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Monday, December 5th, 2022 | by Lisa White

Is Your Life What You Thought it Would Be as a Dentist?


Remember that first time you didn’t have all summer for vacation?  Summers off were no more, which is a hard realization.  #adulting

So how can you get the life you want as a dentist?

Here’s the ever-so-harsh reality. We spend the vast majority of our waking hours at work, which makes improving your work situation even more important. And as a dentist, you’re blessed to have the ability for complete autonomy in the workplace.  Autonomy meaning:  the kind of office you go to, how you schedule your patients, treatment plans, how much you work, your income, and the age you’ll retire.

Do you see yourself enjoying your dental profession?

Is your current office the kind you want to go to? There are very few people that truly enjoy going to the dentist. You can change that for your office. What if coming to the dentist was something your patients truly enjoyed? What if you and the staff enjoyed coming to the office as well?

Can you imagine the atmosphere?  I’m confident it would be an atmosphere full of gratitude and appreciation for even the smallest of items. When we focus on what we are thankful for, our outlook changes. Instead of focusing on the negative, we can embrace the positive. The words “please” and “thank you” would be heard repeatedly. Smiles would be the norm, and it would be a place that everyone enjoys. 2 dental professionals performing a procedure with their smiling dental patient.

Being at an office where one feels valued in an atmosphere of collaboration and gratitude is an atmosphere I would want to work in. And it’s definitely the kind of office I would l want to be a patient in. With an atmosphere like that, I would tell all my friends they should go there too. Sidenote:  my dentist is like this, and I have told all my friends. I enjoy going there.

Do you like your schedule?

Does your schedule allow you to live your best life? As your seasons of life change, so should your schedule. Perhaps you are willing to coach little league for your son; can you adjust to ensure that you can meet those obligations? As a dentist, you should be able to easily adjust your schedule to fit what your life needs during each stage.

And even your schedule throughout the day should fit your preferences. You may do your best work early and want to get the tough cases done first. Or maybe you like to ease into your day, start with consults only and tackle the tough cases after lunch. You should schedule your time in a way that has you most productive and living the life you want.

Do you have autonomy in your dental career?

Do you have the autonomy to schedule treatments that need to be done and refer out treatments that should be referred out?  I’m a huge believer that to enjoy your workday truly, you must provide the best clinical care and the best possible information to all of your patients. As a doctor, your patients rely on the information you provide them. You are the expert. If you treat each patient and give them the same advice you would give your mom, you are bound to be happier.

There is great joy in doing the right thing.  And yes, even if it costs you in the short term, you will benefit from doing the right thing for every patient. When your patients can feel they are being treated like family, their experience is elevated. And when they leave feeling great about their experience, I would expect them to share with others about their positive experience at your office.   After all, you have the power to make your office a place where people feel welcome and look forward to receiving treatment.

How much do you work?

Do you work 40 hours per week?  25?  How many do you want to work?  I know a dentist that worked three weeks every month and took off every fourth week. Now this was only for the last 10 years of his career, but still – what a way to go out (we did sell that practice). Perhaps in the first 10 years of your career you work 5 days per week from 9-3 so that you are home with your school-aged kids. I can assure you those are days you will never get back. Or maybe you don’t have kids and you would prefer to work four full days each week, with every weekend being a long weekend.

Can you take vacation at the the best time for your family? And can you take enough vacation? These are decisions you should be able to make. Creating a work schedule that fits you best will allow you to have the life you want and lead to a more fulfilling work life.

How much money do you want to make?

How much money do you want to make?  As a dentist, you should have an excellent income. There are so many corporate jobs available because the DSOs know and understand how to make money off of their employees—as does the private dentist.  It just comes down to who takes home the money. Do you want to make money yourself and take it home or do you want to work for someone else and allow them to take home part of what should be your income?

Obstacles to dental practice ownership

The biggest obstacle to private ownership is dealing with the business aspects. Every individual, from the plumber to the car mechanic, has to decide if they will be their own boss, set their own schedule, and take on these simple business details for the greater reward. That greater reward is profit.  Owners get profit, so that can be you or that can be someone else, but the owner makes the real money. If you purchase an existing practice, the procedures should be in place and the seller should transition the business knowledge to you.  In addition, you can see the history and what you should expect to earn as the owner. This removes a lot of the intimidation that comes with being the owner while still allowing for the same reward. Older dental professional considering retirement after life as a dentist.

When do you want to retire?  Is it once you have $10 million in the bank? Or when you are 58? Or some other metric? As discussed, as a practice owner you take home the profit. With the profit coming to your bank account, you should be able to retire 5-8 years ahead of those who worked for someone else. So, if your goal is to retire with a larger savings account or at a younger age, either way keeping the profit off of your hard work is the answer.

Do you have the life you want as a dental professional?

Is it possible to have the life you want?  Can you have an office that exudes joy, allows flexible scheduling and increases your income allowing you to retire earlier? The answer is absolutely—when you take control of your career and make the decisions that are best for you and your family. Don’t let fear of uncertainty stop you from making decisions that allow you to be in control and lead to higher work satisfaction.

After all, if we are going to spend all of this time working, let’s make it count in a way that is pleasant and serves the things we really care about. Is it scary to bet on yourself? Absolutely. But who, better than you can create the best situations for you? And shouldn’t you benefit the most from your hard work? The goal is to have the best life you can. If you don’t have it, it’s time to go get it.


About the Author

Lisa White

Lisa is the managing partner, and also the current president, for Radman, White & Associates, inc. She has assisted hundreds of both practicing endodontists and residents in the matters of securing associateships, buy/ins and buy/outs, valuation, and other transition issues. Lisa lectures extensively to residents and practicing endodontists across the country at the AAE meetings and at resident venues on transition issues. With 25 years of transition experience, the goal for Lisa is to treat others as she would like to be treated.

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