Thursday, January 12, 2017

Vacations: Distant Childhood Memories

Last year, a good friend of mine confessed she had a dilemma: She was trying to figure out where to spend her remaining two weeks of vacation for the year. Wait … what? Remaining?! I asked how many weeks of vacation she had started with, and she casually replied, “Five.” At first, I was stunned. Then, I was jealous. Now, mind you, she has degrees in chemical and mechanical engineering and works for a top pharmaceutical company where important drugs are being developed to combat big diseases. But she doesn’t work on the weekends and doesn’t stay past 5 or 6 p.m. during any typical workday. And did I mention the five-week vacation?

I’m aware of how notorious Americans are for leaving unused vacation on the table, and recent research confirmed that we don’t seem to be thrilled about taking time off. In fact, we seem to applaud the all-work-and-no-play mindset. When I took my rare two-week vacation two years ago (after not taking any more than five days for several years), I received many astonished reactions. True, it’s about economics for many. But imagine if we were able to train our psyches to take a few days off in the midst of a long work streak. I would argue we would have more productive days following those days off, not to mention a more positive work atmosphere and better focus. In other words, we might actually reduce burnout and do our backs and hands a favor.

However, do those things really matter to us when we have packed schedules and can’t even afford to have our assistants call in sick because they have the flu, let alone a quick getaway? Besides, I wonder if my friend can empathize with dental practice owners or dentists with a solid patient base. Maybe she wouldn’t understand that even if we have a backup dentist to take care of our patients when we’re gone, we still keep those patients in the back of our minds regardless of how far away we travel. When I was staring at the Pacific Ocean during my holiday, I’ll admit I had thoughts of a bridge I had just delivered or a surgery I might have done before I left. “I hope the patient’s bite feels good and my stitches are intact …”

Besides, each day away from the office is a loss for the dental business. Practice owners can’t simply unplug from the office mentally and financially, as my friend in the drug industry may be able to.

As the holiday season came and went, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work as dental insurance benefits came to a close, while my dear friend browsed the travel section at the bookstore to plan her final fortnight of adventure for 2016. Lucky gal. 

Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Deciphering the Meaning of ‘I Chipped a Tooth’

I know this is something you hear all the time: “I chipped a tooth.” This can mean so many things, especially if it is coming from a nondentist.

“I chipped a tooth” in the posterior can be a chip off the marginal ridge next to a class II restoration that you did five years ago. And if you saw this, you might just say, “It is fine,” or you might just smooth it off. Or a broken tooth in the posterior could mean the ling cusp of tooth No. 12 just broke to the gumline and below.

The question that usually comes up at our office is: How do we schedule patients who call and say, “I chipped a tooth.”

I am a doctor who does not like to schedule a “come in and we will see” visit. I know how difficult it can be for people to take time off of work or get a babysitter just so I can tell them, “Yep, you have a chipped tooth, and we can see you in three weeks to take care of this.”

Sometimes I schedule 50 minutes for a chip on the anterior that you couldn’t see with a microscope, or I might schedule 20 minutes for a “chip” when, actually, a child fell off his bike and “chipped” the heck out of teeth Nos. 8 and 9, to the point where the nerves were hanging out.

Because I refuse to do a “look-and-see” appointment, about a year ago, we bought a smartphone for the office. First, we bought it to be able to send text messages to people to confirm their appointments. We all know that calling someone at home and leaving a message on their voicemail is about as effective as sending a smoke signal (but we tried for 10 years). And nearly everyone has a smartphone these days, and everyone sends text messages (except for Grandma Nel, who we still just call). Now that we have this designated smartphone, we just ask people to send us a photo of the tooth via text message.

It can be a little tougher for a posterior tooth, but we have had tremendous success in the anterior. For example, both of these photos were sent to me by a patient who called reporting a chipped tooth.


Looking at these photos, it is pretty comical how people perceive their oral health care needs. Now that we have this technology, we can use it to help patients schedule the correct appointment.

By the way, through my mobile service provider, adding another line to my plan only costs $5 per month. (I think I bought the phone for $99.) So I am not telling you to break the bank here. I thought this was an easy way to make the office run smoother.

Have you found any ways to make your office run smoother that you want to share? Let me know.

John Gammichia, DMD, FAGD

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The ABCs of a Successful Dental Practice (Part 3 of 3)

Welcome to the final installment of the “The ABCs of a Successful Dental Practice.” As we close out this blog post series, I want to impress upon the reader that there are approximately 200 key performance indicators (KPIs) that should be monitored and evaluated monthly through dental practice analytics. 

