So the title of this post has become one of my goals, a useful barometer in my ever-present development as an individual striving towards personal growth. If you are like me, somewhat anti-social, timid, and more of a follower than a leader, you need to be proactive about change. If I want to own my own dental office, nobody is going to hand it over to me, manage the details, and then steer the ship once control is finally attained. I need to become a better leader, a better communicator, and simply a smarter individual in all things NOT related to dentistry. Human relations and common business sense/strategy play an enormous role in this profession – a role that is not easy to learn or teach.
You need to set goals, both personal and professional. You need to revisit and revise these goals regularly, you need to be realistic that change is inevitable, and it usually is arduous and slow. I hate change; I love consistency, a guaranteed paycheck, no unknowns, and a routine I know. This leads to something I hate even more than change – complacency. The other associate in my current office represents what I don’t want to happen to me. This person is a good dentist, well-liked by staff and patient alike, but is mired in complacency. This person is unhappy, but fears change so much, that they are unwilling to make the move. This person has been an associate for 7 years with no end in sight. I hope they escape the cell of complacency because it is so much worse than taking the plunge and embracing risk/change. That could be me. It is like the story, ‘Christmas Carol,’ and I see the ghost of my future. To be mired in fear so much that you are willing to be unhappy is far worse than dealing with the fear of the unknown. In fact, in reflection, I realize that some of my most enjoyable memories have occurred following the leaps of risk and change. So while I’m scared of change, I am learning to embrace that fear as something to draw upon and learn from.
So I wake up each day muddled in the complacency of my current situation, yet inspired by my drive to escape. I’m not unhappy, but I’m also not content. We are simply put, not making nearly enough money given our years of education/training and massive amount of debt. It doesn’t help when I read an article about how the UIC chancellor got a 1 million dollar house for free just for taking the job. What the hell is a chancellor anyways? Just a reminder of why I will never donate to my dental school. Got a decent education, but the cost will never be justifiable to me – and it’s only getting worse. So in order to make more money, we must own. Is there risk? Yes. Could we make less money for a while? Sure. Will it be scary? YES! But do it we must.
So the first step towards ownership for me has simply been to network and stay in touch with people whose opinions I value. Find a mentor! My god, I can’t emphasize how important this is. Having someone you respect, who is willing to talk with you regularly and help you evaluate situations and make life changing decisions is invaluable. I have kept in touch with one of my attendings from the GPR and his advice has truly inspired me. I also have maintained pretty decent contacts with several of my classmates and co-residents. We have an email chain that provides for clinical discussion/debate which is a great learning tool. Networking is also very important. My wife and I have been more aggressive in attending local meetings and larger conferences. Not only to you get CE – the importance of which is another topic altogether, but you meet people in your field. Finding a good practice is usually best done through the grape vine and not a broker. While you get mixed opinions for sure, if a practice is relying on a broker for sale, it is likely having difficulty selling due to reasons you may not figure out until you already have sold your soul.
Assemble your team: While I haven’t officially retained anyone, I have been in contact with a few accountants, attorneys, and now lenders. Most of these people will gladly meet with you for free – realizing that you are still poor as hell, but will eventually be able to pay them lots of money. They are necessary for your success. Find people you are comfortable with and that you can develop trust with. Again, consulting your local colleagues, or mentor can give you a nudge in the right direction. Network, network, network. Sounds so funny saying that, as I’d prefer to spend my Saturday night watching an original Syfy horror movie (so bad they’re good), but I realize that to get anywhere in this world – you need to get yourself out there and become recognized.
Where are we right now? It is the same as before work-wise, except that I am somehow managing to make EVEN less money in the private practice office due to an abysmal September. However we have discovered through networking and meeting with other professionals (accountant in this case), an office that has potential. It is located where we are targeting for a start-up and is 25 minutes from the area we want to buy a home. The office itself is less than 5 years old with decent technology in place and the owner is planning to move out of state. We met a week ago and it felt like being on House Hunters. 5-ops, hygiene driven at the moment as the owner doc is pretty laid back and slowing down. We liked the space overall and the locale seemed nice. Will be an absolutely horrible commute from Chicago, but I’m prepared to do that for a few years until we can actually afford a house. The plan either way will be for me to set-up shop first while the wife keeps her associate position for a few more years and slowly phases out to our office as we theoretically grow large enough for a second dentist. This affords us at least some financial security as her income will continue to be our lifeblood. Although to be honest, even if I worked only 2 days a week building the practice as an owner, I would probably make more money than I currently am making 4.5 days a week working for other people.
I’ve signed the “non-disclosure” agreement which essentially means I can’t talk about the practice to anyone except my designated “agents.” Whatever the hell that means. I swear, lawyers are smart - invent your own new language using English words so that one must pay 400 dollars an hour to have it interpreted by the creator of the language. Brilliant.
So I’m all over the place right now but the main point of this post still stands. Embrace change – seek it out, or you will never escape the bonds of complacency – which is often a far worse fate then fear of change or fear of failure. Even if you fail, you can learn from it, and dust yourself off for the next round. This too is better than becoming frozen in time, depressed, and unmotivated as you drift through the motions, day in and day out.