I am sure there has never been a recent graduate who just received their diploma from Dental School who was joyously jumping up and down with the vision of becoming “average”. If you want to take a glimpse into the future, you need only look at your history or past. I thought it would be fun to make a short list of the Dental School myths we continue to live by today. Believe it or not, most doctors are still influenced by these myths. I think that these limiting beliefs account for most of us ending our careers with the inability to retire wealthy, with various choices during our careers, and by all accounts a good steward of our lives.
1. You will be paid 35% or more of your production when you graduate. The much touted, often repeated cheer of dental school proctors, who for the most part never really embraced or understood the business of dentistry. The first of many myths that, in this case, introduces “entitlement” into our lives. We worked hard, accumulated debt, and as new doctors (or old) we deserve the “good life”. Fact: If you are not saving at least 20% of your income each year, you will not be able to replace your income in retirement. Entitlement seems to linger far into our lives and right into retirement. The simple phrase “we deserve” is so far from the truth that it should make us laugh. If you are persistent, continue to learn, and live beneath your means, you can have anything you want in life.
2. Get out of school and go into an associateship so that you can learn the business of dentistry and pick up your speed. Think through the logic of this: You are going to go to work for a corporation that cares nothing about you or work for a private practice that at best is only going to be average. It sounds like the perfect recipe for mediocrity. It is true, that with huge school debts, most of us will need to work as an employee. But you are responsible for placing yourself at the feet of a doctor with good experience, with an incredible mentor. It takes time and a little luck to find them, but look you must. Don’t just settle for a job. Be aggressive about staging the first step of your career. The last steps often times will depend on these first choices. If you are mid-career or near the end, I bet you can look back and see that the path you took determined the career you reaped. As dentists, we need to always expand our services and improve our clinical acumen.
3. Graduate and move back to your hometown. The decision of where you practice will have the greatest impact on the career you experience. Large cities are over-run with dentists, and often have poor patient demographics. While the location of your practice is a life choice, it needs to be tempered with the best economy and demographic you can find. This and this alone separates the average practice from the exceptional one. If you are under 50 and looking at a plateaued practice with little hope of turning it around, consider a sale and a move. I have never seen a doctor with a practice that, if opened in the right location, couldn’t be out of debt in 5-7 years and then 10 years later be able to retire.
4. Debt is normal. You need to be out of school and out of debt in 5 years or less. We have become a society of debtors that will spend 50% of our incomes over our lifetimes servicing these debts. If you are over 55 and have any debt, it may be too late. We already know that you can’t buy disability insurance after age 64 because odds are that you will be disabled. There is no guarantee that you can practice till you are 70 (no one wants an old doctor to work on them anyway). Regardless of age, income, or type of practice, we need to move quickly toward being completely out of debt.
5. Dental salesmen, lawyers, CPA’s, consultants, corporate practices, and insurance companies are your friends. You are a commodity that exists to be sold products and services these people have to offer. We need all of these areas of expertise, but just like dentists, most are average at best and at worst are unengaged. Just disasters waiting to happen. The stories I hear on the phone about examples of these folks that have ruined the lives of unsuspecting doctors are endless. We need to carefully and thoughtfully perform “due diligence” and find the very best. If you need help, just give me a call.
6. Your buddies are doing better than you are. You never see or hear the truth because it is always colored by someone else’s opinion or mislaid facts. We all know a classmate that does $3,000,000 a year, is married to a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader turned neurosurgeon, with three Rhodes Scholar kids. The other side of this story is that they only net 10% from the practice, she dates around, and the kids are drug addicts. You don’t have to worry about the other guy. This is your game and no one else is playing against you. You can have a low overhead and high net practice, with a great spouse and super kids. You get to choose the adjectives that will define your life. Your dental career and your personal life is not a sprint, it is a journey (and maybe an ultra-marathon!).
7. Patients will bond to our practices for life if we do our part. NOT! People are more nomadic and fickle today than ever. 87% will leave a physician for a $5 difference in co-pay. Your relationship with them is like hiring a coach in the Big 10 conference: “Coach, we’re behind you 100%, as long as you win or tie. You lose and you’re out of here.” Consumer driven businesses have to deal with the reality that our clients look at us and ask: “What have you done for me today”.
8. I’m going to ____________ when I ____________. All young doctors and many “seasoned” doctors have said this. You fill in the blanks. Pace yourself because you are going to be stuck here a long time.
That’s it: Quick and simple. Myths that have led to limiting beliefs that hold us back from the practice we always thought we would have. Take a hard look and decide to no longer let your past limit your future. That is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS