It was perfect set of accidental coincidences. I had nowhere to go; plenty of time on my hands, rainy cold weather, and it was December 15th 2020, when I switched on the Dish to the AMC movie channel. I had no idea how many old and new movies had been made about Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol”. In between, there were two more movies about “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
Are you the Scrooge in your dental office? Remember in “A Christmas Carol” where the miserly business owner is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future? I want you to imagine the story with a contemporary average dental office owner who’s a stingy Scrooge. It’s a blustery Christmas Eve, and you’re Ebby Scrooge, DDS, an anywhere town dentist, who’s closing up shop. You remember past Christmas Eves spent with your team and partner Dr. Jacob Marley, DDS, and your spouses. But Marley died seven years ago pulling a heavy safe from his burning home. At home, all alone, you pour yourself a scotch, and quickly fall asleep. The sound of clanging wakes you, and you see your business partner, Marley, chained to his soot-covered safe. Startled, you knock your glass onto the floor. “Look what you made me do, Jacob!” “I see you’re still a jerk, Ebby”, says Marley. “You rip off customers, sell dentistry that isn’t necessary, underpay and bully employees, cheat on taxes, lie to vendors, and post nasty tweets about competitors. Unless you change, you’ll end up like me, shackled to your money, alone and unhappy for eternity.”
“You need to learn, my old friend. So, tonight you’ll be visited by three other ghosts,” Jacob says and vanishes. You imagine you’re seeing things, but you pour yourself another drink, fall back asleep, and that’s when a different ghost appears.
THE GHOST OF YOUR DENTAL PRACTICE PAST
“I’m the Ghost of Your Dental Practice Past,” the apparition says, “and I’m taking you back to your office on opening day.” Suddenly, you see your first office on the first day of business. It’s full of happy faces: Patients, employees, you and your business partner Marley. “We had so many patients!” you say.
“Yes, because you treated them and your employees well, were honest, were willing to change when needed, and had a sense of purpose and passion,” says the ghost. “And you managed a work/life balance.”
“Ah, but that was before voracious DSOs and large corporations cut into my business. There was less competition, no managed care insurance, and patients were not so demanding.”
“Excuses, excuses, Dr. Scrooge. You didn’t change with the times or innovate and adapt to the new dental economy and the COVID reset. You voted for politicians who promised tax cuts instead of investing in clinical and management education and changes in your infrastructure. Look what happens when all you do is “settle” for what everyone else does.”
Suddenly, the Ghost of your Dental Practice Past whisks you to your house. It’s the day your ex-wife left. “All day long, you stare at your phone and check your bank balance,” she says as she walks out the door. “You work seven days a week. You have no more friends. You’re going to end up alone. I don’t think you even know your children anymore.”
“Enough”, you cry, realizing she was right.
THE GHOST OF YOUR DENTAL PRACTICE PRESENT
Once again, it’s the present and you’re at your empty home, the snow whipping the windows. Another ghost appears.
“I’m the Ghost of Your Dental Practice Present. Let’s see what your practice looks like now.” And immediately, you’re at your office. You see yourself earlier that day, calculating how much you’d save if you cut the hours of your sole remaining assistant, Bob Cratchit, in half.
“You can’t grow your practice without good help, Ebby,” the ghost says. “You made Cratchit a contractor instead of an employee to avoid payroll taxes. You don’t’ cover Cratchit’s health insurance, and he can’t afford the medical bills for asthmatic little Timmy. Timmy will be dead soon.”
“Okay, okay! Get me out of here!” you cry.
THE GHOST OF YOUR DENTAL PRACTICE FUTURE
A third ghost appears. “I’m the Ghost of Your Dental Practice Future.”
Suddenly, the ghost transfers you to the front of your office, which is now shuttered, with a sign saying “CLOSED.”
“Your office was already in trouble when the 6th hurricane hit due to climate change. You’re in debt and your credit score is below 500. Not even the PPP funds could offset your poor leadership, staff turnover, and low patient numbers”, says the ghost.
“What’s worse, you now live with your know-it-all brother-in-law who launched a startup that was bought by Google.”
“No! Anything but that!” you plead. “Have mercy.” For God’s sake, what do I have to do to change the future?”
“It’s not too late, Dr. Scrooge. But you have to learn how to be fair and honest. To treat your employees well. To embrace change, and to never, ever, send a nasty tweet again.” And the ghost disappeared.
For those of you that “live to work” rather than “work to live”, I have a quote from A Day at a Time by Zondervan, 1974: Called Destination Sickness.
—-the syndrome of the man who has arrived and discovered he is nowhere. He has achieved his goals and finds they are not what he had anticipated. He suffers the disillusionment of promises that petered out—-the payoff with the kickback! He has all the things money can buy and finds decreasing satisfaction in all he has. He is satiated and unsatisfied. He’s got a pot full of nothing. He’s in the land of ulcers and cardiacs, alcoholism, divorce and suicide! He suffers from the “neurosis of emptiness.” He’s the man who has become a whale of a success downtown and a pathetic failure at home. He’s a big shot with the boys in the office and a big phony with the boys at home. He’s a status symbol in society and fake with the family. “Destination sickness”—-the illness peculiar to a culture that is affluent and Godless.
One more bit of advice. Especially for those of you who have “successfully ended four marriages” and feel this is a great wealth building strategy. Every person will choose to cheat. You will either cheat your health, family, or work. One question you should ask your spouse is: “What do I need to do to be the husband/wife that you once thought I would be?” Take the answer and change your life.
DON’T FORGET AND GET SO BUSY MAKING A LIVING THAT YOU FORGET TO MAKE A LIFE
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS. LAUNCH into 2021 – The date and time is set for our upcoming LIVE (online) event. It will be on Saturday, January 9, 2021, from 9:00am to 1:00pm Central time. Details and registration info coming soon. Don’t miss this opportunity to insure a great start to the New Year. We all need to make some changes. Let this event LAUNCH you and your practice into 2021 with the proven strategies that will take your practice to new heights.