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I Wish I Had Known…Exploring My Options

Dr Ryder Waldron

Dr. Ryder Waldron

By Dr. Ryder Waldron

When I was in dental school I was under the incorrect assumption that all dentists were private practice owners. I thought that I either had to buy an existing practice from a retiring dentist or start my own from scratch. I became a practice owner right out of dental school. It was a struggle to make ends meet for several years.

I wish I had explored more options.

  • I wish I had a course in dental school to help me with that exploration
  • I wish I had started researching before my third year in dental school.
  • I wish I had considered an associateship, an employee situation, or other approach to earning a living immediately after graduation

Ask yourself this question: Why did I choose dentistry?

  • To be your own boss?
  • To earn a comfortable income?
  • To set your own hours?
  • Because you’re a people person?
  • Because you’re good with your hands?

These are all questions that I wish I had answered before setting out on a career in dentistry.

The good news is that it all worked out and I’m thrilled to be doing what I love every day. But I could have saved myself a lot of time, stress and money by doing more research prior to graduation.

That said – now that I’ve been there, I’ll know to take a step back and evaluate things before I make any major career changes in the future. I will get advice and input from other dentists who have come before me. And I will continue to share what I’ve learned with my dentist colleagues along the way!


Dr. Ryder Waldron is a proud member of the class of 2003 of Marquette University School of Dentistry and the co-author with Dr. Marcus Neff and Dr. Troy Stevens of the book So You Want To Be A Dentist? What you Must Know To Succeed In Dentistry.

Want to be more productive? Get the Happiness Advantage

New Dentist Reception

Happiness is hanging out with colleagues

At the Build Network blog, Jeffrey Goldsmith writes about happiness expert and former Harvard researcher Shawn Achor. In the research projects, Achor primes some subjects to be happy (by giving them candy.) The takeaway is that happy people outperform others:

“I can give you an SAT test, a Sudoku puzzle, a crossword puzzle – any of 15 different tasks all requiring intelligence – and prime you to be in a happy group, a neutral group or an unhappy group,” says Achor, citing a study of 65,000 businesspeople. “The happy group will outperform the others every time.”

How can you apply this approach yourself? During one tax season, Achor managed to improve both the happiness and productivity of tax managers at the accounting firm KPMG simply by asking them to do one of these tasks during the workday:

  • Jot down three things you are grateful for
  • Write a positive message to someone in your social support network
  • Meditate at your desk for two minutes
  • Exercise for 10 minutes
  • Take two minutes to write down in a journal the most meaningful experiences of the past 24 hours

How about you — is there anything in your daily routine that contributes positively to your workday? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Ethical Dental Marketing

Young girl using tabletNo matter whether you are an employee, an owner or practicing in another setting, the way you market yourself as a dentist must be ethical, as well as effective. Consult the ADA Advertising Basics for Dentists and Dental Associations: A Guide to Federal and State Rules and Standards for information on common questions dentists have when preparing marketing materials.

Find information on assessing an advertisement for problems, substantiating claims made in advertisements and navigating the ethical considerations of newer marketing tactics such as deal-of-the-day social couponing sites.

Truthful advertising can be a solid foundation for building a trusted dentist-patient relationship. Be sure to consult your local and state dental associations and your own legal counsel for advice.

Developing Your Dental Practice Brand

open mouthA brand identifies a good or services as distinctive from others—think of the original use of branding as a way for ranchers to identify cattle from various owners. Having a distinctive brand is especially important when many similar businesses compete in a single marketplace. For instance, a restaurant’s branding helps you to decide whether it is the perfect location for a romantic dinner, a great setting for a group celebration, or an easy option for an early supper with young children. The restaurant’s brand singles it out in a crowded marketplace, much as the cattle brand separates one steer from the herd.

The brand of a particular dental practice will be informed by the owner dentist’s philosophy of dentistry. Having a target makes it easier for your brand to take aim, shifting your focus from a “one size fits all” approach. Here are three tips adapted from ADA New Dentist News:

Good Graphic Design is a Good Start It’s true—everything from the practice website to the reminder postcards benefits from having a consistent graphic identity. This means fonts, colors and images must all work together harmoniously, and that is a job for a professional, not an ambitious amateur. Just remember that they are the expert designers, and you are the expert dentist!

Every Encounter Makes a Difference But a brand is more than distinctive visuals. The way the team answers the phone, greets patients when they arrive and schedules follow-up appointments are all touch points that communicate your brand.

The Dentist is the Most Important Part of the Brand A logo or slogan is not what makes a practice successful. Your patients and your team will look to see if your actions are in alignment with your brand. Activities such as attending community events, shopping and dining locally, joining the Chamber of Commerce, and connecting on a person-to-person basis offer proof that you fully support the ideals of your brand.

