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November 4th, 2020

Episode 106 – A Dentist Worth Following with Dr. Tessa Miller

“She already sounds like a leader I would want to follow,” says co-host Dr. Chad Johnson of today’s special guest Dr. Tessa Miller. Dr. Miller hit the ground running by immediately purchasing her practice after dental school, with a six-month mentorship from the dentist she purchased the practice from. Today, Dr. Miller joins Regan and Chad for a refreshing conversation about the methods she employs to be – in Chad’s words – a true example that “excellent leadership isn’t age dependent”:

  • The joy of caring for your team and culture
  • How mentoring and coaching help dentists be their best
  • Ensuring a practice reflects the dentist while meeting the patients where they are



Dr. Tessa Miller initially joined Bay Park Dental Group in 2011 as an UC San Diego undergraduate pre-dental student working as a dental assistant under the mentorship of Dr. Kevin Kenny. After completing her dental school training at UC San Francisco and general practice residency at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, she rejoined the Bay Park Dental team and became the proud owner in September 2017. Her husband, Dr. Ankur Gandhi, joined the team as a board certified pediatric dentist in 2018. Together, they plan on continuing growing their practice with a focus on family dental care.




TESSA: Thank you for having me. I’m excited. It’s my first podcast. I love listening to podcasts. So now I’m honored to be part of one.

CHAD:  What’s the last couple years been like for you? It’s kind of been a roller coaster, but it’s like a good roller coaster. Tell us about it.


TESSA: Yeah, so I finished my residency and 2017. And I bought this practice pretty much right away. Um, a little background, I used to work at this practice as a dental assistant in my gap year between undergrad and dental school. So, you know, you the doctor really well, like the owner, knew the associates knew the whole team. So it was really awesome being able to come back and, you know, start as an owner, but that’s not always easy, especially having, you know, no background and practice ownership and even like, I never associated or anything anywhere, either. But the owner was really great. Dr. Kenny, you know, as mentoring me, he stayed on for about six months. That’s good timing.


CHAD: Yeah. How long had he been in the community? I mean, how long was he a practicing dentist,


TESSA: Probably around close to 30 years. So he’s very well known in the dental community as a study club and very loved by his patients and colleagues and everything. So what have you learned the most in practice through CTE and mentorship that you weren’t expecting to learn or or anything along that line? But you know, like, I’m not talking dental school stuff. But after dental school stuff, what have you really developed and taken a liking to what I know one of the biggest challenges, but also biggest rewards is just managing a team and developing a good culture in the office.

TESSA: You know, we’d really love to have fun here. Like, for example, just last week, we did like Halloween baskets. So it’s kind of like a secret Santa, but we made little baskets for each other and nicknames. And so we just like to do fun stuff. Cool.


REGAN: Yeah, that’s a really good idea. I like that. So did you know like little candies did little Halloween themed things in there?


TESSA: Yeah, like, you know, just little trinkets, socks or decorations, candies. So that was really fun. I just love getting a team together and, you know, have us all be focused towards one common goal. Our common goal here is to always working towards that common goal.


CHAD: Well, Tessa, I have to say most people don’t say, you know, just managing a team is what I’ve learned the most and whatnot as their most favorite thing to do. So, it might not, I mean, you might have had a knack for it. But like, you know. Why did you gravitate towards that? What made that, you know, one of your forte’s.


TESSA: Um, I just think that when you have a great team, you know, you can do the best for your patients. Because, you know, it’s so much more goes on behind the scenes than just the doctor, I wouldn’t be able to, you know, run this practice without everybody here won’t be assistant, the front office, it takes so much effort every day just to make the day go smooth. And, you know, it really depends on everybody to make that happen.

CHAD: Do you personally have kind of a knack for reading people?

TESSA: Well, I think I would say that I do. I think I have pretty good emotional intelligence.


CHAD: Not all of us dentists do so that’s cool. I mean, it’s okay to have When when you find someone that actually is good at it naturally good job.


TESSA: The challenge for me is, you know, trying to be firm. Not, you know? Yeah, for sure. You know, I want to be I haven’t seen or desire to be liked. So it’s hard for me to be firm.

CHAD: And with you being a younger grad, I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re, I imagine like, somewhere around 30 ish or so. So I mean, you know, just to give people a perspective. And so that is tough being a boss, when you’re that young, when you kind of expect this quintessential boss on TV to be, you know, the old guy, or the, the older lady and stuff like that. And that’s like, No, I’m the one that’s telling you what to do. And this is awkward, because, you know, so yeah, that can be tough.


