want to be a dentistI hear this phrase – “I just want to be a dentist” – a lot. And in a way, I can understand the feeling behind it. It’s usually said by someone who really enjoys performing dentistry, but they are just tired of dealing with team issues or insurance problems or most of the other headaches that come with running the business side of things. They just want to do the clinical work they were trained to do.

And that’s where we get to the heart of the issue: what it means to be a great dentist, and how the definition of great is constantly evolving. To only want the responsibilities that come when the patient’s mouth is open is just not a practical expectation. Let me explain further.

It may have been easier to achieve that kind of simpler career profile 30 or 40 years ago, but everything was different then. What you learned in dental school was different. What you paid for that education – and for a practice – was different. Competition was different (there was no Yelp or social media sites continually rating your performance publically). Insurance was very different, as it actually did cover a lot of what patients needed, so patient expectations were different, too. And of course the type of dentistry performed then was different. Most dentists of that era did find it easier to fall into a groove of just doing their thing day in and day out, with a lot less outside pressures. Yet even those dentists, if they are still practicing today, have had to evolve.

(Click this link to read about one 85-year-old dentist who continues to evolve his dentistry and his practice.)

Today being a dentist means something different. Whether you’re working for yourself or for someone else, being a great dentist today involves four things:

  • Being a great clinician. Everyone easily agrees on this one. The profession is always – and rapidly – evolving, and you have to be leading edge and current to be competitive. In the end, you can only do the dentistry you see, you can only see the dentistry you know and you can only know the dentistry you learn.
  • Being a great communicator. With your team, your colleagues and especially your patients, you have to be able to communicate value. And any great dentist knows that much of that occurs in the operatory. That’s how you separate dental care needs from insurance considerations. And that’s how you get to do the clinical work you love. Because nothing happens until you use your value creation skills to get the patient to own their possibilities and say yes to the best care for which they are ready.
  •  Being a great leader. That means motivating and educating your team on what great dentistry means, because patients talk with them when you leave the room or when they are in a hygiene chair, so the message must be consistent. It also means being able to “quarterback” an interdisciplinary team, where you work effectively with specialists and labs to deliver the best comprehensive care and value to your patients.
  • Being a great strategist. I think many dentists who have that “just-want-to-be-a-dentist” feeling are overwhelmed by the flow of information that goes through a practice. But the truth is, a great strategist knows to boil that down to just a few key data points for dental practices – case acceptance and patient retention, for instance – and then build strategies around those “prime movers”: strategies around treatment planning that engages the team and the patient and drives case acceptance; strategies around your patient experience that drives retention. Isolate and master a few of these and the rest falls into place.

Today’s dentist must be all these things. That’s the reality we live in. And if you look at it the right way, you realize it is actually a very exciting reality. Because while the challenges may be greater than dentists faced in years past, for the dentist who is ready to take on those challenges and master these four areas of expertise, the opportunities are practically limitless.

Never mind being “just a dentist.” Now is the perfect time to set your sights on being a great dentist, with all the rewards and fulfillment that comes with that.

(Click this link to read more articles by Imtiaz Manji.)