Protecting Against Embezzlement

Embezzlement is different from ordinary stealing. An embezzler, by definition, is someone you trust, such as an office manager or a valued employee. A 2007 study by the ADA found 17.5% of the surveyed dentists reported that they were aware their primary practices had been embezzled.

An embezzler, by definition, is someone you trust

An embezzler, by definition, is someone you trust

The ADA publication Protecting Your Dental Office from Fraud and Embezzlement contains several steps you can take to protect yourself and your practice. Here’s three of the steps:

Maintain Separation of Duties Don’t concentrate too much control over cash into the hands of one person, such as using only one team member to issue checks, record deposits and reconcile the bank statements.

Instead, divide these tasks among multiple employees, or between the employee and yourself to create a cross-check where unusual activity is more likely to be noticed.

Use Random Monitoring Let your team notice that you are keeping an eye on the details. Monitor some reports every day, including every patient visit, every payment, and every EOB. Other checks, such as payroll and inventory, should happen randomly, without prior notice.

It’s easier to “beat the system” if the embezzler knows that as long as everything looks good by the end of the month, no one will be the wiser.

Keep Valuable Documents and Materials Locked Up Reduce temptation — keep blank checks, payment receipts, prescription pads, and accounting records out-of-sight and locked up.

Consider securing valuable supplies, such as whitening materials or toner cartridges, which can be easily re-sold outside the practice.

In addition to tactics that may help prevent embezzlement, the publication also addresses the actions you should take if you believe you may have been a victim. From working with attorneys to termination issues unique to suspected employees, Protecting Your Dental Office from Fraud and Embezzlement addresses a plan of action that can mitigate losses and minimize hassles.

Life as a New Dentist — Pediatric Residency

Dr. Christine Hammer

Dr. Christine Hammer

The ADA is made up of individuals—here’s one of them.

Who are you? I’m Dr. Christine Hammer, a proud member of the Class of 2013 of Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine — Arizona, and I’m currently enrolled in a two-year pediatric dentistry program in a Philadelphia hospital.

If you could have any job OTHER THAN dentistry what would it be? I’m a huge music theater nerd and I grew up dancing, singing and performing. If life had worked out differently I would probably be producing and directing musicals on Broadway.

How did you choose this program? I was interested in very clinical programs with strong hospital components where I could work with medically complicated patients. This program seemed to offer a balance of everything I was looking for to develop my skill set.

As for my interview, that day was tough! I landed, interviewed, toured the hospital, visited Philadelphia for the first time and departed all within 18 hours. My big takeaway was that the program residents were approachable, relaxed, and cohesive. I’m pleased to say my first impression was accurate—we are busy, we are a team and we learn from each other!

What’s your schedule like? There are six of us first-year residents. The regular schedule is Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. There are rotations that vary the schedule on a resident-by-resident basis. And each of us first-year residents is “first call” on the on call schedule for a total of eight weeks spread out through the year.

About being on-call — I heard stories but nothing can truly prepare you for the first time that pager goes off. There is something very intense about arriving in an emergency room knowing that the patient and parents have been waiting for me.

What are you doing for fun? I’m getting to know Philadelphia (in case you were wondering, yes I have run up the “Rocky steps”) and I travel to Maryland/D.C. as often as I can to support my other half — he’s doing his Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery residency.

Any advice for someone considering a pediatric residency? Well it’s obvious that you should have a rapport with kids, but it’s less obvious that you also need to get along with adults — some parents need more management than their children! It helps to be passionate about prevention, and to be realistic about a kid-customized schedule.

What are your plans for after you complete this program? Geographically, I’m planning to move to Maryland to be near my husband while he completes his residency. Professionally, I’d like to do an associateship in the greater D.C. area. I would like to find a position that gives me an opportunity to practice in a hospital-setting. The challenge of treating medically compromised children is one of the elements of this residency that really is meaningful to me.

Interested in sharing your experience as a new dentist? If you are fewer than ten years out of dental school we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at newdentist@ada.org.

You and your 168 Hours

Pocket watches in a bunch

How much time is there?

Ever get the feeling that there just isn’t enough time in your 24-hour day to accomplish everything that needs to get done? While most of us think in terms of the 24-hour day, author Laura Vanderkam suggests that it might be more effective to multiply that day by seven and think instead about the 168 hours available in each week. Over at the Happy Monday blog, Danilo Vargas breaks down the numbers:

Think about it this way:

168 hours minus 56 hours (for sleep) minus 50 hours for work (including a 2-hour commute each day) leaves you with 62 hours to spend however you wish.

And in those 62 hours you can:

  • Spend real quality time with the kids: 7 hours
  • Exercise: 7 hours
  • Household chores: 17.5 hours

And after all that, you’d still have 30.5 hours each week to spend however you see fit.

We don’t know that we’ve ever devoted a full 17.5 hours/week to household chores, but the idea of thinking about time in this way is interesting. In her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think Vanderkam suggests that the first step is to log your time so that you can see how you really do use your 168 hours.

What about you? We know that many practice management software programs have time tracking features that provide information about clinical productivity — do you find that information useful? Have you tried similar time-tracking outside of clinic? Share your experiences in the comments.

Prepare for a Successful Practice Partnership

Practice Partnership

Practice Partnership

Whether you are looking to become an associate or take on an equity stake in a practice, successful partnerships don’t just happen—they take effort and planning. Here are four tips adapted from ADA New Dentist News:

Check for Shared Philosophies Managed care or fee-for-service? Limited hours with lots of flexibility, or an intense schedule with patients from dawn to dusk? Excellent dentists vary in their approaches to delivering quality patient care, so make sure you and your potential partner are on the same page.

Have a Trial Period If you are looking to buy or build a partnership as equals, use your initial meetings to gauge your compatibility—does agreement come easily or do you differ significantly even in the planning stages? For employer/employee relationships, like an associateship, 90 days is a typical time period for both parties to get to know each other and have the opportunity to reconsider the arrangement if necessary.

Identify How You Want to Approach Decisions While you can’t predict tomorrow, you should assume that the future will bring change, and it’s helpful to have a framework in place for how you will handle those changes, especially those that could impact the income of the practice. What will you do if only one partner wants to decrease hours, buy the latest technology, or stop practicing altogether?

Communicate Expectations for the Whole Team The staff might be concentrating on keeping one dentist busy, rather than all of the partners—not a good idea! Especially when there is a partnership between a seasoned dentist and a newer dentist, it’s important to clarify the chain of command in the practice. For instance, “On the days when I’m out and Dr. Smith is in the office, she has the authority to modify the work schedules for the team.”

What about you — is there something you wish you had considered before forming a partnership? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Life as a New Dentist — General Practice Residency

Dr. B. Alexandra Barton

Dr. B. Alexandra Barton

The ADA is made up of individuals—here’s one of them.

Who are you? I’m Dr. B. Alexandra Barton, a proud member of the Class of 2013 of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, and I’m currently enrolled in a twelve-month General Practice Residency (GPR) at Denver Health Medical Center in Denver.

If you could have any job OTHER THAN dentistry what would it be? I wanted to go into broadcast journalism — I even took some courses in undergrad. But while it was easy for me to see myself anchoring one of the morning news shows, I couldn’t sell myself on a work day that starts at 3 a.m.

How did you choose this program? I wanted a GPR program that would give me more experience in endodontics and pediatric dentistry. Of the different programs where I interviewed, this one seemed to offer the most opportunities in these two areas and so far the program has lived up to my expectations!

What’s your schedule like? There are seven of us who are residents, and we attend lectures once or twice a week. But mostly I’m here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Once a week I’m on-call in the evenings and then I’m on-call over the weekend every six or seventh week.

I was surprised at how often I actually get called in when I’m on-call. This facility is the #1 trauma hospital in the state, so most patients in the area get sent to our emergency department.

What are you doing for fun? Lots of outdoor music and festivals. The mountains and hiking trails are an easy drive from the city, and Colorado has some excellent breweries that I’ve been exploring with my fellow residents!

Any advice for someone considering a GPR? Funny you should ask! Last year at this time I was just starting the application process for residency programs, but I wasn’t fully convinced that I was going to actually enroll in one—I gave serious thought to going straight into an associateship.

Fast forward to today, and I’m really happy I chose this additional year of training. I can tell it’s going to be so much easier to transition into private practice than if I had gone straight from dental school. I’m getting real world experience working with an assistant, using a dental lab, and I’m getting faster at certain procedures. Additionally, I’m exposed to a much different set of procedures in this setting than I was in dental school. I work with the oral surgeons on the bigger trauma cases, but I’ve had the opportunity to do splints, incisions and drainage, that sort of thing. And of course, it’s great that I can bounce ideas off my fellow residents and the program director.

What are your plans for after you complete this program? I’m hoping to stay in Denver, assuming I can find an associateship here, so I’ve been networking with the Colorado Dental Association and getting involved with their new dentist committee.

Interested in sharing your experience as a new dentist? If you are fewer than ten years out of dental school we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at newdentist@ada.org.