TESSA: Exactly. Many have been here longer than me or is older than me. So it’s something that I’m definitely learning in trying to develop those skills. Because one book that I really liked, that I read is the One Minute Manager. And, you know, just to, you know, acknowledge people when they do something that in the moment, but then also, like, acknowledge some of their mistakes made in the moment and just kind of, you know, adjusted, adjust how to correct it, and move on, versus letting things you know, build up over time.

CHAD: So you had that nice kind of six month transition of sorts with mentorship. So it sounds like you inherited some teams, some teams stayed on and, and did that. Have you had Have you experienced over during recently, the last like six months with COVID? Has it brought more team disruption? Or has it been pretty steady for you?


TESSA: Um, I feel there’s always, you know, team members can coming and going, they, you know, move on things happen in their lives. Yeah, that happens. You know, I mean, just, luckily, we were very thankful that everybody, you know, came back after COVID. I think a lot of people struggle with that getting their associates or, you know, assistance, all the team members to come back. But we just have one girl who actually left and just paying us for a long time for hygiene school. So we had to find a new assistant. And it took some time for sure. But we found somebody who’s great, who’s working out well, but it definitely, it was harder and finding a new team member now than it was in the past. You know, we used to put an ad on indeed, and get like, you know, 20 applicants in the first day, and now it’s like one line here and there, they wouldn’t show up for their interviews and call us back. Something that is shared across the board heard that so many times, no matter the state. Also, it doesn’t seem to matter what state there’s been a real hiring challenge lately.


CHAD: Well, I imagine it especially in San Diego, that could be you know, or like any bigger town and stuff like that, that can be challenging. Being in a small town would have its own challenges. Because if there’s only three people that could even work in health care all together, you know, if you’re in a town of 300 or something, then that could be its own challenge. But you know, San Diego, you’re you’re working against every other employer, not just dental employers, does that seem kind of right?


TESSA: Yeah. And even just amongst dental, you know, there’s, I don’t know how many dental offices within, you know, two, three miles of where I’m at. So, you know, good employees, they have their options in their pickup, you know, where to work?

CHAD: So do you already have, you know, being a couple years in? Do you already have an associate?


TESSA: Yeah, there’s two part time associates who are general practice, doctors, and they each work once a week. And then we also have a periodontist who comes in twice a month. And then my husband is here on Fridays with the kids.


REGAN: Wow, your story is inspirational. Tessa, as I think I said, before we started recording today, because you inspire me because you went into this, you know, getting into the own practice. Like to me, I’ve spoken with so many doctors at this point over the last 10 years. You being at such a physical young age are so far, from my perspective so far ahead of the game already. Whereas a lot of doctors I talked to that are in their mid 40s say, Gosh, I wish I had discovered some of these techniques. You know, 15 years ago or 20 years ago? Was there a when you went into ownership? Was there like a plan that you laid out for yourself? Or was it kind of like fly by the seat of the pants? How did you set your goals up? And and can you share with people like what you your little secret?


CHAD: Please tell us there was a plan.


TESSA: My plan was that I was going to be mentored by the doctor who was here before. So, you know, I felt like it was a great opportunity, like, you know, for me to buy this practice because I had been here and you know, it wasn’t like I was buying it from somebody that I didn’t know. So The fact that, you know, I knew that he was going to be there and mentor me throughout it, I felt like I didn’t want to lose that opportunity and also helped me feel a lot more comfortable with the fact that I was just diving right in headfirst without, you know, much experience.

But I think something that really helped me was also getting a coach, I would, you know, I would take the subway and every day on the subway, I would listen to dental podcasts and just try to learn and absorb as much as I could, you know, because I knew I was going to be buying this practice, once I was done with residency.

And something that had repeatedly come up with, you know, get yourself a coach, you know, all the best you think about athletes, or, you know, people who are very high up, they all have a coach somebody to guide them. So if you really want to be the best you can be and reach your highest potential. You know, it definitely helps having a coach to help guide you.


CHAD: Tell me you got the coach and kind of thing, but why do you think some people are hesitant to getting a coach?


TESSA: It’s an investment for sure. Um, I think that’s part of it. But the return that you get on that investment, it’s so well worth it. Maybe they’re worried that, you know, what are they going to, you know, tell me that I can’t learn on my own or, you know, there are so many so many resources out there. But I mean, having somebody personally who works one on one with you a couple times a week is so valuable.

