By Eric S. Studley, DDS, and Ivy D. Peltz, DDS, MSEd, PhD, MAGD
A colleague of ours was undergoing a complicated full-mouth reconstruction. His dentist seemed to be figuring out treatment as it progressed. Our colleague began losing confidence quickly as he continued losing teeth. He became increasingly anxious about his upcoming visits and dreaded having to face whatever might happen next. Switching to a new dentist, he was presented with a comprehensive treatment plan. He knew what to expect each visit. From that moment on, his anxiety disappeared.
More than ever, dentists are plagued with financial concerns. We are dealing with inflation, staff shortages and a disappointing post-pandemic rebound. Obviously, these concerns are anxiety-provoking. But, even in the best of times, many dentists suffer from anxiety about finances.
As caregivers, we know that following a treatment plan increases the likelihood of serenity, security and success. Nonetheless, many dentists do not see the value of a business plan. That’s not surprising, since most dentists have no formal business training. For some, practice management courses were offered as part of their predoctoral curricula. However, the stressors of dental school, such as completing requirements and passing licensing exams, often precluded attending those courses. Without guidance, many dentists wind up following a career path rather than directing one.
Now that venture capitalists have entered our orbit, business plans are gaining in popularity in the dental profession. If you are purchasing a practice, the bank will require a business plan to qualify you and your practice as financially sound. But business plans are essential for all practitioners — not only for practice owners with potential investors. Simply put, a business plan can help you successfully direct your career. Furthermore, we propose that, just as a treatment plan can alleviate anxiety in receiving (and delivering) dental treatment, a business plan can contribute to an enriched sense of wellness as well as be adapted to actualize one.
The exercise of creating a plan is useful in and of itself. The creation of a plan helps to organize your thoughts and your actions. Depending on how specific you get, a plan can provide you with a step-by-step manual to success — in both a business and a wellness sense. To create any plan, you need to spend some time thinking about a few things.
1. Who are you?
When we meet a new patient, the first step of the treatment plan is to try to get a sense of who they are. It would be presumptuous, if not negligent, to create a treatment plan without understanding your patient’s chief concern, taking necessary radiographs, etc. To create any good plan, you need to establish a baseline.
For your business plan, your baseline emerges with a description of your business. In the case of a general dental practice, what is the organizational structure? How many staff members are on board? How old is the practice? Who are the patients? What distinguishes you from the other dentists in your area?
Similarly, for your wellness plan, you need to begin with an honest self-assessment of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. You need to figure out how well you’re doing before you can figure out what needs to change.
2. What are your goals?
Evidence-based decision-making is key to effective patient care, and one of the three cornerstones of evidence-based decision-making is predicated on patient needs and desires. As with the chief concern, without understanding your patient’s goals, you do not have the information necessary to complete a successful treatment plan. Your business plan would also be deficient if it did not address your future business goals.
Your goals can be specific or general. You may be focused on patient satisfaction, a financially profitable practice or a certain retirement age. Perhaps your goal is doing exceptional dentistry. Or maybe your business goal is to seat patients quickly and get your staff out on time. The goals are yours, so they depend on your priorities and preferences.
Your wellness plan is also dependent on your personal goals. Having performed an honest self-assessment of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, you may have identified areas of strength and areas of weakness. Now you need to determine what you’d like to do about them.
3. How do you achieve your goals?
In dentistry, our goal for our patients is to restore them to health. To do this, we construct a comprehensive treatment plan, designed to guide us systematically and precisely from initiation to completion of treatment. Deviations from the plan along the way are anticipated, but, when treatment has been planned with careful consideration, successful alternatives abound.
For this portion of the business plan, consider your future financial needs, and figure out how you can provide for those needs. Remember to factor in a financial cushion — in our recent experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to rely on our savings for some time. Those who were financially prepared suffered less from anxiety than those who were not. Most financial security professionals recommend setting aside enough available liquid cash to support your business and your personal financial responsibilities for at least three months. If practice growth is one of your goals, your business plan should also include growth and marketing strategies.
For your wellness plan, this is the time to consider your work/life balance. Your financial goals may be competing with your wellness goals for your attention. Remember that if your body, mind and spirit are not sound, the likelihood that you will meet your financial goals is diminished.
Now it’s time to do something. If your planning has been thorough, the implementation should be simple. In patient care, we follow our plan, procedure by procedure, until the treatment is completed. Of course, modifications may be required along the way, but that’s when you get to utilize your problem-solving skills and your creativity.
To implement your business plan, you need to develop action plans and assign leads to take ownership of them. Make sure that you have allocated appropriate resources, both financially and staff-wise, to realize your goals. Create benchmarks and a reporting system.
To implement a wellness plan, you may find it necessary to formalize portions of your plan. If you can’t motivate yourself to practice yoga but would like to be motivated, consider signing up for a yoga class. You may need to create or engage a support system to help you implement your wellness plan, since implementing such a plan is very much about building new habits.
Is your plan working? The only way to find out is to periodically measure the progress you’ve made from your baseline to meeting your goals.
Just as a dental treatment plan can alleviate anxiety for patients and dentists, so too can a business plan alleviate anxiety about your career, and a wellness plan can alleviate anxiety about how to live your best life while directing your career. We believe you can have it all — with a little planning.
Please note: For the purposes of creating your actual business plan, we recommend that you contact your financial security professional.
Eric S. Studley, DDS, is the president and CEO of Eric S. Studley & Associates, an insurance brokerage company specializing in the insurance and financial needs of dentists. Ivy D. Peltz, DDS, MSEd, PhD, MAGD, is retired from private practice in New York City. They are both retired from academic positions at the New York University College of Dentistry. Together, they co-founded Doccupations, the dental career services component of Eric S. Studley & Associates. To comment on this article, email email@example.com.