As if practicing dentistry wasn’t enough work, many dentists make the decision to own a business. Whether you’re a dentist or a small business owner, this 2-part series can give you some insight on what it might look like and how to handle it. Part 1 deals mostly with the changes and challenges that come with being your own boss.
Dr. John Gammichia runs a dental practice in Florida, where he adds business owner to an already busy dentistry career. He regularly blogs on The Daily Grind, backed by the Academy of General Dentistry. You may also know him from reviewing the Mom’s Guide to Caring for Little Teeth. In the midst of all that, he graciously answered our questions about how he got into dentistry, what it’s like owning his own business, and how he approaches dental marketing.
Part 1: Owning a Business
(Stay tuned later this week for Part 2: Dental Marketing Strategy)
Tell us a little about your practice
16 years ago I joined my father’s practice (that is a whole other blog thread). I worked for him 2 days a week and tried to feed myself the other 3. At the 6-year mark (another blog thread….do I smell a series?) I bought 25% of the practice, and 2 years later I bought the other 25%. For 8 years now we have been 50/50 partners in a 2-dentist, 3-hygienist practice. But in the last 2-3 years or so, the balance of power has definitely swayed my way.
My father now only works 2-3 days a week, and I am the pretty much the heavy when it comes to decision making. Trust me, this is not all that it cracks up to be. But I relish it. There are days when I can sit in the office and I am so pleased with the way things are going and other days when I would just plain give it away.
We are a fee for service office that doesn’t take any PPOs or HMOs. We are very relational, meaning every new patient gets 90 minutes with me so we can get to know each other. I sit them down in a room and talk to them. They are usually just so shocked to have a doctor actually talk to them and care for them.
We are an office that is, if nothing else, fun. Patients don’t care how much you know. They don’t know if composite shrinks .2% or that the bond strength of your bonding agent is 45mPA. They know how they feel when they leave. If you have them spitting all over because they were laughing during a procedure and they relatively like it at this office, my job is done. I care about all that other stuff.
What is it like to be the dentist but also the general manager and business strategist?
It is tough. I heard recently, “I love doing dentistry, but I hate being a dentist.” That statement speaks volumes. Why do you think Heartland [a corporate dental company] is buying up practices like crazy? Running a practice is the hardest part about being a dentist. If it is not the patient care, it is the staff. You are worried about money all the time. Paying rent. Marketing….in a way that looks good to your practice. Social media.
I don’t think it has ever been harder. When my dad got out of school, he put out a shingle and people started coming in. Now you put up a shingle and you would starve. There is a dentist on every street corner. There are 6 dentists within 2 miles of me. We all know they don’t teach you this in school. It would be nice, but there just isn’t enough time. I want a DMD MBA degree.
Most of the time you learn on the fly. I am not a numbers guy. For the first 5 years of the practice I didn’t know how much I produced. I wanted to treat people right and didn’t care what the numbers were. I cared about getting better at my trade. I dug deep into CE [continuing education] and literature. The benefit to being an associate – I was making a paycheck and my dad wasn’t kicking me out. Everyone was happy.
But as I matured, my dad started giving up the managerial reins, and I saw that knowing these things was crucial to running a practice. I learned what overhead really meant. I now dig deep in most of our line items. So now it is trying to be great at teeth, be a great boss, an IT guy, plumber, electrician, a marketing specialist, and visionary. But other than that it really isn’t that hard of a job.
Subscribe to the 1Dental blog or check back later in the week for Part 2: Dental Marketing Strategy.