Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Fall Report

Although it is 80+ degrees for some reason, I still consider mid-September to be “Fall.”  The days are getting shorter, the clouds are hanging around more often, definitely fall-ish.  Now if that horde of hornets living up on my deck would finally die off, I’ll be a happy human.  Every time I wipe out one nest, I feel as if two more sprout up.

How is the professional life treating me you ask?  Still not great, but I feel like I have motivation and direction at last.  I figured I would work as an associate for 5 years in this office, build my skill-base, and then buy-out or transition into an existing practice.  However, I’ve quickly realized that I can’t wait five years.  Being an associate has many many benefits.  These benefits also come in tandem with many many frustrations.  The plus side is obvious.  You get to focus almost exclusively on your trade as a dentist.  Without the burden of managing an office and having employees, you can get the inexperienced jitters out of your system much smoother.

With all great things comes the downside.  You are an employee.  Always remember that.  It doesn’t matter if your contract is structured as an Independent Contractor.  You are still an employee.  Every other employee in the office knows this.  So naturally, your authority is limited.  You are not going to be able to dramatically change anyone’s behavior or any office systems already in place.  This becomes glaringly apparent if you work in an office that has been around for decades (like me).  Now every position is different, but as an associate, you WILL eventually max out your income potential.  If you want to hit that juicy median income of your average general practitioner, you must strike out and own.

So as my last post made clear, I am looking into ownership far earlier than expected.  I have spoken with both an attorney and accountant informally to simply network as well as get as much free advice as I can before they invariably start charging me.  The good thing about shopping around for other professionals is that they know this and are more willing to cut you a break at the beginning.  We are also meeting with a bank in regards to acquiring a loan towards practice financing.  Several major banks in this country have medical/dental specialist sub segments that exclusively cater to dentists and financing practice start-ups/buy-outs.  Much like with other professionals, we plan to meet with more than one.  This first meeting will occur early next month.

A lot of my free time is now spent reading up on the non-clinical aspects of dentistry.  Books on leadership, communication, practice transitions, etc.  Not only is it a nice break from constantly reading articles on clinical dentistry, but I am absorbing an enormous amount of information – namely because I am really underdeveloped from a business standpoint.

I currently work 4.5 days a week and while my income is still laughable for a general dentist (and given my 9 years of post-HS education), it has become less laughable than it was last year at this time.  My wife is still bringing home way more bacon than me, but as a progressive and mature adult human, I am super excited about this because she keeps us going financially while I have fuddled around for the last year.  She still is pretty underpaid for how many hours she puts in – but I can’t say she is unfairly paid as an associate dentist.  Combined, we make enough to maybe consider ourselves one whole dentist.  I realize our income potential is quite high over our careers, but knowing this and getting there are two very different ideals.

I did get a job offer from one of the local corporate dental chains.  I would make double what I do now, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger.  To be unable to practice comprehensive dentistry every day of the week would simply drive me insane.  I do care about financial growth and stability, but I don’t consider my wealth as the definition of who I am.  Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things just as much as the next guy, but I thankfully don’t find myself craving social status types of items.  We are living somewhat below are means.  Most of our money is spent on travel, which we do sporadically.  And finally having a somewhat less laughable income on my end has allowed us to begin significantly saving money.  The student loans still sit, but we have stabilized and will continue to chip away, hoping to whittle them down 100% over the next 10-15 years.  The idea of taking out another 500K to finance a practice is daunting, but at the same time, it’s just a number.  I never physically walk around with it in my pocket.  The practice is established with numbers crunched to accommodate repayment well before the bank even approves.  Dental practices rarely ever fail.  And I’ve see some pretty incompetent dentists in my short career doing just fine and dandy.   If they can somehow get by, then I feel like I’ve got a good chance to excel.  Not that I’m god’s greatest gift to dentistry or anything, but I actually care about the quality of my work.  I know I’ve had bad days, but I learn from my mistakes, constantly strive to improve and am never satisfied with what I know.  I feel like these traits will push me to higher peaks over the next 35 years.

So much like the Chicago Bears this season, I am cautiously optimistic about the future.  I know there are plenty of frustrating times ahead of me, but I also see a lot of happiness and contentment as well.

While I’d be lying if I said my post-education world was what I expected it to be, I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t a pretty lucky SOB with a great life.

Cheers to all.