Business side of dentistry: Finding your WHY

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Dr. Deshpande

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series exploring the business aspects of the dental profession, from starting a practice and marketing to hiring staff and finances.

Why are we starting a series on business? Who is getting into business right now, when the world around us seems to be going crazy? Why is the first topic of this series Finding your WHY?

I’m going to get to all of these questions but what I’ll first do is convince you that content coming from me should be considered authentic, unbiased and non-agenda driven.

I am one of you. I am a new dentist who has a dream of owning a practice and impacting my community in the most meaningful way possible. I know how huge this decision is going to be for me. Asking for a million-dollar-plus-loan is never easy. Like you, I too want to make the decision as predictable and close to successful as possible. This is why I started the New Dentist Business Club (NDBC), a nonprofit based in Seattle, in late 2019 where other new dentists and I learn the businesses side of dentistry.

My dad started his first business when he was 46. You know what his single biggest regret was? He told me, “I wish I’d listened to my gut and had the bravery to quit my job sooner and start my dream business.” My dad waited decades to finally pull the plug on his job. When I heard him say that- and he says it as often as he can to young entrepreneurs like myself, I always remind myself to not wait and just implement!

Why are we starting a series on business? Who is getting into business right now, when the world around us seems to be going crazy?

Business registration applications went up by 37.5% this year in the U.S., as compared to 2019, according to US Census Bureau. Although businesses around the world have been forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many new businesses have started. Why? There is a need!

An economic crisis forces people to become more entrepreneurial. It pushes people to reconsider their long-term goals. It causes people to evaluate what they are doing and recognize gaps.

If your long-term goal is to own a practice, don’t let a pandemic get in the way! Just do it. Make your dreams come true.

Lastly, why is the first topic of this series “Finding your WHY”?

If you haven’t read the book “Find Your Why” by Simon Sinek, drop everything else and go read the book. If you can’t tell yourself and anybody who asks you what your WHY is, the next steps – one series article per month- will become more difficult.

Without knowing your WHY, you’ll never get the results you are anticipating in life. You will experience burnout quickly. Passion will fade and you will have nothing to look at to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Don’t let that be you. You need to be crystal clear in your mind about why you are getting into practice ownership. About why you’re a dentist and think owning a practice is going to help you achieve your long-term goals.

A little hint: ‘making money’ is not a WHY. However, it does happen as a result of finding your WHY.

I found my WHY, after completing all the interviews and reflective exercises mentioned in Sinek’s book. I answered questions such as: What was one event in your life that you were most disappointed by?; Whose approval do you crave the most?; If you could change the way you reacted to an event in your childhood, what would it be and why?

At the time, I was in a associateship that left me emotionally and physically drained every night. Although I was doing well financially, I was experiencing the painful signs of early burnout and knew I needed something to change. Reading the book and processing the information it brought out helped me connect the dots. It helped me remember some of my fondest memories and relate them to my dreams and goals for the future.

One of my biggest breakthroughs was realizing I wanted to spend more time meeting the need of dental care for kids and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. My other breakthrough was recognizing that I wanted to create an impact in business education that was bigger than just myself. I wanted to help others along in their journey and be the voice of leadership that I felt was missing in the dental world.

What happened after finding my own WHY

1. It was after finding my WHY that I got smarter about money and stopped spending on wasteful CE courses, that others recommended to me. I learned how to say no to free courses when I didn’t think it would be valuable with my time.

2. I began spending more time reading about business and leadership skills. I made it a habit to accept speaking opportunities so that I could continue working on my communication skills outside of the operatory. All of my work at the NDBC has given me more than just knowledge on the business side of dentistry. It has helped me build up my leadership muscle, gain confidence and self-esteem, and improve my case acceptance. When patients hear me speak with confidence about implants, they believe they are in the best hands.

3. I left my old job in a large practice even though I was being paid very well. I wasn’t allowed to place implants or do anything more than basic restorative dentistry there. I knew I owe it to myself to find an associateship where I can practice surgical dentistry and get mentorship in implants. When I started focusing on my WHY instead of my existing financial needs, I was able to walk away with more confidence.

