As a dental clinician, it can be so easy to get into a routine. Patients come in, you and your team treat the problems of the day, you go home and then come back the next day to do it all over again.
A routine like this can be comforting. It usually means you’re not struggling to find new patients and you’re not struggling to make ends meet. But that also means there’s something else you’re probably not struggling to achieve: professional growth.
I believe that in the lifespan of every dental clinician, we must go through a few periods of renovation. Why?
- If you don’t move you’re obsolete. Technology, new procedures, new forms of patient communication … if you’re not “struggling” to grow, to keep up, you will quickly fall behind.
- Patients are more informed than ever before. That means they’re going to come into your practice asking questions like, “Do you have CADCAM in your practice?” Or, “What about this treatment instead of that one?” They’re going to test your knowledge and you better be ready.
- Without periodic changes in your dental practice, you become bored or complacent and, in turn, your team becomes bored or complacent. This boredom can lead to resentment and unhappiness. And don’t think for a minute that your patients won’t notice that.
It’s with those reasons in mind that I have started my own renovation. I’m not just preaching renovation to you, I’m practicing it myself! After giving this a lot of thought, I concluded that there are three areas on which each dental clinician should focus to get the full benefit of renovation.
Renovating one of these requires renovating the others. If you do not, then the whole process will fail.
I started this undertaking with my office. It was not falling apart; in fact, it was quite nice. My staff and I had grown comfortable in it, used to every painting on the wall, every piece of furniture.
But in order to initiate the changes I desired in my team and my own mindset, I knew we needed to create a new look and feel in the office. I wanted my crew, my patients and myself to feel like we were walking into a new space, to emotionally feel there’s a change.
I removed all my certificates/diplomas of lectures I gave around the world (I realized it was a bit of an ego trip and was ready to move forward) and hung art in our walls instead.
We added 50-inch televisions to every operatory on which to show patients Patient Education videos and treatment plans. We redecorated the office from the front to the back. We created, in essence, a new dental practice.
There are practical benefits, to be sure. New technology positively impacts your ability to practice dentistry. It allows you to practice in a safer way, a more efficient way and a more profitable way.
But more than that, renovating your office serves as fresh start. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the boredom and weariness I spoke of earlier fades away when you walk into what feels like a brand new space. And it will invoke a feeling of starting anew in your team, too … which is essential for the second renovation.
I was giving a two-day course to a Study Club recently. We were on the topic of dental staff communication. One doctor suddenly said that as he walks into the operatory his dental assistant knows exactly what he wants just by looking at him. Many doctors nodded their heads depicting that they've had the similar experiences.
As “magical” as this type of connection with staff members may seem, it does not and cannot hold true consistently. And if we believe our staff know us very well, we will inevitably lower our “guard” and go into autopilot mode. This routine inevitably takes a toll on both dentists and their staff, draining the excitement of practicing dentistry.
This is why your team must be a part of the renovation process. As you bring in new technology and learn new techniques, the team members must be learning with you instead of just going through the motions. Your staff must be excited about those new innovations, that new technology. If not, then they won’t be your partner in the patient communication process. It will be a total disconnect.
It is not uncommon at all that staff members can even boycott the doctor's plan to implement new treatment modalities/technology in their offices (normally out of their unwillingness to leave their comfort zone).
Keeping these issues in mind and in order to really drive this point home, I decided I’m firing everyone in my office.
Yes, you read that right. I’m firing everyone.
What purpose will this serve? First off, let’s put quotation marks around “fire.” What I’m doing is “firing” everyone and then conducting a “re-hire” interview with each staff member. It’s at that time I’m giving them an opportunity to tell me why they should remain with me. What do they believe they bring to the table? Why is working in my practice the best option that they have? The concept of everyone going through the firing and rehiring forces them to mentally go through a renovation stage as well. And that right there cuts the autopilot mode in a very deliberate way.
It also wipes the slate clean. They’ve established with me and themselves why they’re the best person for the job. According to an incredible book by Benjamin Zander, “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life,” this will help release performance pressure. Zander is a conductor and now the music director for the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. The competitive nature of studying music can be killer. To help ease the pressure his students felt, he gives each of them an “A” at the beginning of the course. He then has them write a paper explaining why and how they earned the grade.
That’s what I’m trying to do with this “fire/re-hire” process. I want to hear them say, “I am ready for this.” I’m wiping the slate clean and allowing my staff to create the framework on which they’ll build their – and the practice’s – success.
However, I’m not so delusional as to think that just renovating my practice and my staff will create a successful change. There are renovations I have to make as well.
I don’t know everything. There, I’ve said it. In fact, we should all say it.
What I had to change about my own mindset – what we all have to change about our mindsets as dentists – is that we don’t have a learning curve in dentistry. To say there is a learning curve is to imply that at some point learning will plateau. Inherent in that term is an idea that we’ll reach a comfort zone. This is not true in our profession – at least, it shouldn’t be. Instead, we should think in terms of a “learning line,” a line that continues up and off into infinity.
You can practice dentistry the way you were taught in dental school. You can take as many dental CE courses as you want. But the reality is, if you’re not willing to put the extra hours into learning and into understanding new technology, new techniques or new materials, then you’re not truly willing to embrace the learning line. At that point, you’ve already become obsolete.
Renovating my mindset meant letting go of any fear of admitting I don’t know something. I’ll ask a question in Spear TALK. I’ll raise my hand in a workshop and ask the instructor to repeat something. Once I admitted to myself that I can never truly know it all, it opened me up to learning so much more. It relieved a lot of pressure and allows me to truly grow as a dentist and speaker.
Bottom line: We all need to be committed to learning a bit more every day. If you commit to taking just one dental CE course daily, such as the ones you can find on Spear Online, it will be like going to the gym: you’ll work out your grey cell muscle. Your patients will benefit with a more skilled and knowledgeable dentist and your practice will benefit by your being able to offer more treatment options.
Besides continuous education, I’ve also renovated the way in which I go over treatment options with patients. In the last few years, marketing-savvy companies have used the idea of a “buyer’s journey” to better help customers. This is an exciting concept that I’ve recently embraced; however, I will share more about this in a future article.
Putting It All into (Dental) Practice
Renovation can be a scary word for some people. It involves the unknown – “What will happen afterward?” – and as dentists we prefer to know the outcome before we begin any procedure.
But it doesn’t have to be a blind jump. Map out your renovation process. Find those areas in which your practice, team and mindset need some change and draw up a battle plan. Are you getting bored in your practice? Learn a new procedure. Is your team becoming complacent? Send them to a workshop. The renovations do not have to be radical.
Well-planned changes can allow for personal and professional growth. But remember the converse to that statement: complacency is the simplest way to fail.
Ricardo Mitrani, DDS, MSD, Spear Faculty and Contributing Author