With that said, and as an owner/operator, I am all too familiar with the time constraints we face as professional colleagues and friends. However, analogous to a pilot who is commandeering a beautiful Boeing 787 aircraft, while monitoring critical KPIs (air speed, jet fuel, altitude, etc.) from the cockpit, it is critical for today’s “dental businessperson” to possess the knowledge and business acumen to navigate their operation while soaring to new heights. This begins with learning how to diagnose your business through the use of KPIs and any corrective actions required to stay on budget and meet or exceed your goals and objectives. I refer to this process as “keeping your finger on the pulse.”

The following recommendations are based upon more than 35 years of business and clinical experience as a clinician, owner/operator, project manager, practice management consultant for solo and large-scale dental organizations and five-star hospitality customer service mentor, as well as completion of a rigorous Master of Business Administration curriculum with an emphasis on health care. As I stated in the previous post, these suggestions are more than simply anecdotal thoughts or ideas. They are based upon the science of business.

In this blog post, we will focus on the letters “R–Z,” presented in the hopes that each respective reader will glean a pearl or two.

Recall: A well-designed dental recall system will ensure that at a minimum, 85 percent of active patients (active is defined as any local patient who is seen in your office within the past 18 months) are scheduled for continuous treatment somewhere within your dental practice at all times. Yes, 85 percent (the national average is 42 percent). In other words, each respective patient should have an appointment in your office at any given time, hygiene or restorative. The most successful marketing and greatest potential to grow your business is through your existing patient base and by learning to ask for internal referrals. People buy from people whom they like, and they also refer their friends and colleagues to people whom they like.

Your patients have already chosen you and/or your associate, and now it is up to you and your excellent and highly trained team to maintain this relationship. Every dentist should know how to access the number of active patients and percentage scheduled from their practice management software. If not, ask your front office staff to show you how. This is a critical metric that should be monitored monthly. If we can’t diagnose the problem, we can’t treat it.

Scheduling for your success: Maintaining a consistent and smooth flow of patient appointments while meeting daily production goals (dentist and dental hygienists should have daily production goals tied into an annual budget) is one of the most challenging issues that your front office personnel encounters. By incorporating 10-minute blocks of time, required time per procedure (based upon your top 25 Code on Dental Procedures and Nomenclature procedures), per clinician, a short-call/VIP list and learning to schedule to 70 percent of daily goals before lunch is at the heart of developing predictable and consistent patient schedules that ensure financial health for your business, while decreasing stress for all. There is no quicker way to burn out a team, destroy employee morale and induce anxiety than to “put the patient anywhere in the schedule.” Remember, being busy does not translate into being successful. Scheduling for your success is an art and science and should be respected as such.

Treatment planning: One of my mentors, Dr. Bill Robbins, taught me to call it the way I see it, and that there is no such thing as “we will just watch it.” In other words, do not pre-judge your patients, and try to evaluate if they can afford your proposed dental treatment. Call it the way you see it! Your treatment plan is predicated on the condition of the patient’s oral cavity, not yours, and seldom are there two patients who present with the same needs.

In today’s dental economy, it is my experience that the most successful way to gain patient acceptance to your proposed treatment is through the use of intraoral cameras and by involving the patient in what is commonly referred to as “co-diagnosis.” For example, ask your patient, “Mrs. Jones, what do you see?” as you display a fracture or an area of occlusal decay on 42-by-50-inch screens at the 6 o’clock position of your treatment room. Then listen and say nothing. Let the patient answer. Silence is golden. Then, send the patient home with pictures of his or her teeth, soft tissue, calculus accumulation, etc. By the way, most patients will gladly accept your treatment recommendations because you are no longer having to sell your services. Now you need to have your financial coordinator provide financial options so he or she can convert the case right? Excellent systems are the key.

Uniformity: Providing a consistent product and service that creates value for each and every patient is one of the biggest challenges facing any business. As dentists, we are the primary revenue producers, and unfortunately, we seldom serve on the front line and interact with the patients when they are paying for our services. Your financial coordinator or whoever collects monies on your behalf needs to be trained and supported with proven financial systems to protect the financial health of your business. If the patient deserves continuity of care, then the business owner deserves uniformity of payment. However, without proven systems, your financial health will be jeopardized.

Voicemail: National data suggests that 80–87 percent of new patients who call today’s dentist and are greeted by voicemail will hang up and go to the next dentist on their list. That means that you will lose 80 to 87 of every 100 prospective new patients if your practice’s unanswered calls go to voicemail during regular business hours.

