As the Great Resignation reaches dentistry, it may exacerbate existing access-to-care problems — possibly leading to declining oral health, more dental emergencies, and even an increase in heart disease and other serious health problems.
A July report by the ADA’s Health Policy Institute found that 74% of private practice dentists say that it is currently “extremely challenging” to recruit qualified dental hygienists, and another 19% say it is “very challenging.” Similarly, 84% of dentists say it is extremely or very challenging to recruit dental assistants. We recently looked at ways that practice owners can retain their knowledgeable staff who have built relationships with patients.
However, dentistry is also seeing another side of the Great Resignation: many older dentists are accelerating their retirement plans.
At ADA Practice Transitions, we’re seeing another trend: young dentists are embracing the opportunity to step into established practices and take proactive steps to retain hardworking staff. In many cases, these dentists can tap into programs, such as the National Health Service Corps, that forgive student loans for dentists providing care in underserved communities.
There is no such thing as a typical dental practice. They can range from standalone rural spaces to sleek urban offices, with everything in between. When trying to nail down your ideal, some factors are easy to identify: treatments offered, schedule, and target compensation.
Other factors fall into gray areas, where an “ideal” is harder to articulate. In these cases, you need to think about what sounds most appealing to you.
Ask yourself these questions to begin deciding what kind of practice will suit you best.
Are you a relationship- or volume-driven dentist?
Some dentists build their practices on patient relationships, while others focus on driving volume. The approach is reflected in the practice’s policies and patient expectations.
A practice built around patient relationships may have processes that ensure no one ever waits more than 5 minutes beyond their appointment time. These dentists tend to spend more time with each patient and nurture each relationship rather than delegating this function to staff. These practices may be entirely fee for service and often charge in the top 1%.
By contrast, a volume practice may run multiple treatment rooms simultaneously by delegating as much as possible to auxiliaries. In this model, staff members are the primary relationship builders while the dentists work on doing their tasks as efficiently as possible. These practices tend to accept insurance and make up for lower fees through increased volume.
Both practice styles can be professionally and financially rewarding, but they are typically incompatible.
In my work, I talk to dentists from across the country who are preparing for career transitions. Some are retiring and taking the next step on their long-planned path, but others face outside forces that make them rethink their priorities and goals.
The reasons can be positive, like spending more time with loved ones or pursuing other passions. Other times, it is a significant life change such as health issues, divorce, or burnout.
It can be too easy to get overwhelmed by fear and stress, but that can often lead to rash decisions that cause regret. It’s human nature and all too easy to panic when facing change.
Luckily, the dental industry has many options. You need to explore the choices methodically and evaluate all the information. The first step, consider asking a trusted colleague or family member for their opinion. They know you best and can be an objective listener.
Here are two tales of what happens when “life happened” to two dentists without transition plans.
Ignoring the problem
Dr. Arthur’s dental practice thrived on complex, intricate cosmetic procedures. His stellar reputation among local practitioners resulted in patients waiting months to book an appointment. He had enough business to bring in an associate or partner but preferred working solo. He felt no one could meet his exacting standards.
In his early forties, he began to experience numbness in his dominant hand. It was worse on days when he performed more prolonged procedures. He tried anti-inflammatories and icing it, but mostly, he ignored it.
After four or five years of this, his condition deteriorated rapidly. He could no longer hold a handpiece, and a hand surgeon diagnosed him with advanced carpal tunnel.