We have a doozie today, so I don't want to talk too much. But I have to tell you one story. Noah was at it again this weekend. He said he wants to be an inventor when he grows up. I said, "I think you would be a great inventor. What are you thinking you would want to invent?" He then went on to tell me that he wanted to invent a machine so we can interpret what ants are saying. No, this is not a misprint; he thinks it would be beneficial to humans to know what ants are saying.
I said, "What do you think they are saying that we need to hear?" He said, "Oh, no here comes a foot!!" I am telling you, this kid is a riot and he doesn't even know it. He did another beaut, but I will tell you about it on Friday. Today we have a special guest writer. This writer emailed me in a quandry and wanted the readers’ advice. This dentist is happy being an associate (and has been for 10 years), but feels like he/she might be missing something by not being an owner.
So this is what we are going to do: I want you to read the blog and think about it a second then give us your best advice. Today, I will say nothing (even though I have lots to say about this topic), but I will write a blog (on Friday) with my answer.
I've been an avid reader of John's blog now for close to 2 years now, and I’m really enjoying it. I hear John and others speak about the troubles and triumphs of owning a practice in today's world, but I can only relate so much, as I’m still currently working as an associate dentist.
I’m happily plugging along trying to practice dentistry better every day, just like the rest of you. I try to find the best balance between work and life away from work. I continue to feed my hobbies and attempt to lead as stress-free a lifestyle as possible, but, I’ve had a question on my mind, nagging me, recently. When is a good time to make the transition from associate dentist to owning a dental practice?
I read a response recently to the question "When are you ready to have kids?” The answer? NEVER! The point of that article was that no one is fully prepared for the life changes and responsibility of having kids, and not much can prepare you. So, is this the same thing with owning a dental practice? I truly don't know. I’m doing some thinking. Should I? Shouldn't I? Am I ready? Where do I start? Am I going to be a life-long associate? What do I prepare myself for?
I’m assuming that unless we're lucky enough to have great mentors through our careers, we usually make these decisions alone, based on educated guessing and our own research. We don't know precisely what to expect, but do our best not to have those "Boy, I wish I would have known about this earlier" moments. I'd really like to minimize those moments. What I’m looking for is some advice.
I've been an associate for close to a decade, and have worked in a number of offices. I have worked alone for about half of my career, and in group settings with other dentists for the rest. I’m in my mid-30s, debt-free, financially OK, and currently have tons of freedom. I’m not "tied down" by anything, so to speak. But I also realize that "freedom" is not all that it's cracked up to be. Here are some of my thoughts.
I do enjoy ALOT of the benefits of being an associate. I like leaving work, not having to think about the office until the next morning. I like not thinking about the office overhead. I like not having to hire and fire staff. I like taking a couple of 3-week holidays and not thinking about the practice when I’m gone. I like that the staff can relate to me without worrying about me being their "boss." I like that I don't have to really "market" myself or the office if I choose not to. I like not thinking about month-end or year-end (at least as far as a balance sheet is concerned).
I think about dentistry. I complain occasionally about staff, but that's really all. If I don't feel comfortable with a procedure, I see if the principal dentist wants to do it, otherwise I refer it. I don't think too much about collections, receivables, and all that jazz. Do I have it too easy? I’m not sure. I’m starting to look at guys who own their own practices, and really try to figure out what some of the benefits are, whether these guys are happier, and if it's for me.
Here's the flip-side. I’m starting to think "If this were my office, I would change this". I wonder how much income I am missing out on from not sharing in the hygiene revenue and the tax benefits of ownership. Money isn't everything, but the world today is a financially different one than I thought it would be.
I see new equipment and technology that I would like to try, but must use what is available to me. I essentially have to practice dentistry similarly to the principal dentist where I’m at. I go to conventions where salespeople ask if I own a practice, and I reply with "Sorry, but I’m just a lowly associate, sir". I’m kidding actually, that part really doesn't bother me that much. I wonder sometimes if I could put together (or make better) a dental team/staff than what I’m currently working with. I wonder if I would be a good boss.
So, I guess I have some questions to those of you out there. I’m gonna shoot from the hip. Tell me straight. Tell me I’m crazy. Tell me something. I do have one request though. If you could, please try to assume that the recession hasn't totally gotten you down. I’m not blind to the fact that times are tough right now, but I would really appreciate as many non-jaded responses as possible. I know that some of you might think I’m crazy for even considering buying a practice now. There are parts of the country (a lot of rural areas for instance), as well as in Canada, where the recession hasn't totally affected dentists. So, for the sake of optimism, try to assume that all other things are equal, so to speak. I would likely be considering a very reasonably priced, rural (or small city) practice with a retiring (or semi-retiring) owner. I’m not looking to purchase a high-end practice in a large city. Just an average, steady dental practice.
Ok, here goes. What were the biggest changes you had to adjust to? What did you really love? What did you really hate?
Did your income increase dramatically (or at all) when you transitioned to ownership? I’m not a high-producing guy, but making and efficient income is always important.
Can I kiss my 2 or 3-week vacations goodbye for a while (or forever) if I purchase a practice? Time off to enjoy other things is VERY important to me.
Does the power to call all the shots as an owner offset the freedom of virtually no responsibility as an associate?
How badly do staffing issues stress you? Have you learned how to delegate properly, and if so, how difficult is that?
Does it make a difference as to what age you make the transition to ownership?
Do any of you ever stare at your associate and envy the heck out of them? Not because they may have a gorgeous wife, but because they are not dealing with the responsibility that you are. Do you really appreciate your associate?
Do you ever feel "tied down" to your practice?
Basically, I want to know the nitty gritty. Do any of you regret the decision of purchasing a practice?
Would anyone recommend not buying an existing practice, but setting up their own?
Does ownership suit a married or single person better?
Do you actually practice dentistry differently as an owner? I mean, do you feel yourself pressured to "sell" dentistry more? Are you more aggressive as a treatment planner?
Are you happy with your current practice? I mean, is it the practice that you really dreamed it would be?
Ok, that's enough questions. I threw a lot out there. Obviously these are not questions that are easily answered, nor is it a topic that you can scan through quickly. Hopefully I’m not opening a big can of worms here...
Make me wiser. Help me avoid pitfalls. Enlighten me. Share whatever is on your mind.
I know we have a real mixed bag of readers. We have students, associates, and owners. I want to hear from everyone. I would even like to hear from our dentists that live in other countries. Think about it....marinate on it. Try to think outside your present economic situation. Then start to type. Then we will talk again about it on Friday.
Have a great Wednesday.