REGAN: How did you how did you go through the interview process with coaches? Did you interview lots of different, you know, coaching companies consulting companies?


CHAD: That is a good question. That’s a good question.


TESSA: So I started out there was a consultant here when I started, so I started with her for a while, but I just kind of felt like I outgrew that and wanted something bigger. So I was looking to different consulting companies, I went to a ce course that was put on by one consulting company. And I know I kind of started letting them out a little bit. But it just didn’t seem like quite the right fit. And then a colleague did introduce me to PDA. And so I talked to some doctors who, you know, were with PDA to see what their experience was like.

And I just thought an overall like good vibe from PDA, I could tell that, you know, it was my big good people who really, you know, cared about helping you and want to see you succeed. So I went with that. And it’s been great. I definitely think that it’s all about balance. I feel like I do work a little more than my friends who are still associates, because they can go to work and come home and not have to worry about you know, their practice. So, but once I go home, I, you know, pretty much stopped working. So I’ll maybe stay for an hour after work or come in a little early to get things done. But then, you know, on the weekends, you know, that’s my time.


CHAD: Yeah, well, because there should be a reward to it. I mean, you know, we’re all martyr owners and stuff like that, but at the same time, it’s like, you should have a little reward from it.


TESSA: Exactly. And if I want a day off, I say, you know, I just can’t block out the schedule or not.


CHAD: That’s nice having that freedom to be able to do that.


TESSA: But no, it’s definitely nice to be able to have that freedom to do that.


REGAN: What type of procedures Do you love to do?


TESSA: Um, my favorite procedures are in the cosmetic procedures, or even just things that are really simple, like just a little bit of bonding on a patient’s chip to you know, it’s something that can be done right then and there. But the, you know, immediate gratification is so exciting.

REGAN: I love that you say simple because I was pregnant with my first child my daughter I had was drinking I think it was an Izzy something and it was a glass bottle like juice and juice. And I put it up and I cracked like the whole tooth and I remember thinking I’m pregnant like can they even help me and am I gonna be and I was only like my second trimester and I thought this is gonna be such a show. And I went in and you can’t I can’t even I can’t really remember even which tooth which crunchy they think it was this one but that’s how good of a job the doctors do.


CHAD: I’ve never noticed after all these years.


REGAN: And my mom was a dental assistant for her career Tessa and and she I remember her complimenting him and saying that’s why he’s been my he was my doctor since I was like eight years old. So she said that’s why I chose him. He was he’s such a gifted clinician. Oh, Simple to you maybe changing for patients.


TESSA: Exactly. And that’s like, so rewarding is you get somebody who comes in, oh my god, now, like, what am I going to do? And then, you know, usually doesn’t take too long and you know, their life is changed right then and there. So, I love that.


CHAD: You know, Reagan what I like about bringing doctors on like, Dr. Harris, is that she’s not trying to sell anything, you know, and and we’re not that’s true, right? Well, you know, like some people and it’s okay, because sometimes, you know, you have people that are selling an idea or a book or a product and stuff like that. And it’s not just our podcast, but you know, they want to get their their word out. And that’s, that’s fine. You know, like, I want to be able to kind of pick and choose those podcasts, you get what I’m saying, Dr. Tesla, right. But what’s cool is you just came on out of the goodness of your heart to kind of share with listeners, you know, like, where you’ve been, and stuff like that. So, kudos to you. Number one, I guess I was just kind of curious with your office, you know, where where does it stop? Or, you know, and in a good way, just because it sounds like you have plans to expand into different specialties in the office. So what obstacles are you overcoming? Or, you know, what are your goals to accomplish that?


TESSA: So, my husband, and I recently purchased the building that we’re in. So a little bit of background on our building. So my office is upstairs, it has five ops. And then downstairs right now. There’s an endodontist, who’s there. So eventually what we would like to do is, you know, once the end honesty’s nearing towards retirement age, is for my husband to take over and build his practice downstairs as pediatrics and then you know, as to be able to work together, you know, seeing entire families and we have a periodontist, but it’d be awesome if we could bring in like a, you know, an endodontist, oral surgeon, an orthodontist and kind of just keep everything in house, I found that patients they liked in house and not have to you know, God also just like collaborate with a team of specialists in order to get the best clinical results for our patients as well.


CHAD: That’s right, good for you for comprehensive care all in one roof.


TESSA: Exactly. Some obstacles I think we’re gonna have is just the size of the building we’re gonna have to make good use of our space in the downstairs office is the same size as my office and some days even if it’s you know, just me and or one other associate we’re already scrambling for rooms for patients.


