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As specialists, our success depends on helping our patients and their referring doctors through the surgical treatment process. We all try to do our best, but as we get busier, it becomes difficult to manage these complex relationships as well as we would like.

How do some specialists become “A-List Specialists”? What do they do that the other specialist doesn't? As someone who is continually trying to become an A-List Specialist, I thought I would share some tips that might be helpful.


We are sometimes faced with referral slips that are cryptic and patients who aren't really sure why they are in your office. View these as opportunities, not headaches. Call the referring dentist for clarity. More often than not, the dentist will appreciate the extra effort, and the patients will appreciate the special treatment.

A-List Specialists are great communicators, and have set up excellent systems in their offices so that everyone is kept in the loop.


Patients are living longer with more medical issues than ever, and as the baby boomer generation ages, their dental needs and treatment plans are becoming increasingly more complex. To meet the needs of our patients and referring doctors, we need to spend the time functioning as a true team member. Have referring doctors over for treatment planning conferences for interdisciplinary cases. If distance and traffic are problems, then use one of the many web conferencing programs so everyone can see each other's photos, imaging and intraoral scans. Remember, your surgery is just one part of the overall treatment plan.

A-List Specialists are masters of collaboration, which is why they are doing the big cases we all want to do.


There are times that patients and referring dentists don't see the treatment plan the same way we do. We want to do the best possible treatment plan, but that doesn't always happen. Ultimately the referring dentist is the quarterback, and the patient always makes the final decision. I have had many patients return for comprehensive implant surgical treatment because I gave them the power to change their minds and come back when they were ready.

Inform patients and referrers of your concerns, but respect their decisions and try to be positive and supportive.


As specialists, all of us spent time during our residency training educating our interns, GPR residents, dental students, physician colleagues and others about who we are as well as our skills and training. Our skills as educators must continue throughout our practicing career. We need to constantly educate our patients about all aspects of their surgical care, and Spear Education has waiting room and procedure/diagnosis-specific videos to help us. We also need to educate our referring doctors about our skills and abilities as well as advances in our specific fields. On a personal level, it also means learning about and incorporating new techniques and procedures in our own practices.

A-List Specialists are at the cutting edge in their knowledge and training, which provides more value to their referring doctors and their patients.


Despite our best efforts, not everything we do is a complete success. When things don't go as planned or the treatment fails to achieve the goals we all hoped for, we need to be honest, professional and accountable. No one ever wins the blame game. Having to be right always creates more problems than it ever solves.

A-List Specialists find a way to placate their patients and referring doctors,
and go the extra mile to help make things right.


As specialists, we are all highly educated and intelligent people. If that's true, then why do we sometimes act so stupid? Demeaning others’ work or skills does not make you a better doctor in your patient's eyes. Think about what you say and do before you say or do it, and actually read the referral slip! I gained a number of great referring dentists because one specialist could not understand that "evaluate patient for implants" did not mean "place implants wherever you want and send the patient back as a complete surprise."

A-List Specialists always find something positive to say, and are always thinking about how to make things better and easier for the patient and the referring dentist.


Get involved in your community. Be an active member in your dental society and local charities, and join or start a Spear Study Club. You will get to know your referring doctors on a deeper level both professionally and personally. The majority of our referring doctors are great people as well as great dentists, and it's rewarding and fulfilling to interact with them in different ways.

A-List Specialists are out there and taking leadership roles in their communities, which generates personal referrals … these are the best kind.

At its highest level, dentistry is truly a team profession with all members bringing their A-game to provide every patient the best care possible. And one of the best ways to grow as a practice and become an A-List Specialist is to commit to being growth partners with your restorative practices so they can become A-List referring practices at the same time.

Douglas Smail, D.D.S. is a contributor to Spear Digest.


Commenter's Profile Image Cara G.
April 16th, 2019
Thank you, this was very helpful