Beyond Practice Management: The pursuit of 'happyness'

2013 05 10 13 33 36 839 Deems Don 200

I love this profession for many reasons, and I'll bet you do, too, although I am quite sure your passion has eroded over the past decade or so. Whose wouldn't? It is hard -- very hard -- to work in this profession day after day, and it's even harder as the years pile up doing the work we do.

All of us look for ways to care for our patients the best we can while also being a viable, profitable business owner. No one said we had to work for free, that we weren't entitled to the rewards that have come to us from the risks, investments, grit, and determination we have all taken on to be where we are today. Yet there is a fine line I would like you to look at very closely. It's the line between making money and doing the right thing for our patients, colleagues, and profession.

Don Deems, DDS, FAGD.Don Deems, DDS, FAGD.
Don Deems, DDS, FAGD.

It's a tough call. As long as I've been in practice (more than 25 years), I remember the days when local study clubs were in abundance. In fact, one of the first things I did after graduating from dental school was get together a dozen of us new graduates to meet every month to learn from each other, support each other, and just be friends. That lasted about five or six years, then everyone "got busy." Hmmm.

I also remember the days when dentists supported each other, such as working to resolve a problem with a patient. Do you find that happening these days, or do you get concerned about what that dentist will say about you, which may or may not incite the patient to look to the legal system for help?

I also remember when insurance was helpful for patients. Our fees were our fees, they were reasonable, and most patients could afford to do the dentistry they needed, even if it took a few years for them to complete it. We didn't really worry about being paid because people were honest. Many dentists just used a Peg-Board system, probably unknown to more recent graduates. If someone couldn't afford the important dental care they needed, it was much easier to provide that care because we weren't inundated with huge overhead costs.

Yes, there are lots of memories. Memories of the past, things we can't change, and, for the most part, things we can't relive or even reproduce. Trying to live in the past is for the most part fruitless and generally troubling.

What about the future? Or the present? These are, of course, the only areas in which we can work. In the present, our actions can have an immediate impact. For the future, we can be influential.

Where does that leave our profession and us in these rapidly changing and enormously challenging times?

I would encourage and challenge you to put some thoughtful effort into responding to the following questions:

  1. If you were to chart the course of your practice from its current direction to a different one, what would it look like?
  2. What actions are you willing to take for the profession, not just for your practice?
  3. What ways could you support your fellow dentists, most of which you probably think of as "competitors"?
  4. How could you contribute to our profession in a positive and meaningful way, even if you are already contributing?
  5. If money wasn't the primary motive for you practicing dentistry, in what ways might you practice differently?
  6. What beliefs do you have about dentistry, practicing dentistry, organized dentistry, and our dental profession that may not be based in fact?
  7. What has made our dental profession what is has become, and is there anything that can be done about it if you feel changes are needed?

Our profession is in great need of leaders, both in thought and philosophy. We have plenty of leaders in clinical dentistry and research who are helping us provide incredible techniques and materials to do things that were unimaginable 10 years ago, and they will continue to do just that as long as most of us are practicing.

Are you one of those thought and philosophical leaders, but you've been quietly holding back because of other challenges in your practice or even your personal life? Our profession needs you -- the sooner the better. I'm not talking "opinion leaders," which can be anybody, including me. I'm talking about stepping up and being a leader who sets the example for all of us; one who will work with others to return this profession not back to the "good ol' days," but to something that can quickly respond to the changing needs and demands of the profession and the people we are supposed to be serving.

Dr. Deems, known as The Dentist's Coach, is a professional personal and business coach and a practicing dentist. Since 2005, he has been annually named to Dentistry Today's Top Leaders list and is the author of several books, the most recent titled The Dentist's Coach: Build a Vibrant Practice and the Life You Want. He can be reached at or 501-413-1101. He speaks regularly on topics of this nature both nationally and internationally.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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