Final years in dentistryAs we approach 2016, a lot of us are naturally thinking about our professional plans for the year ahead. But for dentists who are going into the last phases of their career, it makes sense to look even further ahead and to think about how things should play out for the final five, 10 or even 15 years of practice. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind for those dentists who want to be prepared to wrap up their career with power and purpose.

The first step is to adopt the right mindset by recognizing that you can and should continue to commit to growth strategies. Rather than thinking of your last years in the practice as a process of winding down, you need to think in terms of ramping up, of increasing value and productivity, of boosting the metabolism of the practice to the point where it will be able to sustain your lifestyle for years to come and give you the ability to delay withdrawing from your retirement funds during that crucial period where their compounding power is highest. How well you accomplish this depends on how well you do three things.

Optimize the value of your time

You can’t do anything about the number of hours in a day, but you can certainly do things to improve what you get out of those hours. Look for ways to optimize the value of your time and the time of those around you. For instance, get coaching on how to streamline operations in the practice so that every moment of every day is on purpose. I have yet to find a practice that could not boost its productivity within months, just by implementing a few key principles. A few tweaks here and there, and you’ll find that those little changes add up to a big bottom-line difference.

And all those patients with whom you have built up trust and goodwill over the years? Now is the time to use that influence you have earned – and get any additional education you need – so that you can present and deliver as much comprehensive care to them as possible. That way, they get the full benefit of being part of your practice over the years, and you get a satisfying return for your investment of time.​

Optimize the value of the practice

Too often, I see late-career dentists who are stuck in that mindset of thinking that they don’t need to worry about facility upgrades anymore, since they’re not going to be in the practice that much longer. But there are several good reasons for a late-career practice makeover. First of all, an up-to-date facility goes hand in hand with your commitment to increasing productivity. It is an integral part of your transition process that signals to your patients and your team that you are serious about re-inventing the practice during this critical phase. And as you increase capacity and the patient base grows, you drive up the value of the practice in the eyes of prospective buyers and create the ideal economic conditions to support a transition. It’s true that you do need to make decisions within the context of the time you have left, but in my experience, most dentists will find they do have the time and resources to make it work. And finally, let’s not forget another value that increases when your re-invest: the value you get from working in the practice of your dreams before you retire.

Optimize your time in the practice

In today’s new paradigm of working longer, retirement is being re-defined. It’s not about work versus not working, it’s about finding the right lifestyle balance. It’s about gradually reducing your time in the practice as you get older and as the practice’s efficiency improves. Maybe you go from 48 weeks a year to 44, then 40, and so on. Or you start working 7 hour days, 3 days a week. If you are doing more comprehensive cases, as I just mentioned, it is not difficult to maintain a good revenue flow from working fewer days and seeing fewer patients, while bringing in an associate to buy the practice over time.

The point is, over time you reduce the number of weeks in a year, the number of days in a week, the number of hours in a day that you spend in the practice until you come to a final “legacy” phase. During this time you continue to work on a limited basis – a couple of times a week, or one week a month – in what I call a “grand-doctor” role. It is a role that does not intrude on the new doctor’s turf, since you would only be working with longtime patients who are loyal to you. This allows you to continue doing meaningful work in an environment you love, doing the dentistry you love, with the patients of your choice. It gives purpose to your life, it makes for a seamless transition in the practice and, best of all, it means you are still generating human capital. And every day you are adding to that and delaying the withdrawal of economic reserves, you are multiplying your retirement options.