REGAN: So just then someone calls and says they chip their front teeth in their in their in their second trimester. Right?


TESSA: Exactly like are we gonna have to put them in we need to get them in now.


REGAN: Then you’ve been Have you updated the office as well over the past couple of years?


CHAD: A little bit um, COVID was a perfect time to do some updating because I the doctor before me, he had each room a different theme so there was like the movie room and so there are these like, posters like dirty dancing and like pictures of movie stars and then one room was like the music room and there’s like records on the wall like beetles and monkeys and so I was like, Okay, I think it’s time everyone always asked me and there’s like wallpaper they’re like when are you gonna you know change out the rooms so we painted I hung up some plans and–


CHAD: True Beatles fans if you would have said I’m gonna do it the one after 909 they would have been like oh to Shea oh snap. Someone will get that that’s listening to that sorry.


TESSA: Yeah, so now you know I would like to get newer equipments I did like a digital like a terrorist scanner about a year ago.


REGAN: Nice. I have to give you a little authentic marketing shout out so we do we do an eight week program online called Business Impact: Foundations program. And there’s a whole week dedicated to authentic marketing and, and and really the definition of it is exactly that. Are you showcasing yourself and who you are, through your practice and through your marketing efforts. And so it’d be very interesting to go into a practice and say, Well, maybe Dirty Dancing isn’t my thing.

TESSA: Exactly.


REGAN: Right, right. Right. So to pull yourself out for it and what’s fun is if I go to your website, I just pulled up your website really quickly. I mean, you can see your practice you I can I can see Dr. Encore I can see, you know your team and it’s very friendly and it’s also you know, combined with that Great physical locality to like, I can see San Diego I can see, you know all the pieces. So I’m feeling that virtual experience right right in front of me. So even if you’re in transition, even if it’s not, you know, straight scratch start, you know, you can still be super authentic and update doesn’t have to be all at once, I think is what I hear you say?


TESSA: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, we have patients who’ve been here for so many so many years. And so they didn’t want to just come in and be like, yeah, I’m everything is changed. It’s all different now. But I think just kind of that slow transition, you know, to patients, they get comfortable, they see things that are familiar, and now they’re kind of seeing things grow or go in a different direction.


CHAD: Is that orange wall, like outside your practice to that’s the picture on the website, you know, with the team and because what’s cool is I like Reagan that you’ll get where I’m going with this, that the you know that when they come to the practice, they have already seen that orange.


TESSA: Yep, that’s our yellow building on the corner. So yep,


CHAD: I love it.


REGAN: Gosh, and kudos to you, Tessa. I, we’ve worked with doctors, I’ve met doctors that have come in and they’ve taken over practice and, and there is I think, that strong desire and urge to put the stamp on it and make it your own, like right away and just kind of erase everything that was before. And so for you to honor for a Well, probably multiple reasons, I’m sure financials one, but there’s also the pride element of it. And for you to really deeply listen to the patients and care about their feelings and say, okay, we don’t want it to be a stark contrast. We know we have goals, but we can paste those goals out and help them feel like they’re coming along with us for the journey. That I think that says something very special.


TESSA: Thank you.


CHAD: Yeah. Reagan. She’s just sweet. And I like to test your your energy is refreshing. I just, it already sounds like you’re a leader that I’d want to follow. So I’m impressed.


TESSA: Thank you so much. I mean, so much coming from you guys. You guys.


CHAD: Well, yeah, I mean, and what I think the take home for this would be to that leadership isn’t age dependent. You know, you can have a 15 year old, that’s a good leader, you can have an 85 year old, that’s a good leader. And it’s not just waiting until you’re old and you have a ton of baggage and bad experiences. But making making the most of you know who you are right now. And you’re a testament to that. It’s It’s impressive. I like it.


TESSA: I kind of worried about coming in, like, Am I going to be a good leader, like, you know, I’m a little bit more quiet or reserved or shy, but like, you know, when you think of a leader, I think a lot of people think of like, you know, that really strong, like powerful, like maybe more military like type of leadership. But, you know, I learned that there are other types of leadership and it’s okay, that’s not who you are, you can still lead by being who you are.

REGAN: Some people want to be led by that kind of person. But then again, there’s other people that you’re attracting that want to be led by your authenticity.


TESSA: Right. So all kind of comes back to getting your team together, finding people who believe in you.


CHAD: Good for you. Well, thanks for joining us on our podcast today.


TESSA: Thank you so much for having me.

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