Dr. Roger Levin is a third-generation general dentist and the Chairman and CEO of the largest dental practice consulting firm in North America, Levin Group, Inc., which has served more than 22,000 dentists and specialists since 1985.

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4 Mistakes Every Young Dentist Should Avoid


filesThe start of your clinical career will rank as one of the most exciting times of your life. But you will make some mistakes. We all did when we were young, inexperienced and finally getting the chance to be the doctor chairside, entrusted with the care of patients.

A certain number of non-clinical mistakes can have a beneficial impact on your overall success. I believe it’s in the nature of a typical dentist to acknowledge (at least to oneself) and learn from early missteps. They prove you’re not perfect, which is healthy, and at the same time drive you to achieve perfection.

There are, however, some mistakes that are so big and potentially harmful to your financial success and professional satisfaction that you must avoid making them at all costs. In this article, I explore four mistakes that young dentists often make — to their lasting regret. I present them here in no particular order. All are equally important.

  1. Don’t think that your clinical training has prepared you for success.

You can’t be a dentist without those hard-won skills, and you can’t succeed financially without them, but they do not, by themselves, guarantee anything these days. As you surely know, the new dental economy is far more demanding than what dentists and specialists experienced as recently as seven years ago.

Dramatic changes in the market for dental services have altered the ground rules, making business knowledge and skills essential for even moderate financial success. Yet most young dentists arrive on the scene unprepared for the management aspects of practicing dentistry in the real world. Dental schools necessarily structure their curricula to focus intensely on clinical training, leaving little time for anything else. As part of a recent research project, the Levin Group Data Center found that, on average, dental students spend only 1.5 percent of their class time on subjects related to practice management. Though not surprising, this sobering statistic illustrates why young dentists can have such difficulty establishing operational protocols and leading their teams effectively.

The sooner you acquire basic management and marketing skills, the greater your income and professional satisfaction will be. Make business seminars and other forms of study part of your personal CE program. And, hesitant as you may be to take on more debt while still trying to pay down your student loans, consider investing in a consulting program designed to lay the groundwork for long-term success. Some young dentists build the cost for this into their loans when they buy or start up their own practices.

  1. Don’t leap into the first opportunity that presents itself.

You may have already given careful consideration to the path you should take to fulfill your vision and reach your career goals. You may even have taken your first step in that chosen direction. Nevertheless, you should still keep an open mind about the possibilities — especially considering the profound changes that have been transforming the dental economy. What seems like an excellent plan right now might be rendered obsolete before long by forces beyond your control.

If you’re still contemplating your first move (or having second thoughts about a commitment you’ve already made), think it through as thoroughly as you can. Look beyond your most immediate needs and calculate mid-range and even long-range implications.

For example, dental support organizations (DSOs) and other multi-doctor, multi-office operations are playing a growing role in the delivery of oral health care across the country. They represent employment opportunities that will certainly turn out to be an excellent choice for a number of your dentists. The question, which only you can answer, is whether the DSO route will prove to be a good one for you. Do you have a strong entrepreneurial streak, or do you desire to maintain your independence?

If you’re a budding young dental entrepreneur, solo practice may be a better choice for you. As you know, there are several ways to approach this… and you should think carefully about the pros and cons of each. From building a practice from scratch, to buying one, to becoming an associate, to forming a partnership, there are many variables to consider. Financial matters, degrees of autonomy and control, timetables for transitions, market factors, personalities — all have make-or-break potential that you’ll need to evaluate carefully. Jump impulsively into a change-of-ownership situation and you could rue the day, especially if contractual obligations tie your hands.

  1. Don’t pick up bad habits from colleagues.

As a novice, you may naturally observe how established dentists manage their practices. You may even be obliged to learn and use their management techniques if you hire on as an associate. Be careful. You may be studying the ways of a late-career dentist who has done well in an easier economy and still seems to have a thriving practice… but who actually lacks the management skills, strategies and systems that you will need to develop if you are to succeed.

The danger of adopting bad or simply outdated habits is especially great if you have an associateship in a practice that you will eventually own. When you first join the practice, you’ll have to learn how the doctor and staff work and what protocols are in use. You’ll strive to fit in, not create problems for your coworkers, and become a productive part of the team. You’ll eventually influence how the office operates, but before that you will become accustomed to the status quo.

It may be harder than you think to step back and evaluate how everything’s been, define how you want it to evolve, and then move the team (and perhaps patients, too) toward a new way of working. By that time, you will likely have some engrained habits and blind spots that can be overcome only with a conscious effort on your part. Fail to shed the old ways and you could seriously slow the advance of your career.

  1. Don’t be shortsighted when setting up systems.

Some young dentists who are just starting their own practices don’t immediately appreciate my insistence that they need to design and implement highly efficient management systems. I’m talking about crafting a scheduling system to combine maximum capacity with minimal stress at a time when they have too few patients to keep them busy every day. Why, they wonder, should they spend time creating a schedule that they can’t fill? The answer is that it’s as bad to develop bad habits of your own as it is to learn them from others (as discussed in Number 3 above).

You could throw together systems now that may not cause immediate harm, but as time goes by and they become entrenched, you and your team may start paying a heavy price in the form of inefficiencies, lost growth opportunities and stress.

My advice is simple: start with smart systems that your practice can grow into — systems that will actually drive that growth.

Conclusion

As you move through your dental career, you’ll learn a great deal about how to run a dental practice… some of it the hard way. But if you can avoid the mistakes discussed here, you’ll be off to an excellent start and will reach your financial and professional goals sooner.

To learn about how to run a profitable, efficient and satisfying practice, attend one of Dr. Levin’s all-new seminars. For dates and locations, go to: www.levingroup.com/gpseminars