Wait, They Didn’t Teach Me That

  • by Clayton Sorrells
  • May 30, 2023
5-30-23_StudentIt is officially graduation month, and I will start my first — and hopefully last — dental job in one month. I learned a lot about filling teeth, prepping crowns and making dentures in dental school. However, I have learned little about hiring staff, payroll, insurance and purchasing a dental practice. This is no fault of my school — its job is to train me to be a good dentist, not necessarily a good businessperson. Even if you are going to work as an associate at a private or corporate practice, I believe it is essential that you have a basic understanding of these topics. 

I love getting people’s opinions. I do not want to hear something once or twice but at least three or four times before I make my final decision. I plan to purchase a dental practice right after graduation, and I have received many different opinions on this topic. Some say I should be an associate for one or two years, and some are thrilled and think I am making a great decision. 

I have never wavered in my decision to purchase a practice, and it has made me work harder to prove wrong those who think it is not a good idea. I have been reading, studying and researching more than ever before. While I should focus more on how to do a complex molar root canal, I have decided to take a deep dive into the business of dentistry. I am seeking multiple opinions on billing insurance companies, which payroll system to use and how to have a great work environment. 

My first stop when researching, while a little unconventional, is always Facebook. I will sift through dental Facebook groups and find the topic I want to learn more about. For example, I have been deciding which practice management software to use. I’ve seen what people in various dental groups recommend or don’t recommend. I did not base my decision solely on this, but it narrowed my search down, and I contacted several companies afterward. If you need help determining where to begin, visiting these groups or listening to podcasts is an excellent place to start. 

My second stop was contacting representatives at the companies. Many companies will offer a free 30-minute consultation, which I have taken advantage of lately. I love talking to people who are experts in their fields, and this could be anything from a digital dentistry company representative to a marketing expert. I participated in a free 30-minute consultation with a dental marketing expert two weeks ago. I learned more about marketing in that short time than I could have ever imagined, and it cost me nothing but my time. 

Something I have taken for granted until these last few months is the number of free resources we have in dental school. Many of the continuing education (CE) courses offered by our state AGD chapter are free for students. I was able to attend a completely free seven-hour endodontic CE event this week that the Louisiana AGD sponsored. In addition to the free CE, I was able to network and gain knowledge about making root canals more profitable in my practice. If you cannot tell by now, I love free things, and it takes a lot for me to turn down something with no associated cost. 

Organized dentistry provides many benefits to dental students. I stayed up until 2 a.m. watching a lecture on Medicare Advantage plans, and now I am fluent in a topic I once knew nothing about. This was all thanks to a complimentary lecture on the American Dental Association website. The Arkansas State Dental Association meeting in March, which I attended for free, included many courses on purchasing a new practice. I was able to have one-on-one conversations with people who were in my shoes just a few years ago. 

Some of the best advice I have ever received is to talk to people who are where you would like to be. I have made it my mission to speak with people who are where I want my practice to be in five to 10 years. These conversations have led me to understand various topics better and will undoubtedly make me a better dentist. 

I feel fortunate to be moving back to my hometown, where I can provide dental care to the people I grew up with. I owe it to them to be the best dentist and business owner I can be. By maximizing the resources available to me in dental school, talking with experts in various fields and always looking for just one more opinion, I am on my way to accomplishing that goal. 

Clayton Sorrells is the fourth-year AGD student representative at the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry. To comment on this article, email impact@agd.org.