We need to teach our team members to smile, answer the telephone within two to three rings, and make all patients feel welcome and believe they have called the finest office in their community. Case conversion begins with the first patient touch point, and that is usually the telephone. Two weeks ago, a colleague of mine called his office nine times and informed me that on all nine instances, his call went to voicemail. Enough said?

Website: The days of expecting patients to call to make an appointment or walk in your dental office are gone. Print media is on a continual decline and is expected to continue. Print media that promotes your services based upon price only serves to promote dentistry as a commodity, which leads to patients believing a dentist is a dentist is a dentist. There is a place for print marketing (your best patients, approximately 20 percent of your business). However, after tracking hundreds of clients’ data sets, it is minimal at best. When today’s consumer needs a dentist they will find them through referral (from a friend, family member, coworker, employer insurance, etc.) or turn to the world wide web.

However, just having a website is not sufficient. Today, consumers (including new and existing patient base) are glued to their smartphones, tablets and laptops. The typical user is continuously checking their email, updating their social profiles, searching for a destination (your office) and, on average, spending five to six hours per day navigating their device. According to Pew Research, 64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35 percent in spring 2011. The ability to “stay in touch” has changed from a luxury to a necessity for all types of users. We are truly a people “on the go.” Patients expect you and your website to be great. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist, and if you have a website and the consumer doesn’t like what they see they will bounce (bounce rate) right off of your page and move to the next.

X-rays: A full-mouth series of X-rays (FMX) and a panoramic X-ray, or cone beam computed tomography, for new patients are still the standard of care. I see more and more colleagues failing to order the appropriate images (because insurance won’t pay for it) necessary to evaluate the head and neck area for which we possess tremendous knowledge. The panoramic X-ray has fantastic value, and when displayed and presented to the patient on large screen monitors, it serves as a wonderful education tool that builds rapport, value and trust. The ability to evaluate the patient for intra-osseous pathology, elongated Styloid processes, internal carotid plaque, temporomandibular joint disorders, sinus pathology and much more warrants acquiring a beautiful panoramic X-ray. With respect to FMX or bitewings, we need to hold our team accountable for acquiring diagnostic images so we can do what we do best. I see hundreds of images that would not pass the test in dental school for either the dentist or dental assistant.

Yearly budget: As we close 2016, there is no better time to prepare your annual or yearly budget and start off the new year with clear financial goals and objectives. I am fortunate that I had the pleasure of developing budgets for years with Hilton Worldwide global hospitality company, and so I am accustomed to same. With that said, and if you need help, reach out to someone who can help you (a bookkeeper, certified public accountant or colleague who is experienced in preparing a realistic budget). Creating a well-thought-out budget is the first step to accomplishing your financial goals while creating a blueprint for 2017.

Zest: Dentistry is a profession that enables each of us to serve our patients and colleagues, as well as give back to our community and family. Let your zest be the inspiration that helps lead your team to a successful and happy new year in 2017.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Tips for Establishing Trust in the Workplace

The foundation behind every relationship is based on the principle of trust. Not only am I talking about in personal relationships, but also in our workplaces as well. If people trust you, they believe in you. Even if you make a mistake or act in a negative manner toward them, they won’t hold that action against you because they “know you.” They would understand that is not typical of your behavior and most likely try to help you with whatever the problem was. 

On the flip side, if someone doesn’t trust you, everything you say and do will be under scrutiny. Behind all your actions, there will be doubtful motive, and until the trust is established, there is no relationship at all.

As dentists, we are leaders in our offices, and leaders must be trusted. If you have a team member who is doubtful of your intentions, he or she will not implement your practice ideas and philosophies. He or she instead may say negative things behind your back to other team members — and even to patients. You can imagine the cascading, detrimental effects this can have on your business. If you don’t have a trust-based relationship with your patients, they will most likely not move forward with any treatment recommendations you may have; and if they do, they likely will find fault in your work, even if it was done pristinely.

Trust is a core concept that every successful business attains. Here are three ways you can establish a trusting rapport with your team and patients:
  1. Never overpromise. At times, people have the best intentions and try to do more than what is within their realm of capability. We allow ourselves to be talked into things because we want people to like us, and we want to help, or sometimes we just may carry too much bravado. Regardless, if you are not sure you can do something — don’t do it! In fact, I always tell my team under promise but try to over deliver.
  2. Say what you mean. When you talk, communicate clearly and accurately. Sometimes people tell “white lies” because they feel they will avoid offending someone or confrontation. Maybe they will embellish a story to make it seem more glamorous and exciting, or to try and gain more credibility. Life is just way too busy to try to keep up with these fallacies. Eventually, you get caught, and then feelings get really hurt, and you lose all your credibility.
  3. Honor your word. If you say you’re going to do something, make sure you do it. Once in a while, you may legitimately not be able to do what you said you would. Make sure this is discussed with those affected, and reschedule. If you don’t, you will lose trust with people, and you will begin to lose faith in your own integrity. If you can’t keep your word to yourself, this will eventually have a heavy negative impact on your everyday sense of happiness and overall well-being.

