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Why Bigger is Sometimes Better – Part Three – Should My Dentist be Happy!

How to switch to a new dentist

I find it amusing when I overhear patients ask my assistant if I’m in a good mood as they are being seated in the treatment room, or what we dentists call an operatory. They mean it in jest, but there is an element of truth in patients being sensitive to the mood of their dentist. Who would want someone in a bad mood approaching their very personal and sensitive mouth with sharp instruments?! Not me.

Dentists are human too. We also spend many of our waking hours at work in the dental office. Like most people, our work environment impacts our happiness and our quality of life. So, if you want a happy dentist, you might want to choose a dentist who is in a private group practice because there are many advantages to the dentist in this type of work environment compared with the solo practice or the chain/franchise/corporate practice.

Happiness of Dentists in Solo Practices

In a solo or two doctor practice, the dentist is not only the dentist, he/she is also the business owner. He has the stress of running the office, managing the staff, managing the facility equipment and maintenance, managing the legal and regulatory, managing the financials, and so on. Like any small business owner, he is the main income source for the business and also runs the business.

This means that the level of stress and responsibility is high and the level of freedom is low. It is hard to find a good balance between sending time with the family, spending time on the business which supports your family and your employees, time for continued education and training, and time for patient care. It is difficult to find down time, as there is always something that needs attention. It is difficult to take vacation time because when you are away, you have to find someone else to care for your patient’s emergencies, your business is closed yet your staff still expect to be paid (there is no such thing as paid personal time or paid vacation time for owner dentists), the rent needs to be paid, etc. And when it comes to patient care, you are on your owm – an island to yourself.

Some dentists like to practice alone because there is one huge advantage: you call all the shots. You get to make all the rules. You get to be boss.

But on the flip side, there are many advantages to practicing in a group practice with other dentists. To name a few, they have someone to discuss treatment with, an instant second opinion, some to help cover for the office when you are away, sharing of office administration responsibilities, sharing of office expenses, comradery. And, it’s more fun to spend your day working with someone who shares your interests, values, and goals.

Happiness of Dentists in Franchise Chain Offices

The chain or corporate practice can also be advantageous to dentists. To name a few: you can have fun working with other dentists who are usually your same young age. You are an employee with very little responsibility for the running of the office. You often work on a salary, so the financial success of the practice is not your concern. You don’t get involved in hiring or managing staff.

Sounds pretty good right?

Well it can be, IF, to you, dentistry is just a job, or if you don’t want any control over your work environment, the people you work with, the dental labs who make your restorations, the materials you use, the services you provide, the way patients are treated by the staff, the technology you have to use, the treatment options you can offer. In other words, you have very little control over the kind of patient experience you deliver. In some corporate practices, the dentists are treated as nothing more than technicians. A senior dentist meets the new patients and plans the treatment, then a trained salesperson tries to up-sell the patient and handles the finances, and then the employee dentist is told what dentistry he is to do for the patient.

For me, and for many dentists, the real meat of dentistry, the thing that brings the interest, the challenge, and personal growth, the joy and satisfaction, is not the running of the business or the drilling of teeth. It is working with patients. Caring for people. Sitting down with patients and combining your knowledge and skills with their needs and wants, and then working together, dentist and patient, to create the desired outcome. The sense of purpose and fulfillment, and self-determination, combined with a high quality of life, and enjoyment at work, is best found for most dentists, in the privately owned and operated group practice.

Read more from this series: part one and part two.