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Business Coaching for the Mid-Career Dentist

By Patti Sooy, RDH-BS, VP of Business & Program Development

“Coaching turns problems into challenges, challenges into opportunities, and opportunities into gifts.” ~Milton Erickson

Mid-career dentists who seek out coaching are often  not enjoying their work: they can be burned out, afraid – what if I can’t keep my doors open or pay my bills – bored, and frustrated. Unfortunately, often doctors think they don’t have options. Most dentists understand a little bit about business but don’t take time to really dig into and evaluate their business or train their team. They know they should, but they don’t have the time or energy or don’t know how.

Having a business coach partner with you to run numbers, set goals, and hold the practice accountable can be the difference between feeling trapped by their career and excited about dentistry.

While there is the occasional dentist who has a unique challenge to face, most mid-career dentists we’ve worked with at Productive Dentist Academy fall into one of three categories: they have plateaued, their practice is slipping, or they are overly busy.

The Plateaued Dentist
The plateaued dentist is typically doing fine, nothing is on fire, the practice is humming along. Everything is just sitting there not really going up or down: it’s boring, bland, same old same old. Boredom is a big problem in plateaus and it’s common to hear a doctor in this stage say, “It’s OK. I’m making a decent living. Maybe I’ll go to a C.E. so I can get away from my office for a while.” Plateaus might seem like a comfortable place to be. The problem is comfort can cause a dentist to become complacent in managing their practice, which can lead to problems down the road. But more on that in a moment. Plateaus can also be very frustrating if the doctor is trying to get to the next level in their practice but just can’t seem to get things moving.

The Slipping Dentist
The practice that is slipping is not only not growing, they are actually trending down. They aren’t producing or collecting as much as they have in previous years and their patient flow is going down. It might seem counter intuitive but in my experience, dentists whose practices are slipping may not be in as much danger as dentists who are on a plateau because a doctor whose practice is slipping knows they have a problem, need help, and are anxious to get back on track. It’s also not uncommon to see a dentist who is in a plateau end up in the slipping category several months later because they were comfortable, bored, and became complacent about their practice.

The Over-Worked Dentist
Compared to the plateaued dentist and slipping dentist, the over-worked dentist might seem to have it made. They have a full schedule, are busy, and have more patients than they know what to do with. The reason we see over-worked dentists in coaching is after many years of hard work they want to slow down and have a better quality of life. They want to reevaluate their business so they can work less hours and enjoy their lives more.

Coaching the Mid-Career Doctor – Key Points

Typically, mid-career dentists focus on the decisions that will impact their practice, their team, their family, and their enjoyment of life. But they often don’t know what questions to ask or where to start. Here’s a brief overview of some of the things we look at and the questions we ask when coaching mid-career doctors.

  • We look at the numbers: If they’re down, why? Is it the location of the practice? Is there a downtrend in local or national economy? Is it a problem with processes?
  • For dentists who are on a plateau or slipping we look at look at:
    • Staff efficiency and tasks
    • Broken appointments this month
    • Collection and production: are they up or down? Steady or do they fluctuate?
    • How many unscheduled patients have treatment that need to be done?
    • New patient flow
  • For over-worked dentists, how many future visits do you have?
    • You have enough patients so you may not care. But wait! Look at the numbers, where should your production and collection be? You could be losing high-quality patients without meaning to. Also, when you’re not going to be OK with lack of future patients is when you go to sell your practice!
    • Patient flow vs attrition. Be careful with this one. Often it looks like you might have enough patients scheduled out, but the numbers don’t always add up.
  • SMART Goals
    What is your plan? Most dentists have a plan or have thought about their plans. But have you written it down? Do you know how to get from where you are now, to your goals. At PDA, our Business Coaches help you reach YOUR goals, the ones YOU set in the timeframe YOU want. They are SMART goals:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Actionable/Achievable
    • Realistic
    • Time Bound

Many dentists are good at coming up with goals. However, those goals are often too broad spectrum and not easy to measure or plan. That’s where PDA Business Coaches shine: they are very good at helping dentists put together realistic goals that can be measured, tracked, and achieved.

A Note on Retirement

Wait, you say, I still have 20 years until retirement. That may be so but you need to start thinking about it now, because the decisions you make now will impact your practice for many years to come. When it comes time to sell your practice, what will its value be? Are you going to be financially free when you sell your practice? Most dentists are very surprised to learn that it typically takes a 5-year plan to successfully transition out of dentistry (retire and sell their practice at a healthy profit).

