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Just over two years ago I wrote an article entitled “Failure to Thrive”. Click here and take the time to read or re-read it. It goes hand in hand with the idea of “Failure to Launch”. Over and over I seem to either run into offices or their owner doctors who call and complain about young associates that just don’t want to work and as they say, “just don’t get it”. From all the feedback, the owner doctors see the new class of graduates as unproductive, undertrained, and disengaged from the reality of what it takes to make a successful career in Dentistry. Their complaints have nothing to do with race, sex, or any other orientation other than age.

On the other side of the coin, I talk to lots of young dentists trying to decide on what to do, and where to go to do it. Their perspective seems to be about just finding a job, any old job, and then calling me a year later telling me how bad the experience was. They seem to think the owner doctor won’t spend money on the practice, expecting them to work unreasonable hours while keeping all the money that they, the associate, brought in.

It’s not until I started looking at the actual numbers over the past 6-12 months for those very practices that the real truth comes out. Yes, the owner doctor was ill prepared and unwilling to change, but choosing an office like this may partially be the young doctor’s fault. Both parties were falling way short of being ready for an employee/associate relationship.

So, let’s talk about the work ethic of young doctors. Everyone is talking about how millennials have a false sense of entitlement. It is like they have a great self-image for no apparent reason. This generation comes from an upbringing where everyone gets a participation ribbon or a trophy. The real world has first place, second place, third, and the rest of the pack. They were the generation raised by parents who constantly hovered; the so-called “helicopter parents”. These younger doctors are demanding higher wages but want to work fewer hours and even those hours are less productive than the generations preceding them. There seems to be an endless list of “I don’t feel like I need to do that”. The new culture of these new doctors is having a devastating consequence on the stability of Dentistry.

There is more than the typical “generation gap” when we look at these problems. Over 50% of the graduating classes of dentists (over 6,500 in 2017) will never be an owner of a dental practice. Of the 50% that do move into ownership, 67% will be male and 32% will be female (this when over 50% of the graduates today are female). This trend in ownership mentality (or the lack of it) is the key to multi-doctor practices increasing 20% per year while solo practices go down 7% a year. A generation of employees is also fueling the exponential growth of corporate dentistry.

Perhaps the generations before are partially responsible for a generation of doctors willing to settle for average while accumulating the highest debt level for graduates ever. The lack of motivation by these same young graduates to produce flies in the face of their overburdened debt. I was in an office a couple of weeks ago where the associate only wanted to do fillings and single crowns on adults. He/she just felt like anything else like endo, oral surgery, ortho, kids, etc., was just too stressful. This doctor produced under $200/hour and expected to make $750-$1,000 per day. They did not want to be paid based on their productivity because they needed to know exactly what they were going to make if they just showed up. In line with this mentality was his/her reluctance or outright refusal to attend continuing education courses that the owner doctor offered to pay for. In the first month of employment many of these young graduates are acting like they are great clinicians and are infallible in front of staff that have been practicing dentistry for decades. This arrogance and lack of people skills along with not understanding their place in a team alienates them from being accepted and supported by that same team.

In preparation for this article I contacted 7 young doctors (between 6 months and 2 years out of school) and broached these same questions to them. While asking them what they wanted in their careers they had difficulty in defining what they wanted and at times admitting they really did not know. It was as if they each had a mantra of wanting to learn the business of dentistry and increase their clinical speed. I’m pretty sure that was implanted from dental school professors that came up short in their own practices. All but one said they had no well-defined goals and none had any goals written down. Several had unrealistic income expectations, especially when we consider the ever-decreasing insurance reimbursements and higher levels of overhead in the average dental office.

So, what should you do if you are working with a young doctor who has failed to launch their careers or a young doctor that sees some truth in this article? Use the link and read and re-read the article “Failure to Thrive” and then give me a call and let’s talk about what you want to do and how to get there quickly.

Michael Abernathy, DDS
972.523.4660 cell

PS. Max helped me with some of the areas I should cover and he ended his text by saying: “Now that I have thought about this, it may be a bad idea. It may just needlessly p__s off a bunch of people”.
I disagree. I want to tip up a mirror for each of you to see yourselves as you really are. If you like what you see: Congratulations. If you find a few blemishes, then good, work on them. Self-accountability is the key to future results.