It’s big-picture time, boys and girls. As a new doctor preparing to graduate from dental school or who has recently graduated, you’re preparing yourself to champion the oral health of the world head on. This is a very exciting time for you! But there are things you didn’t learn in dental school that you need to know now. I’m writing this column to let you know you are going to have to face some harsh realities about the dental profession soon and you are going to have to make some big decisions before you get going.
I’ll start off with some good news and some bad news. The bad news is most of you are coming out of dental school around 25-years-old and swimming in more than $300,000 of student-loan debt. Economically speaking, it’s not necessarily the ideal time to get started as a dentist. The good news is all of the immediate stress you’re facing like major debt and where to start will merely be a bump in the road if you’re smart, driven, passionate, skillful, humble and dedicated to continuing education. You are starting on a career path that can keep you going until you’re 75 (or older), and that’s awesome!.
As of now, you’ve spent your entire post-grad career focusing so hard on doing dentistry just to earn your degree to become a DMD or DDS, that you haven’t had the time or even the opportunity to glance at the big picture of dentistry. Why they don’t teach you about macroeconomics in dental school is beyond me, because it’s extremely important and it affects your level of success as a dentist. It’s so important that I want to talk to you about macroeconomics right here; consider this your first continuing education course (sorry, there’s no test to earn credit at the end).
My message isn’t meant to scare you, it’s meant to prepare you. One of the reasons I love macroeconomics is it’s very simple, and once you start comprehending it, the results you get will pay off in a big way. There are only three variables in macroeconomics: people, technology and capital. That’s it. Easy enough, right, Doc? Let’s take a look how each applies to you.
Everyone needs to have a mentor at every stage in his or her life. When you were five years old, you might have been a mentor to your three-year-old little brother or sister. You were the one warning them not to do certain things or they would get in trouble. Now is the time in your life when you need a mentor. Did you think now that you’ve graduated you know everything you need to know about dentistry? I hope not, because it’s not true. I’ve been practicing for 25 years and I still don’t know all there is to know about dentistry. It’s why we call it a dental practice – nobody’s perfected it and nobody ever will. Right now you know just enough dentistry to be dangerous. It’s your job to keep improving your skills and acquiring new ones, as well as learning the business and practice-management aspects of dentistry. Your best bet to becoming the greatest dentist in your town is to latch onto mentors who have practiced dentistry for decades.
I personally know around 100 dentists who emerged from dental school in the last decade and almost instantly rocketed to success. Want to know how they did it? They simply asked for help. They were smart enough to realize that they didn’t know it all and they were humble enough to seek advice from veteran dentists who have been there and done that. I started Dentaltown in 1999 just to make it easier for dentists to network with new peers and form strong relationships. These few young doctors leveraged the collective wisdom of Dentaltown.com by starting and contributing to message board threads, picking the brains of seasoned dentists. And all these seasoned dentists really got into lending a hand and giving these young doctors the advice they wish they had gotten when they were just starting out!
The goal of Dentaltown has always been that through the use of this unique online community, no dentist would ever have to practice solo again. Dentaltown’s members (who call themselves “Townies”) want to help you, and they thrive off of your enthusiasm – it’s a win-win. Nobody on Dentaltown.com gets paid to tell you their advice – every Townie is a volunteer. The reason people actively participate on the Dentaltown.com message boards is because they are passionate about making the field of dentistry the best that it can be, and a big part of that is helping you become the best you can be.
You have to create meaningful professional relationships with your peers and mentors to become successful, period. On Dentaltown.com, you don’t just get one mentor who might be good in one area and bad in another; you get multiple mentors offering multiple points of view. Are you stressing out because you don’t know if you should join the Navy or take a job with a corporate dental chain? Get on Dentaltown.com and say, “Hey, I’m 24-years-old, I’m $300,000 in the hole, I’m stressing out, what should I do?” You will be shocked by the generous, heart-felt responses you will receive from our Townies and the lasting relationships that will form.
It’s likely you learned next to nothing about CAD/CAM, dental implants, sleep dentistry or orthodontics in dental school. This is why jumping right into continued education is crucial. And it will continue to be crucial throughout your entire career as a dentist, because technology just isn’t going to stop improving. And as technology keeps improving – allowing all of us to practice dentistry easier, faster, higher in quality and lower in cost – if you want to be successful, you need to expand your knowledge of it.
