Summer 2016 was a turning point in my dental career. I finished my fifth year in the Army and had one more year to serve on active duty to fulfill my commitment for dental school and my residency program. During dental school, I thought it would be simple to serve my time and leave the military, but as the day of decision approached, it was far from easy. I loved life in the Army and the great privilege it is to serve, but I knew that it would be difficult for my wife and five kids to constantly move every three to five years.
Practice ownership scared me. In my process of searching for practice opportunities, I talked to many dentists who expressed the highs and lows of private practice. A friend of mine told me, “Rich, things are going well now, but a year ago, I felt like I just wanted to go out into a cold winter night and never be seen again.” Conversations like this made me apprehensive to take the plunge into practice ownership.
In September 2016, I made the decision to stay in the Army. Two weeks later, my friend from dental school called me out of the blue and asked what my plans were. I informed him of my decision to stay in the Army and explained my reasons (security, retirement, health benefits). He encouraged me to come out to Washington, meet with his business partner and explore the potential of working with them.
My wife and I went to Seattle in mid-September and met with Dr. Adam Cramer, who owns multiple practices and is the CEO of Atlas Dental Group. Dr. Cramer explained his vision and purpose for creating Atlas Dental Group, which was to “[preserve] the integrity of private practice while leveraging the benefits of the cooperative group.” He explained that each practice within the group was unique. Each office is managed and owned by a different dentist, with Dr. Cramer being the only person having partial ownership in all offices. Also, each office has an assigned clinical director who oversees the daily operations within the practice.
This opportunity was appealing to me for several reasons. First, it allowed me to have immediate ownership in an office. Second, I wouldn’t have to run the day-to-day operations of the practice alone. The Atlas team has staff that helps with HR, training office managers, IT support, analysis of the practice finances, hygiene support and leadership development. Finally, it gave me an opportunity to have the mentorship and support I would need on my path to becoming a better clinician and practice owner.
Some may look at this model and automatically think it’s a DSO, and by a strict definition, they are probably right. However, I’m in charge of the daily operations of my practice (hiring, supply ordering, marketing, team training, etc.). When I get stuck with a clinical or staff problem, I contact Dr. Cramer, and he coaches me through it. If I ever have questions about how to resolve a front-desk problem, I contact Traci, who is in charge of training and supporting our front-office team. If there is an IT issue, I talk to Rich, who leads IT for Atlas. There is a support component, but at the end of the day, I am the one who decides how to implement the advice I get from it.
July 1, 2017, was my final day on active duty as an Army dental officer, and our family moved to Port Angeles, Washington. There have been bumps in the road such as delays in obtaining the practice loan, staff turnover, etc. I have had to make some tough decisions since we took over the practice, and it has been a blessing to have a great team to guide and encourage me. My practice situation is not the typical route that most people take, but it has helped me make the transition from military to private practice, which I had always planned on since dental school.
~ Dr. Richard Carlile, Virginia ’11, Eleven Eleven Dental