental care
Consumers have begun to demand more choices and better access to high-quality health care, but traditional dental care models often don't provide the flexibility that millions of Americans need before they can see a dentist.
Like any business owner should, I'm continually working with my team to improve our "patient-centric" way of thinking. Expanding access to dental care makes things easier for patients for whom convenience is a real issue, while helping us realize more revenue in what is a fixed-cost business.
Our biggest challenge was creating a schedule that aligned with patient needs and still gave balance to the team—we needed to have appropriate staffing levels but not compromise our staff's work/life balance. Together as an office, we decided to expand to 54 hours each standard week—7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. We're also open on certain Saturdays each month, which further increases our availability.
I expected some pushback from the team about this new schedule, but the exact opposite reaction occurred because it actually gives my team members more flexibility. If someone has a doctor's appointment during the day or an event at her child's school, there are more opportunities to make up that time during the week (and more available coverage, thanks to our aforementioned "all hands on deck" philosophy). And because my team had sometimes been coming in early or staying late to accommodate our patients anyway, formalizing this schedule made our days—and lives—more predictable.
The new schedule works not only for our team but also our patients who work typical 9-to-5 day jobs. Being able to get in for dental treatment before or after work makes a difference to their lives, and we're rewarded with patient loyalty and referrals.
Commit to reflection
and continual improvement
This last key to success is often the hardest: having a lifelong commitment to personal learning and improvement.
Despite my success and that of my team, there have been periods when I've been faced with personal or professional challenges that drained my energy and drew my attention away from what's most important.
In those moments I find it necessary to take a step back and put on my "learning hat." No, I'm not referring to CE—this is about asking for feedback, whether from your team or a network of friends and colleagues in the dental space who can provide you with the guidance and support you need to keep your priorities in focus.
Dentaltown is an ideal place to start; the message boards are filled with threads asking for advice or input about everything from treatment options to staffing solutions. Also, consider joining your local dental association and staying close with dental school alumni, to ensure you have resources for help in times of need and crisis. (I'm affiliated with a dental support organization, so I have hundreds of dentists and practice owners to learn from and bounce ideas off there as well.)
Practice ownership is no walk in the park, but there are opportunities and tools out there to help improve your business day by day. The first step is realizing your challenges and working toward solving them.
The Dentaltown message boards are an ideal place to get help and support in your dental career. More than 39,000 people posted messages on the Dentaltown boards during March, sharing cases, asking for advice and more. To ask a question—or share some answers—head to