Can You Afford to Take a Break?

In response to one of my recent columns, entitled “Freedom 55? Who are we kidding?” a number of dentists telephoned to express their appreciation for my perspective on this topic.  It appears as though some financial experts have been advising them to work, work, work, to achieve an early retirement.  This advice has placed a considerable amount of pressure on dentists to meet the goals set by their advisors, not necessarily themselves.

My advice is to follow your own goals, not those set by others.  Slow down and take your time.  A dental career is not a race to see who finishes first.  If your classmates have let go of ownership before you, so be it.  There is no script or master plan that dictates when you should exit dentistry.

The locum concept is an alternative career path for some dentists.  It allows professionals to extend their earning years.  Those who choose to work part-time for many years, as opposed to those who work full-time for a lesser number of years, may live longer and extend the length of time they can earn an income.

Part-time is good.  Part time should be encouraged for those who have most of their life obligations met.  Our society has not encouraged a slow and steady pace, and something can be gained from working with less intensity.  When we reach the age of 50, we should be allowed to slow down and plan a continued career of another 20 or 30 years.

I recently received a letter from Dr. Galina Mayer.  She had returned from a long maternity leave in 1999, and was looking for a part-time associate position.  I suggested that she consider a locum position in the practice of a dentist who had recently passed away.  Her thoughts may help you to see the wisdom of part-time dentistry for life, while enjoying the freedom of not owning a practice.

In her letter, Dr. Mayer said this strategy “has set me upon a wonderful path.”  Being a locum gave her the flexibility to practise dentistry without owning a practice, while the owner had the freedom to practise without worrying about internal competition.

She added that there are many advantages to hiring a locum: “The locum is mature, and offers knowledge and experience; (is) not looking to open a practice next door; (and is) experienced with establishing rapport with patients and staff.

“If you are tiring of routine and wish to reduce hours, days and patient load; if you wish to concentrate on specialized procedures; if you are contemplating the sale of your practice in the next 3 to 5 years, the long-term dental locum is the way to go,” she added.

Dr. Mayer’s letter suggests that a new trend may be forming.  I call it part-time dentistry for life.  Many professions such as law, accounting and medicine, among others, are experiencing similar practice changes.

“I an see myself in the office of such a doctor, filling in 2 to 3 days a week, and helping to improve the value of the practice with a few of my practice management skills, so the doctor could enjoy his or her time and have a better practice to sell too!”  she wrote.

These trends are a direct result of the maturation of the baby boomer’s lifestyle needs.  We need income, yet we recognize that we do not need to own a business in order to secure the income.  I call this trend the freedom from ownership cycle.

What’s your career trend?