Success Can be Measured in Many Ways

Category: Dental

Many readers will recall(1) that I am continually asking the question: “What does dental practice management (DPM) mean to you?” I receive many answers, from many people; and have noticed that, while there are common themes, hardly any two descriptions are alike. Despite trying, I am myself unable to come up with a succinct, one-size-fits-all definition.

Over the years, I have suggested what I think being proficient at practice management is not(2). Namely, it is not about being an adherent to the latest ‘guru’ on the speaker’s circuit, determining the current ‘profit centre’ in one’s practice and exploiting it to one’s financial gain. Rather, I think it is about achieving a comfortable and fulfilling balance between giving one’s patients the best care possible, in the most professional manner while making efficient use of time and other resources, all the while maintaining an empowered and loyal team of office personnel, and frequently taking the time to enjoy one’s friends and family, and to smell the roses.

Further to anyone’s discussion of what DPM proficiency is, or is not, will be the realization that there are many variables that can be examined which influence one’s success. It will also come as no surprise that there are a wide range of beliefs as to which of these variables are ‘first’ choices (i.e., those determinants which are the most important to the success of a practice). After all, we all measure success differently.

Stepping outside of our own profession for a quick look around affirms that other business owners define success in a myriad of ways too(3). While the accumulation of wealth does it for some, things like career prestige, the satisfaction of working on one’s own, good health and debt retirement do it for others. Common to most entrepreneurs’ achievement of success however is in the attainment of their goals. The key word here is THEIR goals; not someone else’s, or some industry standard.

Many practice owners I know want to work more efficiently, with less stress, and be happier, as part of a team, so they can go day-to-day enjoying the smell of those proverbial roses. I also know of many dentists who seek to achieve these goals at the expense of taking more time off, or a lower net income, or with higher staff wages, etc. Are these practitioners wrong for espousing this approach to DPM? Clearly, not. They are reaching for success through their definition of it (keep in mind however that even these self-set goals do have to be realistic and achievable, otherwise the resulting stress from potentially not meeting them can be worse than that induced through having no goals at all).

Unfortunately, consultants offering their assistance to dentists with the business management of their practices often use the approach that something is wrong, or that the dentist is unequal to their peers with respect to some easily measured variable (i.e., gross production, or number of days off, or how many crowns they do). As a result, many practitioners do not avail themselves of DPM services because of a reluctance to admit that they need some help.

A recent article in the Journal of the American Dental Association corroborated this sentiment when it discussed the ramifications to health care practitioners of their being embarrassed by the very thought of seeking professional help (especially with respect to depression, anxiety and stress)(4). The authors reported that nearly 2 out of every 5 dentists surveyed were ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ worried or anxious, and that more than one-third were ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ physically or emotionally exhausted.

I suspect that managing these symptoms of stress, through an investigation of the underlying cause(s), would be of great interest to these health care providers. And I don’t think I’d be taking too much of a risk in suggesting that their definitions of practice management success probably did not have the goals of making more money and/or treating more patients as common themes.

In the past years I have frequently, and enjoyably, found myself playing the role of an empathetic ‘ear’. I have listened to dentists who are at all stages of their careers; dentists who have asked me what they should do next, or what they should do about ‘this’ or ‘that’ concern. I have quickly come to realize that not every dentist wants to grow their practice, to have a bigger bottom line, or to lower their expenses to sometimes unachievable levels. Their commentaries have reaffirmed the tenet that life is about balance. When looking beyond dentistry’s boundaries once again I recently marvelled at a 20 page insert in the Investment Executive journal touting the benefits to financial services professionals of taking a balanced approach to life; achieved through leisure diversions, goal setting, community involvement and the like(5).

As a result of my observations and efforts, I have adopted an approach using goals and objectives setting in my initial contact with clients. It is a great way to start, and sometimes the mere articulation of ones goals is all it takes. To request a copy of this simple, 4 page work book, please contact me at (902) 657 1175 or Accept my invitation to schedule a confidential discussion on the practice (or life) issues that are the most meaningful to you. Only then can I help define exactly what success means – to you.

Nova Scotia Dentist – May 2005