We’ve all heard the saying that it takes about 20 years to build your reputation and five minutes to ruin it. As new dentists, the first few years out of school are critical for establishing our reputation and treatment philosophy.
For me, it was around 6-8 months after graduating and working full time as an associate dentist that I began feeling comfortable doing dentistry and started to appreciate the importance of my personal brand and reputation. In order to build my patient roster I had to prove myself to existing patients and seek referrals. Whenever a patient didn’t return for my recommended treatment I considered that a failure on my end. That patient set aside time out of his/her schedule and had overcome any personal apprehension or anxiety to be seen. There’s a reason that brought them into my office and if I didn’t address that issue then that’s a missed opportunity.
This mindset helped me become successful in my most recent transition to ownership. In a new office I had to start with a blank slate. It is my team’s responsibility to attract patients, retain patients, and seek referrals to continue to grow the practice. It isn’t just about dentistry anymore.
The dentistry part is easy compared to filling up my schedule. I currently spend a lot of time interacting with members of my community to establish myself as a trusted figure in my neighborhood. Word of mouth referrals have proved to be the most powerful marketing strategy to grow my reputation; therefore, my team and I spend plenty of time providing our patients the best dental care and experience possible. It’s back to basics and now more than ever it’s important to focus on each patient, listening to his/her needs, and being ethical and comprehensive.
When I first meet a patient and conduct the patient interview it’s important to make a good first impression and use that time to gather as much information as possible to help make the clinical exam easier. I’ve learned to ask open-ended questions and LISTEN! When I’m nervous with a patient I sometimes catch myself thinking more about what I’m going to say next that I forget to listen. Patients will tell us their chief concern if we just listen.
I remember when I first started working as an associate dentist I was hesitant to tell patients if they needed extensive work because I was afraid of their reaction. Most patients don’t understand why they need scaling and root planing, especially when they find out that there’s typically a bigger co-pay compared to a prophylaxis. If patients aren’t properly educated on periodontal disease then it’s easy for them to decline the treatment. Coming from an academic setting I was used to being very proper and scientific in my explanations, but I realized that patient’s don’t understand what “clinical attachment loss means.” I learned quickly that when doing my case presentation I have to be clear and relatable. For example: “Mrs. Jones, you have a gum infection that is causing the gums to detach from the tooth and is causing bone loss. If left untreated you will continue to lose bone and eventually this may cause loose teeth. Does this concern you?” Patients appreciate that I take the time to explain the condition to them in a way they understand and ultimately feel cared for.
I also learned that I have to be intentional with my case presentation to make sure that I’m not overwhelming the patient with extensive treatment plans that don’t address his/her chief concern. As new dentists, it’s easy for us to feel insecure about our skills and this can lead us to ramble and be wishy-washy with our diagnosis. I learned to stand behind my diagnosis. If I was ever unsure about what to do, I’d ask other dentists for their opinions or try to find a relevant peer-reviewed article online. Sometimes patients will be adamant about what they think they need. Remember you’re the dentist and you’re the expert so it’s best to trust your knowledge and skills. I’ve accepted that not all patients will agree with me so I make sure that I’ve educated them to best of my ability. If the patient wants to go get a second opinion then at least you know that you made the correct diagnosis.
My philosophy is that as long as I treat the patient properly then everything else falls into place. I treat each patient like my own family members — conservative but quick to treat problems. Once you gain your patient’s trust, they will refer their family and friends to see you and this is how you grow your reputation and patient pool.
Dr. Bianca Velayo is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She is a member of the American Dental Association, Nevada Dental Association and Southern Nevada Dental Society where she currently serves on the New Dentist Committee. She grew up on Long Island, New York and received her D.M.D. from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in 2015. During her time in Boston, she was an active member of her school’s ASDA Chapter and the Massachusetts Dental Society. After graduation Dr. Velayo moved to Henderson, Nevada to work as an associate dentist in a PDS-supported office. Dr. Velayo is the owner of Green Valley Smiles Dentistry, a PDS-supported practice. In her spare time she enjoys working out, playing music and spending time with her friends and family.