Q&A: What I’ve learned

New dentists are bound to learn lessons and face challenges as they launch their careers. The New Dentist News talked with two dentists who are eight to 10 years into their careers about keeping up with the latest literature, building and maintaining a practice, managing debt and other issues.

Dr. Copeland

Dr. Jon Copeland
Practice owner in Wildwood, Missouri

How long have you been practicing and what is your current position?
After graduating in 2009 from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Dentistry, I completed a General Practice Residency at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Upon completion, I became an associate at a practice in St. Louis. My wife, Dr. Stephanie Copeland, was one year behind me in dental school, and upon graduation entered public health dentistry and spent five years at a federally qualified health center. The benefits associated with her public health service gave me some flexibility to buy a small practice after a few years as an associate. Today, we both own practices that are about a half hour apart in suburban St. Louis.

What are some of the biggest lessons and insights you’ve encountered in the last eight years since dental school?
Regarding patient interaction, nobody cares about what you know until they know you care. Patients want to know that you’re going to help them and treat any dental issues they may have effectively. Get into a caring mindset. Develop relationships with your patients — that’s your foundation for a strong practice. When it comes to dentistry, get really good at frequently needed procedures such as fillings, crowns and painless anesthesia, increase your speed and then branch out. Attending a study club regularly has helped me stay up-to-date with technology and connected with local colleagues.

What insight can you share on managing finances and your practice?
I got lucky in that my father-in-law is a real estate expert and he helped me with the details when I was looking at buying my practice. This was especially beneficial in lease negotiation. I formed an LLC two years before I bought a practice and established a relationship with an accountant and attorney to be prepared. When I found the practice I wanted, I already had everyone in place to make it happen. My dental school loan interest is basically locked in, so I focused on paying off my practice quickly and was able to accomplish it in less than four years while sticking to a business plan. I work with many reliable people and I’ve come to realize that I have to focus on what I am best at — dentistry — and let others do what they are best at. In the end, it makes me more productive.

Dr. Kim

Dr. Mina Kim
Practice owner in New York City

How long have you been practicing and what is your current position?
I graduated in 2010 from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. I completed a residency at New York Methodist Hospital in New York before becoming an associate at a small practice that accepted Medicaid patients. About a year and a half later, I joined my father’s practice, also in New York. I have since become an owner of the practice.

I am glad I got experience in at least two different settings before pursuing practice ownership. It helped me figure out where I fit and what I’m comfortable with.

What have you learned about managing patients and a practice?
One of the most valuable things I started doing with new patients is writing down three things about them on a note card after our first meeting. The next time I see them I can ask them about their children or if they ran the marathon they were training for. They appreciate that you take the time to get to know them. It ends up making your job easier.

As far as practice management goes, it’s important to have a plan. Set specific goals. I’m in a growth phase of my career, so I have in mind a time by which I would like to hire an associate.

I do it for my personal life as well. I think putting goals down on paper helps; it makes it more real and makes you more invested.

What else should new dentists consider as they move through their career?
I can’t overstate the importance of organized dentistry. I really recommend new dentists get involved in their local dental societies, state associations and/or their school’s alumni groups. These connections offer great resources in case you’re looking for a different job, need local vendors or are seeking continuing education opportunities. They also offer an invaluable professional network.

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