When I first began to practice dentistry, I knew little-to-nothing about the business aspect. Like many dentists, I learned the hard way. My first goal was getting out of debt, which took years. My school loans were low interest, so that was okay. But after a couple of years, I established a private practice in a state-of-the-art office with the help of large, high interest loans. I thought little about retirement. Actually, it was so far distant that I didn’t think about it at all.
Now it’s almost upon me and I wonder if I’m ready. I did open a couple of IRAs and 401(k)s once my wife and I stopped having kids. Although I managed to sock away a respectable nest egg, I come from an impoverished background and that leads me to feel a little less financially secure than I really am. Many of my non-dental peers are retiring with never-ending pension plans; my pension stops when the money runs out. So my knee-jerk reaction is to keep working “just a little longer.” That’s not necessarily a problem. I truly enjoy what I do and I love my patients; many of whom have become good friends over the years. I’ve watched their kids grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. It’s been a fun ride. However, following two back surgeries, my pace has changed. I see a physical trainer who has helped me. He advised that I relegate all major case work to the morning hours. Ten years ago, I would’ve never seen myself ‘slowing down.’
I guess there’s always Social Security, which could almost keep a roof over my head and food on the table if taxes and mandatory health insurance didn’t eat up most of it. Who knew that Medicare actually charges its seniors for services? I thought I was bankingmy FICA taxes for that throughout the years—apparently not.
Retirement does not necessarily mean that I have to stop participating in dentistry. Due to physical limitations, I’m no longer able to journey to distant lands to provide pro bono treatment to indigent people. Now I mentor younger dentists who wish to provide free treatment here and abroad. Consulting is something I can continue to do after I retire. I’ve also considered teaching and speaking in public schools on oral hygiene and nutrition, maybe writing articles or even a book. The possibilities are only limited by my imagination.
All of this is to say that if you’re starting out in practice or only a short way along the road, begin to prepare for retirement now. It may seem distant at this point, with so much else pressing in on you, but it gets closer every day.
Jim Rhea, DMD