All the Hats We Wear

  • by Amrita Rohit Patel, DDS, FPFA, FICD
  • Mar 27, 2023
3-27-23_Leadership_BOur profession requires so much of us. As I began my journey in dentistry, I thought I would be able to skirt the responsibilities associated with being a leader because I was surrounded by an experienced team. I watched seasoned dentists and community leaders as they led by example and kept their wits about them — something I never thought I would be able to do. However, we must assume the role of leaders in our offices. No matter if you are a brand-new associate, an owner or a seasoned practitioner, leadership is an integral part of your day. How does this happen? And where do we learn to lead? 

For me, leading often seems like the old adage of “wearing many hats.” Each hat is a different aspect of leadership, and we have to constantly change hats throughout the day. It can be overwhelming. 

I recently spoke at a student leadership retreat where dental students from my region gathered to share ideas, collaborate and participate in discussions about wellness, team building and, of course, effective leadership. I learned that not much has changed in the decade since I graduated dental school. Most of these valuable professional (and life) skills are not taught during those four years. (To be fair, there is already a large amount of didactic and clinical training packed into that time.) So, it often falls on you to find opportunities where you can acquire some of this wisdom. 

The Practice Leader Hat 

One of the best ways to gain leadership knowledge is by attending leadership education courses. I recently completed a leadership training institute that brought together dentists from all over the country who were at different points in their leadership and career journeys. The first and most important lesson I learned is that leaders have a goal, but they must empower others to work toward this goal if they are to effectively reach it. Part of empowerment is educating your team about why a goal is important. 

In my weekly meetings, we share successful activities from the prior week. However, we also troubleshoot problems, and we plan to make the next week as productive as possible. We have systems in place for our entire workflow, but something that we realized was missing were answers to the “why” questions. Why do we schedule the way we do? Why do we confirm when we do? Why do we bring doctors in to directly address patient concerns instead of turfing them off to an administrative assistant or treatment plan coordinator? I knew what the purpose was, but, as it turns out, my team did not. Many of the systems I thought would be successful were going nowhere fast. This led to frustration on my end and sometimes an inefficient and unproductive day. Spending the time to empower my team to work toward our goals — and tell them why we were doing what we were doing — is what turned frustration into productivity and negative stressors into positivity. 

Other Hats 

As healthcare providers, we naturally gravitate toward serving others in any way we can. Therefore, aside from the practice leadership hat, we also wear the mentorship hat for the next generation of dentists. The value of mentorship can never be emphasized enough; paying my blessings forward to dental students is what brings me the most joy. While mentorship is often full of uplifting acknowledgements, it also comes with constructive criticisms. Here is where the opportunity for growth lies. It is up to us to impart the importance of learning from failures and missteps on newer graduates. This is a lesson that I personally have discovered from my time as not only a practice owner, but also a business leader. The business leadership hat is one that requires us to be responsive and communicative and analyze data before making definitive conclusions. It is through these analytical skills that we grow our business and expand our horizons. 

The common thread among all the hats we wear is that success comes with foresight and planning. Being prepared and well organized is beneficial not only for ourselves, but also for our teams, staff, mentees, family members and communities. 

Aside from continuing education, how do we become better leaders? For me, the answer was introspection. After wearing all these hats continuously, one of the hardest, but most rewarding, tasks I did was take them all off. This allowed me to better orient myself and view my weaknesses. I had not realized how much I was taking upon myself. 

Time management was not my forte in the earlier part of my career, but I now know that, in order to lead the way I want to, I must be able to give myself equally to all areas of my life — including time for myself. Whether taking time for personal enrichment, continuing education or simply socializing and unwinding with friends, I realized that the key to successfully switching between the many hats we dentists wear was to take some time and not wear one for a bit. 

I hope you take some time, examine all the hats in your closet and find a balance that works optimally for you. 

Amrita Rohit Patel, DDS, FPFA, FICD, is in private practice with her father, endodontist Rohit Z. Patel, DDS, PC, in Westchester County, New York. To comment on this article, email