So what is your plan for retirement and selling your practice – are you going to bring in an associate with hopes to sell to them, will you sell to just anyone who wants to buy, or do you want to sell to a corporation? Your retirement plans will impact many of your current business decisions.

Unexpected Benefits of Coaching

Most dentists go into coaching with goals in mind. But many of them find that the coaching provided by Productive Dentist Academy offers some unexpected benefits.
Incentives and Team Appreciation
One program we install in practices we coach is some type of team incentive or appreciation. A lot of dentists balk at this at first – they don’t think they can afford additional bonuses for their team. We certainly don’t want you spending money out of your pocket, so we help set incentives that make sense to your office. Incentivizing the team can be a win/win if done well and can help motivate your team to be on board with achieving goals. With appropriate incentives on the line, many doctors are surprised with how much more productive their staff is and how they take ownership of achieving production and business goals.

Most dentists don’t delegate where they should. “After all,” they think, “it’s faster for me to do it.” Several doctors I’ve coached concerning delegation have said they find they have more time in their days and don’t feel so frantic and stretched. While we help hone the dentist’s delegation skills, we also develop the skills of their team. One way we do this is by building up departmental leaders the doctor can delegate tasks to in order to take pressure off themselves. With staff empowered to accomplish these tasks, the doctor is then free to focus on what they love doing, taking care of people’s teeth.

The Importance of Phrasing
How you communicate with patients can change the results of your conversations drastically. With a few key phrases, you’ll find patients saying yes to treatment much more frequently.

  • Patient Risk Factors – As a doctor, you know the risk factors patients face. But dentists often tell patients they’re “cavity-prone” or “have periodontal disease”. Patients usually don’t know what this means. By teaching doctors how to talk to patient about the cause of disease, risk factors, and how to reduce the risk factors, we help the doctors explain needed treatment in ways they understand. Patients are appreciative of clear explanations and understanding why this is happening and it creates trust. This makes a huge difference with patients committing to treatment.
  • Relationship and Communication – Doctors are in a hurry and many don’t take the time to be in relationship with the patient. Getting to know more about your patients and creating commonality also leads to becoming likeable.  When patients like and trust you they are more likely to accept the treatment you recommend. Take some time to find out about their LIFE – where they Live/work, their Interests, Family, and Entertainment they enjoy.
    So many dentists make the mistake of talking teeth and dentistry first before knowing the person. They try to correct the problem before connecting with the patient. Through coaching we help guide dentists and their teams through phrasing, communication, and building relationships with patients. The best part for your practice is every time the doctor and staff focus on patient relationships scheduling gets better, collection goes up, and referrals go up. Why? Because patients like and trust you.

Ensure Successful Coaching

Our goal in coaching is to see you succeed. We will do our absolute best to ensure you and your practice are successful. However, there are a few things all dentists who enter coaching should know.

The doctor must set a great example.
Some dentists think “I’m paying my coach to fix this and do it for me, why should I do it?” Because, as the owner of your practice, you are the leader. Whether you like it or not, your team looks to you for direction and will follow your lead.

For example, you can hire a personal trainer to help you get in shape. They will they will set a plan with you, be at the gym at 6:00 a.m. with you, they will encourage you through each repetition. But they can’t run on the treadmill or lift the weights for you. To achieve the health and body you want, you have to do the work. But your trainer (coach) will be there with you side-by-side through the whole thing to make sure you get better and achieve your goals.

Coaching is an investment not a short-term fix.
A coach and a consultant are two different things. A consultant is typically brought in to fix a specific thing and then they’re gone. Coaching is a step-by-step process. We have clients who have been coaching with us for 10+ years. Why? They stay because they keep growing and they know they need that accountability. After all, as long as you’re getting a solid ROI with coaching, why would you stop?

Think about it this way. If you owned a football team and the head coach took that team to the super bowl, and won, would you renew their contract for another year or try to replicate that success on your own the next season? People at the top of their game don’t get rid of their coach.

Some doctors will complete a full business coaching agreement of 18 months, implement the training, put good systems in place and feel good about moving forward on their own. However, some doctors find that without the accountability of a coach partnering with them, they plateau or even start to slide. There’s no special recipe that works for every doctor.

Coaching For a Better Life

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many dentists who are in mid-career are burned out, afraid, bored, or frustrated. Partnering with a business coach to help you run numbers, set goals, train your team, and hold you accountable can make all the difference in enjoying your practice and living the life you want. Fill out the form below to get control of your practice and live the life you want with a Complimentary Practice Discovery.

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