Management + Leadership

A guide to navigating the transition from dental school to dental practice

As you make your way through dental school, you’ve probably thought about what to do after graduation. While it’s an exciting time in your life, new graduates are faced with many different options upon finishing dental school.

The downturn in the economy has undoubtedly affected the dental market. However, buying an existing dental practice is a practical option for graduates making the transition from dental school. With many of the “baby-boomer” dentists looking to retire, there are increasing amounts of great dental practices available for new dentists to acquire.

As a new dentist, it can be difficult to navigate through your next steps. To make the process less stressful, I’ve created a guide based on my own experience with this Phoenix area dental practice to help make your transition as seamless as possible.

The transition

When a new dentist purchases a dental practice, an important transition must occur. If handled correctly, 90% or more of the existing patient base can be retained. If handled poorly, you could lose a significant amount of patients.

Matthew Parker - AZ Family Dental, Glendale
Dr. Matthew Parker, Owner – AZ Family Dental

First, send a letter to all existing patients informing them that the practice has been sold and the new dentist is starting. Be sure to outline if the old dentist will continue working and what other dental staff members are retained. Most patients do not like a lot of change — if possible, try to retain all existing staff members for the first year.

It’s also important to work with the selling doctor. In many cases, selling doctors like to stay on as an associate to help the transition go smoothly. Other times, selling doctors hand over the keys and head to the beach. If the selling doctor is interested in working as an associate, make sure a proper associate agreement is created that clearly outlines duties and expectations.

Lastly, you should consider reputation. The selling doctor must always speak highly of you, because if patients hear that the selling doctor doesn’t approve of the new owner, they’re likely to choose another dental practice. Make sure you have extensive conversations with the selling doctor, so all parties are on the same page.

The pace of private practice

Even though dental school has prepared you for private practice, there will be more learning that needs to occur. As clinical experience is gained, new dentists will become more confident in their diagnosis, more comfortable with procedures and will increase their speed. If you don’t consider or plan for your growth areas, the pace of the private practice will be stressful as a new dentist. Choosing the right dental practice will also ensure that you are smooth sailing into your dentistry practice, Fort Wayne Dentist is reliable and an exceptionally high-standard practice. Working for or visiting this dentist will ensure that your confidence grows and supports you.

For the first few months, consider asking the scheduler to give you 50% extra time per procedure than was given to the old dentist. This will give you time to grow as a dentist and not feel as pressured to keep up with the schedule. You should also be self-aware in order to determine when to refer. When you’re still gaining skills and growing your confidence, it’s acceptable to make referrals if you feel uncomfortable with something.

To build upon your basic understanding of dental procedures and materials — and to truly become a proficient clinical dentist — further education and training is needed. As an ASDA member, you have access to free CE through DrBicuspid. Deciding to be aggressive with your continuing education will shorten learning curves and help you grow as quickly as possible. In the end, this will translate into better dentistry and overall practice growth.

Running a business

Unfortunately, dental schools don’t always prepare young dentists for the reality of running a business. Most dental schools offer 1-2 classes during the four year degree that focus on the business of dentistry. And despite any altruistic beliefs, dentistry is a business and provides a service that must be compensated for. The goal of any business is to have a well-defined system that allows for maximum performance.

If you’re new to running a business or have limited business experience, surround yourself with people who know more about business than you do. Hire an excellent accountant who has lots of experience with dental practices. Hire a consultant to help navigate the innumerable obstacles you’ll face during the first few years. Work with professionals who can market and advertise your business.

While fees may be higher for some of these service providers, they can help bridge the gap between your current business skills and the skills you need to make it profitable.

Finding a balance

There are plenty of stories about dentists who purchased a practice, put their blood, sweat and tears into it, and burnt out after a couple of years. To avoid this happening during your new business venture, you need to find a balance — a balance that helps your business grow while maintaining your sanity.

Dentist owners can easily become obsessed with every aspect of their business and feel like they have to oversee every process. Knowing how to effectively delegate tasks will allow more to be completed at a faster pace. Don’t be afraid to have your front office handle the day-to-day miscellaneous items that suck up your time. After all, a dentist’s most profitable role involves having a handpiece in hand. Focus on your responsibilities, and let others assist with work outside of that.

New dentists also find difficulties leaving work at work. No matter how tough it is, it’s important to address work like an on/off switch. The work switch needs to be turned on at work — and when the day is done, do whatever is necessary to turn the switch off. While each dentist will have a method that works best for them, you’ll be better at handling the stress of owning a practice if you can effectively find a work/life balance.

Creating a successful practice

Buying a dental practice and starting your dental career are life changing events. You’ll feel a lot of joy and a lot of stress. If you learn to understand your growth areas, balance your time and prepare for business decisions, your transition from dental school to dental practice will be a successful one.

~ Dr. Matthew Parker, AZ Family Dental

Dr. Matthew Parker

Matthew Parker, DMD, is a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, class of '12. He is the owner of AZ Family Dental in Glendale, AZ.

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  1. Thanks for the post, Matthew. Indeed, the transition can be hard. You went to school to learn how to be a dentist & now you’re learning how to be a business owner. It’s a delicate balance. Big time. But it can be done!

  2. I would rather say service than a business. Its of course a medium of earning your living, but medical service is always a noble profession. Its important for the schools and colleges to teach students how to become a successful practitioner, not the technique how to make it a successful business. This post is particularly helpful for those new starter who wants to become a successful practitioner and thus it helps them to earn enough for their living. Thanks for sharing such nice post Matthew.

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