The bottom line is: Be true to your word, to yourself and others. If you believe in yourself, you will have strong core values that can help you build strong relationships with people that will bring success in every aspect of your life.

Pamela Marzban, DDS, FAGD

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Behind the Wheel of Your Practice

I am an unabashed car enthusiast. I love cars. I read about them, dream about them, love getting behind the wheel of them and wish I could afford to race them. Car ownership is a huge expense, so I buy something that is great and keep it for a long time. The last two cars I owned I had for 17 and 13 years, respectively, eventually changing vehicles because I was ready for a new one.

We bought an all-wheel drive Toyota minivan for my wife to drive. She loved being up high for visibility, and I was duly impressed with my first all-wheel-drive experience. With the proper winter and ice tires, in Calgary’s winter, the car was stable and safe.

So it was my turn to get myself a new car — only my third new car in more than 30 years. With my children now in their late and mid-teenage years, getting in and out of the back seat of my two-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe was a challenge, so I decided I wanted a four-door, all-wheel-drive sports sedan. I wanted it roomy, comfortable, safe and fast. There is a large array of vehicles in this category, and I decided to look broadly at offerings from Japan, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy.

Going through the test-driving experience was fun and instructive. Some dealers were indifferent toward me (Cadillac) as if they were not sure they wanted me to buy their car. There was no enthusiasm. Too bad, because my dad loved Caddys.

I had a bad experience at Porsche. I looked at its Panamera with googly eyes. I loved that car and the experience driving it. But it seems that you get a base car no one wants, and then every little thing, including the key fob, was an extra cost. I was confused by the options and said to the salesperson, “I am interested in this car; can you sit down with me and work out what it will cost to get the car that I want?” He said that all the information is listed on the website and I should go there to view it. Really? For a car that I later learned was going to cost CA$176,000? Needless to say, I did not buy that car and the experience with that salesman really left me feeling sad and disappointed. I still feel that way today, more than one year later.

Audi, Jaguar, Infiniti, Lexus, Maserati, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all had great salespeople who made me feel welcome and let me have lots of time with the cars in the dealership and on the road. They clearly wanted my business. But Lexus, Maserati and Mercedes rose to the top, based on a number of emotional factors and some real car experiences that got my blood pressure to rise in anticipation.

Maserati had incredible performance but was really loud, and the noise level was annoying after 30 minutes behind the wheel.

Lexus had customer service excellence down to a science. The car was exceptionally quiet, and that sound system in the car — it was great. But it did not have the performance to match the others. It was good, but it was not exceptional.

The Mercedes-Benz had the best of all of those worlds and was the surprising (to me) choice that I made. I have enjoyed this car since then, and I am happy with my choice. It is the total package: great dealer customer service experience, exceptional performance, quiet inside but an incredible sound system, four doors, all-wheel drive, luxury beyond my desires. It may be the last car I own, as I intend to keep it for the next 15 to 20 years.

It’s not about the car. It’s the moments, the experiences, one moment stacked on another that is what constitutes a great ride. I found that to be true in my personal situation.

What about our practices? What moments, what experiences, the moments stacked onto the next, constitute a great office? How are we greeting our patients, talking with them, building our relationships with them, in addition to providing them with exceptional dentistry that is creating long-term, loyal, happy patients who pay, stay and refer?

I think these questions are worth taking the time to ponder and discuss with our teams. I’ll introduce that at our next team meeting.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD, FPFA

Monday, December 19, 2016

The ABCs of a Successful Dental Practice (Part 2 of 3)

As we know, there are myriad systems, processes and strategies required to operate a highly successful dental business. In this blog post, we will continue with the letters J–Q, presented so the dental practice owner can familiarize him or herself with some of the common threads found in highly prosperous dental practices across the United States (solo, small group or big-box dental chains). These tips are presented to help business owners increase their profitability while decreasing stress, creating accountability and leading to a more balanced lifestyle. 

As mentioned in my previous blog posts, the dentist is the primary revenue producer and should be chairside 95 percent of the time (as should the dental hygienist). As a result, it is vital to ensure that each team member is trained to perform his or her responsibilities, reinforced with proven systems, operating manuals and protocols for every conceivable patient/team interaction.

