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Business Coaching for the New Dentist

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

If I could emphasize one thing to new doctors it’s to do it right from the beginning by investing in good advice. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many young doctors struggle because they aren’t prepared to run a business.  One of the things I hear often from new doctors is how truly exhausted they are, and how much they miss having personal time to relax or spend time with their families. While business is very important, new dental practice owners often spend a great deal of time – sometimes from 7 in the morning until 7 or 8 at night, 6 days a week – trying to run their business. This can lead to exhaustion and burnout.

A business coach can be a great help to a dentist just starting out. While new doctors know dentistry, what’s not as intuitive is how to set up a business so their time and money is spent wisely. Many don’t know how to get on a budget in order to become profitable in as short a time as possible. That’s where coaching comes in. It helps young doctors find their path to success in the most direct way possible.

First-time practice owners also have a tendency to meander in their business; they listen to their peers or friends or family. While it’s great to have the input of friends and family, what peers and mentors are don’t see is the data associated with that specific practice. Most dentists don’t share the whole story of their financial stress with peers and friends. A coach, however, will request that information at the start of a coaching partnership, as a clear starting point. A coach will also assist with realistic goal setting for the practice and a strategy for reaching those goals.

While there are many important factors to running a successful dental business, here are three key areas in which young doctors can use coaching to get their businesses started right:

  • Setting up financial reporting right from the start
  • Talking to people in a way that will make them lifelong patients
  • Attracting and hiring team members who will support the dentist’s vision

The Business of Accounting

Does this sound familiar: “I have monthly payments on my school loans, I’ve just hired a team, I have equipment debt, I have rent and bills for supplies and lab fees, and insurance needed to protect the practice.  And it would be really great if I could earn a paycheck myself.”

Many young doctors share these concerns since they all come out of dental school with debt. Then they go into more debt to own or start a practice. Unfortunately, most dentists are not taught how to set up a well-organized chart of accounts. This is why creating a budget for monthly spending and setting goals for debt reduction from the very beginning is so important.

A coach will help with goal setting based on the individual practice’s financial needs. Discovering the profitability point of the practice and knowing the income needs of the dentist brings clarity to what exactly needs to be produced and collected every month.  If a young dentist is willing to be coached, and implement the expertise provided, they will reach their financial goals much more quickly than if they were doing everything on their own. Doing it right from the beginning gives them a jumpstart to creating a profitable business.

Teeth Are Attached to People

One of the most important skills a dentist can learn early on is relational communication. When dentists are good at connecting with patients, they are likely going to keep that patient for a lifetime. The harsh reality when attracting and retaining patients is it is based more on how the patient is treated rather than the doctors’ level of clinical skills. While skills are important, a patient doesn’t know how good the dentistry actually is.  If they have a comfortable experience and their teeth look good, then the patient is usually happy.

What makes a practice stand out to a patient is how carefully their needs were attended to, what type of experience they were given, and if the doctor spent time getting to know them. Giving them a genuine WOW experience goes a long way to winning their trust and business.

Yes, young dentists will work on the teeth. But remember, it’s the person those teeth are attached to who needs the relationship. And not just any relationship. A successful patient relationship must be at a level where they trust the dentist and are confident that the whole dental team is the right fit for them and their families.

Dentists should feel comfortable diagnosing what they see in a patient’s mouth. The trick is communicating what they see in a way that the patient can understand, and then developing and presenting a budget and pace that fits the patient’s needs. Coaching can drastically improve case acceptance when we look at these three factors:

  • Fully diagnosing care
  • Communicating in bite-size chunks so the patient can get on board
  • Fitting that diagnosis into a plan and budget that’s right for the patient

This is really where PDA Business Development Coaches shine; helping dentists with their communication and relationship skills. The sooner those skills are honed, the sooner doctors can start earning their patients’ trust. It’s about taking the time to do a thorough exam, getting to know the patient, and having an office team that supports the doctors vision, mission, and culture so they can meet the patients’ priorities.

Your Dream Team

Speaking of the team, this may be one of the biggest challenges for dentists in any level of their career. A team is made up of real people who have things going on in their lives.  They have their own goals and aspirations. Hiring people who are confident in what they do, and are willing to work above and beyond is critical.

Setting expectations for the team is the first step. Many doctors struggle with creating expectations, because they really don’t understand the steps involved in each job role, which means they don’t always have very clear job descriptions or team member manuals.

And more than that, they don’t have an incentive for the team. Money may be very tight because of just starting out. Incentives don’t always have to be financial, there are other options to make sure the team feels appreciated. PDA Business Coaches can help with creating incentives when bonuses and other perks are limited.  We also assist doctors in knowing how to say thank you in a way that doesn’t always pull from their wallets.

Coaches can help young doctors learn how to efficiently take time to get to know their team. For example, don’t shy away from giving positive as well as constructive feedback.  Every team member should have a growth conference twice yearly with the emphasis on helping the employee set goals and grow.  Acknowledge their accomplishments and encourage feedback about how to make the practice even better.  This will mean taking time to work on the practice not just in it.  Schedule team meetings to discuss what is working well in the practice and what might need to change.

Also, coaches can help new doctors learn how to communicate with their team every day through morning huddles.  This helps the team plan for excellent patient care every single day. The more often a team is able to communicate directly with their doctor, both as a group and individually, the more that team will strengthen their commitment to the practice. Meetings are critical to keeping the team on track and invested. Coaching can help ensure these meetings are planned, productive, and useful.


Hire (and Train) Right the First Time

A doctor’s goal is to hire well the first time, so they don’t have to retrain again and again. One of the pitfalls common for new dentists is not setting their team up for success by clarifying what they want from these three key roles: assistant, administrative, and hygienist.

The Assistant
In my experience, doctors are decent at knowing what they want from an assistant since they work in close proximity all day. While it’s usually helpful when you’re starting off to have an assistant with some experience, clarifying expectations for an assistant is usually fairly easy for new doctors. The most important thing new doctors need to do with assistants is taking the time to train them to what the doctor’s expectations are.

The Administrator
Many doctors don’t know much about how to process insurance or how the phone should be answered at a dental office.  The doctor is trusting a person in this position to do their job well, since they usually look at reports monthly (or daily) to see what’s being scheduled and what’s being collected.  What most young dentists don’t know is that this position can make or break a practice. If expectations aren’t clear and data is not tracked, things can slide rapidly. Having a coaching partner to help train and educate administrative positions is huge, as well as reviewing key performance indicators for this position.

The Hygienist
As a hygienist myself and with my years of experience working with practices, hygienists typically come out of school well trained to be successful at their jobs. However, a new doctor needs to clarify what their expectations are for how hygienists should present treatment options to patients.

A hygienist and an assistant can be a great asset in pre-diagnosing and presenting cases to patients. And that’s where a coach can assist in training hygienists and assistants about talking to patients, what to say, and how to present cases (to patients and to the doctor) in a way that sets the dentist up for success.

Do It Right in the Beginning

As stated at the start of this article, if there is one thing I could really drive home to new doctors it’s to do it right in the beginning. Limit mistakes and hard knocks. Investing in good advice at the start of your career may keep you from saying at year 10-15, “gosh, I wish I had known these things when I first got out of school.” Invest from the start to accelerate your results and reap the rewards of your potential much sooner.

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