When you learn about new technologies and apply them to your practice, you have more services to sell. Distribution models of the last 200 years in the United States show that it’s extremely hard to open up a store and sell one thing. It’s why Walmart is so successful; you can buy bread in one aisle, chlorine for your pool in the next aisle, and a pair of jeans in the next. You can’t succeed if you’re a store that only sells bread, which forces your customer to go to a butcher to buy meat, and then to a linen store to buy fabric. If you pack all those things into one store – like Walmart has – you’re going to get just about all the customers. If one dentist can only offer cleaning exams, X-rays, fillings and crowns, but the guy down the street can do all that and root canals, extractions, implants, ortho and sleep dentistry, who do you think is going to see more patients? If you can do more procedures on fewer patients, you’re going to pay off your student loans in half the time it takes the other guy. It’s basic economics! So go learn endo! Go learn how to place implants! Learn clear aligner treatment!
Where should you start? Well forgive me for being a little biased, but Dentaltown.com has 130 online CE courses, each one an hour long. I implore you to get online and start taking them; not because you need the credits to maintain your dental license, but because they will all improve how you practice dentistry. I personally have taken all of them, and they’re outstanding!
And when you’re done taking all of Dentaltown.com’s CE courses, you need to venture out of your town and go to dental seminars and dental conventions like the Townie Meeting (www.towniemeeting.com) to learn even more. One of the best things about getting out of your routine, getting out of town for a few days and learning new techniques and ideas, is actually a by-product of what you initially intend to do: networking! In dental school, you ran with the same 50 to 125 people for four years. Now you’ve flown the nest and you’re practicing on your own in your own corner of the world. You’ve got to go meet with your peers. You can’t do this alone. Aside from the knowledge you will absorb at these educational opportunities, the greatest benefit of CE is expanding your social and professional circle – it’s feeling the passion and energy that radiates from a community of like-minded individuals. I’ve made some of the closest friends at dental meetings – all people who are as passionate about dentistry as I am and who are facing the same issues I faced in my practice all day, every day. I highly suggest you register on Dentaltown.com, get on the message boards, ask questions, take our online CE courses and then get yourself to the Townie Meeting in Las Vegas every year so you can meet with your online peers in person!
You have near $300,000 in student loans and you live in one of the 20 richest countries in the world – if you’re the majority, you probably don’t have access to capital. Banks are currently eating huge losses around the world, and the Federal Reserve is telling these banks they need to have more capital. Their debt-to-loan loss ratios are too high. They can’t offer what they’d consider high-risk loans anymore. So you need to research. There are hundreds of towns in America that have fewer than 100,000 people – some only have 5,000 people, and that’s where the cost of buying a practice is about half of what you’d have to spend in an over-saturated big city. You need to look at areas around the country that are completely underserved and you need to consider setting up shop in those areas. A bank in a town with no dentist is going to give you the loan you need and they’ll do it with a big old grin on their faces.
You might be sitting there weighing your options, wondering whether or not you should join the Navy so you can sit on an aircraft carrier six months out of the year to do dentistry in the middle of the ocean. But if that’s not really your cup of tea, why wouldn’t you look into moving to a county in Kansas that doesn’t have a dentist? Do you realize that if you were to visit these towns and met with the mayor, he’d walk you downtown to Main St. and show you three or four buildings that haven’t had anyone in them for the last 10 years and say, “Pick a building and it’s yours.” Then he’d walk you over to the bank and say to the banker, “We need a dentist in town,” and then they’d give you a signature loan. That could seriously happen! Forget about opening up a practice in Manhattan that overlooks Central Park – you and about 5,000 other dentists your age have the same idea. When I got out of dental school, I did my research. I looked at the last 20 years of history, and I looked at the economic and social projections. I chose an area that was flourishing economically, that had virtually no competition nearby and a ton of potential customers. I pinpointed where new developments were happening and I set up shop in an area that had 25,000 people living in it. And in 20 years it boomed to 75,000 people. This is all information you can obtain from local, state and federal government agencies. You need to be smart about this.
You live in the richest country in the world, and it’s near impossible to not earn a really decent living as a dentist. Right now you have nothing but options. You can be a success in dentistry, but you have to get out of your routine, muster up a little courage and go for it. I know you can do it, and so do you. I can’t wait to talk to all of you on Dentaltown.com.