I moved my practice into a brand new building in 2000, with the latest technology and architecture to make it successful. But by 2009, the economics started to change, as did the healthcare landscape and the expectations of my patients.
Sidney Schulz, DDS, and his son, Chad Schulz, DDS.
My plan was to bring my son, Chad, into my practice as a second dentist. But even though my practice was successful, there simply wasn't enough demand for him to join my practice once he graduated from dental school. So instead, I offered him some unusual advice: Join a part of the industry that many private practitioners look at as their competitors, that is, dental service organization (DSO)-supported practices.
As a member of the Wisconsin Dental Association, I, like many other traditional private practitioners, had my doubts about what is commonly referred to as corporate dentistry and the so-called franchise offices that were rapidly popping up throughout the state. When the first Aspen Dental practice opened up near my office, my extraction and denture business began to dry up quickly as patients were now going there for those procedures.
It would have been easy to rail against the change that I saw happening. But after some reconnaissance, it became apparent there were good reasons for why patients were choosing that practice:
- They were open longer hours and on weekends.
- They had lower prices.
- They had an in-office lab that delivered prosthetics quickly, something that was really important to denture patients.
“I, like many other traditional private practitioners, had my doubts about what is commonly referred to as corporate dentistry.”
That's why I encouraged my son, the soon-to-be new dentist, to explore this avenue, especially if the economics made sense, his pay was good, his risk was minimal, he had complete autonomy, and he had a dedicated mentor to show him the ropes (the same way I would have done if he joined my practice).
After graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 2015, Chad joined an Aspen Dental practice in northeast Wisconsin as a lead dentist and was offered dental school tuition reimbursement of $200,000 to help him pay off his debt -- a benefit that helps ease the burden for new dentists.
It also sparked an interest in me -- a dentist who has spent more than 20 years successfully owning my own dental office -- to consider an option that was previously not on my radar. My son put on the full-court press, encouraging me to sell the practice and partner with Aspen Dental Management (ADMI) -- the DSO that provides nonclinical business support to every Aspen Dental practice. I was able to sell my practice pretty quickly and began working at an Aspen Dental practice in Oshkosh, WI, in November 2015 as a lead dentist.
While I saw success owning my traditional private practice and could've retired happily, I've been significantly more successful since joining Aspen Dental and will be even more prepared and confident in retirement when the time comes. I find comfort in knowing that my son also also on the right career path that will bring him great success.
Viable career path
Long story short, I've come to realize that industry perceptions surrounding practice ownership in the DSO model were incorrect. And it's incredibly important we address them now, as more dentists look for viable career paths in the coming years.
For one, there is a real need for dental practices that cater toward patients who have not had a regular pattern of care. At my traditional private practice, the majority of my patients were recalls who rarely needed services beyond the usual cleaning. In fact, I would do one or two bridges in a month. With my current practice, I have patients who have not had a cleaning in years and have tremendous dental needs. I am providing a real service to them and can make a huge difference in their lives, while being cognizant of what they can afford.
An area where I have particularly seen a misperception is in clinical decision-making. Clinical decision-making is the responsibility of the dentist and the dentist alone. Since joining a DSO-supported practice, I have always had complete autonomy to do what I know best and have never felt any pressure to do a procedure that wasn't in the best interest of my patients. I was even asked how much time I regularly need to do extractions, crowns, etc., and my schedule is built around my preferences and capabilities.
Practice management is more like a marriage than anything else. When partnering with a DSO, it is a direct relationship that requires patience and communication between my staff on the clinical side and the business professionals at ADMI. While my team from ADMI advises me, decision-making lies with the practice owner.
Today I am a proud father as I watched my son become an Aspen Dental practice owner in Wausau, WI, in March 2017, less than two years after graduating from dental school.
As for me -- almost 30 years after graduating from dental school -- I became an owner for the second time. I purchased the Aspen Dental practice in Oshkosh in April 2017.
While my son followed me into dentistry, I'm glad I followed him in joining and partnering with a DSO.
Sidney Schulz, DDS, owns the Aspen Dental practice in Oshkosh, WI.
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