This is a message to all of the doctors who feel like they are just not reaching that level of practice they always thought that they would have. Secondly, I want every senior dental student and new graduate to also take heed in what follows.
If we go back to the beginning, the first day of dental school, you can remember that the future was exciting and the possibilities unlimited. Most of us struggled with highs and lows in school but most were still expectantly positive as we walked across the stage to collect our diploma and begin our lives as dentists. On that day and at that moment, we had unlimited possibilities. There was nothing that was beyond our reach with that new found freedom in Dentistry.
If we fast forward to today, we find most doctors are average in their skills, and marginal in their finances, while still thinking that someone or something will extricate them from their probable destination when we say goodbye to Dentistry.
I want to give you the 4 key action steps that can begin a successful career or salvage one that has gotten off track. Both situations require a new engagement in working on yourself and your practice, but this new commitment will guarantee that you will improve your final results.
- Increase speed: If you just graduated, you need to make sure that you find a job where you can be crazy busy. I don’t care if it is corporate, public health, or a private practice, but you need to be forced out of your comfort zone and learn to work quickly with better results than you ever thought possible. For the more mature doctor, you will need to work at least 25%-35% faster if you ever hope to profit from managed care (94% of all dentists). It is this skill level of speed, systems, protocols, and becoming unconsciously competent in what you do that guarantees a level of success that few will achieve.
- Invest in CE at least 2-3 times what is required: Looking back over the last 4 decades of my dental career I see that taking at least 2-3 times the continuing education that is required to maintain your licensure is the number one trait of doctors who end up leaving a legacy of success in both their practices and families. Working on the practice and not just in the practice changes the esprit-de-corps of any practice. It models the level of commitment to your staff while at the same time holding yourself to another level of excellence. This is the easiest thing to do: Webinars, hands-on courses, books, lectures, and articles program your mind to demand more of yourself and your staff. It demands that you prioritize your commitment to your profession by putting your money where your mouth is. You can’t get a better return on investment than you will get on a life-time commitment to learning. To overcome the momentum of national corporate practices we all need to add services to our practices every year. Take the time to learn to do cosmetic orthodontics, endodontics for molars, kids, TMJ, implants, and oral surgery. The day of drill and fill are gone and each of us needs to reclaim our place in our profession through continuing education and application.
- Learn to relate to people (people skills): This is the toughest and most difficult of skills or action steps that you have to deal with in your quest for a successful business and life. This is the one area I have struggled with most. It seems that we as people develop our personalities early in life. Oh, sure, we make small modifications. But for the most part that first 5-6 years seems to put us on a path to either having people skills or struggling with them. As I look at the doctors that have done well in Dentistry, I see that people skills is the one most defining trait that the winners all have and the strugglers all lack. For me, recognizing that if people didn’t like me I would never be successful started me on a habit of constantly listening to motivational audio programs and ultimately hiring staff that compensated for my shortcomings in people skills. I got better, and learned tricks to cope, but it was my staff and the recognition that good leaders are not always the smartest or best people in the room really made a difference. The best leaders surround themselves with people that they trust to compliment and compensate for their shortcomings. As Clint Eastwood said in the movie Dirty Harry: “A man has to know his limitations”.
- Confidence and competence go hand and hand: There is something about a confident person that exudes positive expectations while accepting that not all things will be perfect. It is this delicate balance of never giving up while striving to do better that defines the successful person in life. If you are taking the courses, improving your skills, working on your shortcomings, and in a way, becoming master of you own fate, good people will gravitate toward you. I like what motivational expert Jim Rhone said: “You will become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. You need to gravitate to those that are doing what you wish to do. In that way they model the actions, reactions, words, and deeds that you will want to emulate. The old term “fake it till you make it” has a basis in fact. It takes 21 days to reinforce an action to make it a habit. For way too long we have also followed this axiom with bad things. It is time to become more confident and competent by taking back our future with a new commitment to our today. Robert Hastings in his prose, The Station, says it best: “It is not the worries of today that drive men mad, but the regret of yesterday, and fear of tomorrow. Twin thieves that rob us of our today.”
Take these four key steps and begin to Summit.
Mike Abernathy, DDS