Finding your WHY, will also help you decide whether you want to do a start-up or go for a practice acquisition.

Although I’ve been looking for acquisitions for close to a year now and will continue keeping an eye out on broker lists, because I know my WHY, I know exactly how many ops I need in my dream practice, which location I want to be at, what kind of patients I want to serve and what kind of dentistry I want to produce. I am able to automatically filter out a lot of opportunities because they simply do not fit in my long-term vision.

So, if you’re serious about having your own practice one day, do your future patients, teammates, family and community a favor, and Find Your WHY. Next topic in this series is demographics. Stay tuned.

Dr. Sampada Deshpande is a general dentist based in Seattle. A foreign trained dentist from India, Sampada earned her DDS from the University of Washington in 2018, where she is also a current LEND trainee. Outside of clinical dentistry, she enjoys teaching at the New Dentist Business Club, biking with her husband, and reading books on Finance & Management. You can reach her directly at @dr.deshpande on Instagram or visit her website www.sampadadeshpandedds.com for more information.

2 comments

  • Hello Dr. Deshpande,

    Making this decision to be a business owner is no small one. I just began transitioning my practice of 35 years to a new owner one year ago in January of 2020 just before the Pandemic. The practice sold in January and I began mentoring him while working part time caring for patients. I continue to work for the practice in 2021 as an independent contractor. After working in a number of dental settings right out of USC Dental School, I realized that I needed to chart my own course in dental practice. Your comments in your blog are valuable. The Why is an important part of the big picture. My Why was partly financial as I found most of the jobs available to new dentists in 1985 were commission oriented work with practices that had low fee schedules due to insurance programs the clinical settings had contracts. I also found that doing just fillings and crowns was not satisfying. I had trained at USC in prosthetics as well and spent extra time in the evenings lingering in the prosthdontic grad department. I sat in their group discussions to learn about the new research in implants that was just coming out. I wanted to change patients lives and chart my own course of comprehensive dental care for my patients using a whole health and well being model. Most dental practices did not do this. I also wanted to design my own facility to care for special needs patients. I also wanted to become involved in my community to give back while promoting our great work. Thirdly, and most important, I know that to not burn out, I needed to take time with my new wife, (1985 and still going strong 35 years later) outside the office. She was starting her graduate program for her PhD in Psychology in 1986. I chose to take 6 weeks off per year starting in my first year to enjoy travel and other hobbies. For my entire 35 year career, we closed the office 1-2 weeks at a time to visit other countries, friends, and places and go to dental meetings around the world and see what was new in dentistry outside the United States. This has been very rewarding.

    Owning a business has its many challenges and requires constant change, adaptation, and upgrading of our facilities, procedures and training including our Team and of the the ways we communicate with patients and our communities we serve. You never really settle in. Technology causes changes more quickly now in 2021 than it did in the 1990’s or the early 2000’s. A business owner has to stay engaged with what is going on in their field of service, their Team, employment law etc. You will wear many hats. Being a member of the ADA and your state and local professional organization for dentistry is very important to meet these challenges. Be active, take advantage or all your resources, and be sure your Team does as well.

    How you decide to start a business is another decision that will be key in your development. I will watch and read what you have to say and offer my perspective as a solo practitioner. Many of you may wish to form a Team Practice which several of my colleagues did to consolidate costs, spread responsibilities of running the business, and build on the strengths of the professional Dentist Team members in providing patient care. Multi Dentist Practices have their strengths and are becoming more common, they also have their challenges in their “marraige” of personalities, duties, and responsibilities. I look forward to your comments and blog as you begin your adventure in starting your own practice.

  • How do you handle finding your “WHY” and realizing it doesn’t match with the standards others have set. Example: I did all the surgeries and I’d prefer to refer now in my career. But can you build a patient base without it? Can you buy a small patient base and grow, or do you have to spend more to get an established office that already refers?
    What if I want to continue my nonprofit work, yet life isn’t free?
    The “Why” doesn’t always fit the scheme… how do you deal with it when that happens?

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