It’s a new world out there: Preparing for a transition into practice ownership

By | February 6, 2017

Dental schools do a wonderful job of preparing students to enter dental practice. The students can accomplish most of the procedures that are asked of them. What dental schools don’t do is generate the ability to pick the right practice, take over a business from the senior dentist and guide a team toward excellent patient care. Yet these things are essential to provide quality care.

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 10.10.46 AMHere are important planning strategies that can help young dentists transition smoothly into dental practice. Obviously, there is a lot to learn about a dental business, and some strategies will inevitably need to be absorbed in the practice itself over time, but the time spent before making big commitments can really help.

Once a dental student sees a live patient, he or she begins to formulate a philosophy of practice. If the student considers the patient as mainly a vehicle to get to graduation, that’s a philosophy. If that first patient becomes the student’s first effort to make the person feel as comfortable and calm as possible, that’s a philosophy. These beginnings can often be transferred directly into practice. Is the patient an opportunity to maximize the production per mouth? Or is the patient a fellow human who needs VIP treatment to ensure that he or she enjoys his or her time in the office? The first thing a new dentist needs to do is spend some time in introspection, deciding what his or her philosophy of dentistry really is. I don’t mean level of quality, because every dentist should strive for the utmost quality. I mean, do you enjoy treating children? Does the city or the country seem more interesting? Are you looking forward to a cosmetic, perio, endo or simple suburban general practice? What are your reasons for providing dentistry? How would you like to treat your patients? What is the value of the dental team? How important is community involvement? What do you envision as great service? Your philosophy needs to be written down so that you can use it to see if there is a match with a potential employer. If the philosophy of the practice and the new associate match, the likelihood of success increases significantly. And the opposite is also true.

The second and an equally important effort should go toward the study of dental business. There are volumes of information available to help a new dental businessperson get started. Dental school should have given you a base of information in practice management. Reopening those notes should give you the subjects to delve into more. Look at every meeting with a dentist as an opportunity to ask about the business aspects of care. How does the practice follow the patient from the initial phone call to the completion of treatment? How does the practice ensure that he or she will return? Who talks money with the patient and who works with the patient’s insurance? Make an effort to shadow dentists at every opportunity. Try to establish a relationship with a mentor, not necessarily an employer, but someone from whom to ask questions of and get answers. Overall, new dentists need to realize that they are going to be the leaders whether they want to be or not. The more leadership skills the dentist acquires, the better the practice will run. One very good book on leadership that has been a virtual bible for business leaders over the last 30-plus years is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As much as the world has tried to expand on the work of its author Stephen R. Covey, his book still distills the essence of leadership into seven simple (but often difficult to achieve) rules, including put first things first and begin with the end in mind.

In some instances, a dental mentor is not enough and the new practice owner could benefit from a competent dental consultant. A consultant can often give a new dentist a much wider perspective of the decisions that need to be made early on to achieve having a successful practice. Taking over an existing business or starting a business from scratch are both great opportunities to take care of people, provide a lifesaving and changing service and earn a decent income. The more time the new dentist spends focusing on becoming a leader, learning to run a business and absorbing information from others, the better he or she will be able to accomplish all these things with fantastic success.

Learn what senior dentists can do to ensure a successful transition out of practice, coming Look in the Spring 2017 issue of Dental Practice Success.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Dental Practice Success. It was written by Dr. William van Dyk, a general dentist in San Pablo, California, and teaches in the department of Dental Practice at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. He has been lecturing on practice management issues since 1985. He served on the ADA Council on Dental Practice and was instrumental in the development of the ADA Success Seminar Series that has been giving dental students real life information on the business of dental practice for over 30 years. He can be reached at or at  


One thought on “It’s a new world out there: Preparing for a transition into practice ownership

  1. Kevin Tighe

    Most new practice owners don’t understand how important it is to only employ staff who actually like to work and are proud of what they do. It is easy to get fooled and hold onto non productive or even destructive staff. In fact, I’d say, as farfetched as it may seem, that the #1 issue I’ve had with clients over my 20+ years consulting dentists is the practice owner holding onto nonproductive or destructive staffing, sometimes for years, in the hope they will come around. Staff either “have your back” or don’t. There’s no in-between nor are there any guaranteed hiring systems but you must be able to fairly quickly recognize when you’ve been fooled and show the non-team players the backdoor. When a practice owner fears getting rid of an employee or thinks the employee is irreplaceable the staff sense the fear and take advantage of it.


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