Two dentists, two approaches on owning practices

Dr. Steven Holcombe used an analogy to describe buying his dental practice.

“I like to use the comparison of telling a child the stove is hot,” said Dr. Holcombe. “Now remember, a hot stove is not a bad thing — you need it to cook food. Now, you can explain and warn the child all you want, but until the child actually touches the stove and burns themselves, the child will not understand. That is how I felt. I burned myself, but it has healed and gotten better.”

Dr. Holcombe

Dr. Holcombe

Dr. Holcombe is a dentist in the rural area of Mora, Minnesota, and he has established a practice that has presented both challenges and successes. The farmer’s son is a graduate of the Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine, and he has plenty of advice to give to dentists looking to buy a practice.

The following stories present two different dentists — one rural, and one suburban — and how they purchased a practice, but how they did it is not the only avenue available.

“My dream was to always practice in a rural area back in Minnesota,” Dr. Holcombe said. “I actually had some family who were patients of the previous owner, and they knew he was looking to retire. They put us in contact with each other and so, after graduation, I started to work for him. After a few months I took over completely.”

Financing the purchase was perhaps the biggest hurdle Dr. Holcombe faced. “I know there are programs available for financing through some of the different dental associations,” he said. “However, due to the amount of debt I came out of school with, they all turned me away. It was not until I went to my hometown local bank that I was able to secure a loan to purchase the practice.”

Dr. Homann

Dr. Homann

Something that helped Dr. Holcombe was a Minnesotan student loan forgiveness program called the Dedicated to MN Dentists program. The program’s purpose is to increase access to dental care for rural and underserved patients, including patients enrolled in public programs. In return, a portion of Dr. Holcombe’s loans are repaid.

Coming from the Chicago suburbs, Dr. Brian Homann had a different experience, but offers similar advice.

“After I graduated dental school, I worked in a variety of public health and private practice settings as an associate dentist,” said Dr. Homann, who graduated from the University of
Illinois College of Dentistry. “Once I felt comfortable that I knew what I was looking for in a long-term practice I started my search to become a practice owner.”

Before buying his practice in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, Dr. Homann took a philosophical approach. “I believe that before a dentist even considers buying a practice the dentist should have a very good idea of what will make them him or her happy in both their career and family life,” he said. “Some people love working six days per week, having a beautiful downtown office full of new technology, and want to manage 15 staff members.

Other people may prefer to work a part-time schedule so they can spend more time with
their family. What might be the perfect practice for one person might be a poor choice for another.”

Dr. Homann chose a different way to finance his purchase. “Many banks have specialty lending departments that work specifically with the health care field,” he said. “The lender evaluates the quality of the practice financials, the applicant’s credit-worthiness, as well as the applicant’s production history. All aspects play a role in whether or not the lender chooses to fund the practice purchase. I financed my practice through one of these specialty lending departments.”

Dr. Homann had some final advice. “No matter how much preparation you do, there is always going to be more to learn in regard to running a business,” he said. “If I can’t find an answer, my state dental society and the ADA have been great resources for both clinical and administrative questions as well.”

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