3 Signs of a Miserable Dentist

Well known consultant and author Patrick Lencioni, wrote a book titled “Three Signs of a Miserable Job”.  The book identifies three characteristics that, when missing from an organization, create a lack of motivation and pride by employees. According to Lencioni, companies that operate with Anonymity, Lack of Relevance and Lack of Measurement create poor company performance stemming from a lack of employee engagement.

In the dental profession, we are seeing a definite change in how new dentists are entering the profession. More dentists are becoming employees rather than owners. Dental school education exposes dentists to current advances in techniques and the opportunity to use the newest technology.  New dentists entering the profession have learned in dental school how to be great technicians. Unfortunately, with the tools to be technicians, most dentists lack the skills necessary to lead an organization and manage the business side of their practice.  In addition, today’s new dentist is overwhelmed with student loan debt. With what seems like insurmountable debt along with little knowledge of how to run a business, dentists are becoming employees of corporate dental practices rather than creating the dental practice they dreamed of when they started dental school. I believe that dentists can overcome these challenges

With the lack of business skills, many dentists that attempt to own and operate their own practices become discouraged. The income and the quality of life they dreamed of seems unachievable.  Working in the practice every day is a reminder of this.  The dentist’s misery projects onto the staff, is sensed by patients and transfers to their personal lives. At some point, the dentist could give up on a career that was initially filled with the promise of helping people and should have provided the level of income they desired. Here are three reasons and why a dentist is miserable in their own practice and some recommended solutions:

Failing to recognize patients as people.

At some point, while the dentist is dealing with employee turnover, trying to keep the practice financially viable and performing dental procedures, s/he loses sight of why they chose dentistry as their profession.

Dentistry is about healthcare and helping people lead healthy lives. In order to help patients, dentists need to treat them as more than just the next body in the chair.  Educating a patient about their oral healthcare and how this is related to the whole body can help develop stronger patient relationships. Explanations that include the need for treatment and the consequences of not accepting treatment can have a powerful impact on dentist/patient relations. Using language in non-technical terms to explain the importance of oral healthcare or the need for treatment to the patient can help develop trust in the dentist and improve case acceptances.

No practice culture

I believe that the most valuable asset of a dental practice is the team. I often find that some teams are not working together for the good of the practice. Team members are looking out for themselves instead of the practice and the patients. This is usually the result of a lack of culture in the practice.

A practice culture that focuses on the patient and patient outcomes can create a rallying point for the entire team.  The dentist needs to take leadership of the practice, share his or her vison and get buy in from the entire team. A practice environment with a goal of creating specific outcomes functions more efficiently and effectively.

It is not enough to create a practice culture. The culture requires each team member including the dentist to embrace and live this culture. Morning huddles should focus on reminding the team of the importance of the direction of the practice. Examples of how the culture is being applied in the office should be shared by team members. Reinforcing behaviors in line with the culture will help to embed these ideals in the practice.

Not knowing your numbers

Dental practice metrics are critical to understanding how a dental practice is performing. Without measuring practice performance, a dentist has no way of knowing what changes are needed in the practice to achieve the income and quality of life desired. Just comparing production and collections from one period to the next does not provide enough information to make informed changes. Increased collections from one month to the next is not necessarily a positive indicator. It is possible that even though collections increased, expenses may have increased even more.

There are many different metrics to use to measure practice performance. It is important to focus on multiple metrics to get a comprehensive view of practice performance. The metrics on monthly new patients, treatment plans accepted or overhead percentages can help identify areas in need of improvement. Effectively using metrics will help move the practice performance towards established goals. A CPA that works with a substantial number of dentists can help a dentist select the key performance indicators and benchmarks best suited to for the practice.

By creating relationships with patients, a dentist will feel more valued as patients begin to accept treatment plans. A practice culture will create a team more focused on the ultimate goal and create less distractions in the office. And, a dentist who knows the key performance indicators of their practice can make adjustments to keep the practice focused on overall goals and find a way to avoid the traps of being a miserable dentist.


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