There is no substitute for excellent training and continuous education for all dental auxiliaries and non-clinical team members. Our clinical skillsets are no longer the differentiator in our success. The keys to today’s business success begins with embracing a service excellence culture that results in a patient-centric environment and engaged employees.

The following recommendations and/or suggestions are based upon more than 35 years of combined practice management, clinical mastery, project development and five-star hospitality customer service experience (the latter as a major hotel executive), as well as knowledge gained through the completion of a rigorous Master of Business Administration program, incorporating all facets of business. These recommendations are more than simply anecdotal ideas. They are based upon the science of business.

Job descriptions: Job descriptions serve different purposes for the employee or employee candidate and human resources department. Well thought-out job descriptions help organizations increasingly understand the experience and skill sets needed to enhance the success of any company. They assist in the hiring, evaluation and termination of employees. A well-prepared job description should serve as a basis for interviewing candidates, orienting new employees and finally evaluating job performance. There are no outside companies that can provide you with “cookie-cutter” job descriptions that are sufficient for the dental business owner. Each job description should be customized by office and position to fit within the culture of the business and should be reviewed annually by the owner/human resource manager.

Key performance indicators (KPIs): There are more than 200 meaningful KPIs that should be measured on a monthly basis to evaluate the success of any dental business. Unfortunately, the concept of “what gets measured gets done” is neither taught nor discussed in the conventional dental school curriculum. Analogous to a metabolic chemistry panel used by our medical colleagues to determine a patient’s general health, the astute and informed business owner should learn to evaluate the overall “business health” of their respective practices through what I refer to as a “Business Panel 200.” The use of quantifiable metrics with recommended corrective action should be incorporated into every dental business in the country. The most predictable way to become successful in today’s dental economy is to maximize your productivity, increase your collections and implement proven systems that are guaranteed to produce excellent outcomes.

Location: There is no substitute for a well-researched dental office location, existing or new. The average neighborhood changes every 10 years, and it is incumbent for the dental practice executive to be familiar with the socioeconomics of his or her respective patient base. If your office is located in a poor location, it may be time to relocate your practice or change your business philosophy. The savvy businessperson will obtain a demographics site analysis ($400 to $500) every two to three years and evaluate the number and location of homeowners (by ZIP code and carrier route), apartment dwellers, dental competitors, traffic flow, average income per household, average number of household members, average age per household (baby boomers born between 1946–64 have more expendable income), insurance dependency and much more. For example, it is difficult for a practice built upon treating edentulous and geriatric patients to survive in a neighborhood saturated with young families with an average age of 35 and with three children per household. Your business philosophy (level of quality, service and price) needs to match your customer profile, or you may experience catastrophic results. It starts with knowing what your patients want and where they live.

Marketing: When most business owners think of marketing, they think of print media or print advertising. Historically, many dental business owners have turned to ink campaigns when they want to acquire new patients or increase their business volume. Unfortunately, print media results are the poorest and most expensive method in which to acquire quality new patients (QNP). I don’t wish to degrade or demean any advertising company. However, the data is irrefutable and the return on investment is predictably dismal. If you want to increase your QNP, then identify your existing quality patients (approximately 20 percent of your customer base) and create an internal system that empowers and rewards your employees when they ask for referrals. For example, during your morning huddles, each team member could select one or two patients for whom they are in rapport with and ask for a referral. Once your team is armed with learned active verbal skills (some call this scripting), your internal marketing outcomes will reign superior. The beauty of a well-trained team of professionals built upon five-star customer service is the superior results and benefits for all parties, including the consumer/patient. Too many dentists are attempting to compete on price, and this can be a recipe for disaster.

Remember, everything we do can be considered a marketing effort. The most successful and powerful marketing strategy begins with building rapport that leads to value, value that leads to trust, followed by trust that leads to increased case acceptance and QNP.

Number of new patients per month: A well-run dental business should expect to see an average increase in annual production and collections of at least 8–10 percent. In order to accomplish this, it is important to grow the patient base through acquisition of new patients, as well as with cohesive systems that lead to increased case acceptance. To offset the attrition/churn rate (departing patients), the average dental practice needs to acquire 25 to 30 QNP per month for a single clinician/single dental hygienist operation. Are you tracking this information? This is one of 200 KPIs that should be monitored monthly. Remember, diagnosis is the key to delivering beautiful clinical dentistry with excellent business outcomes.

Opportunity cost: Opportunity cost refers to the benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action (sometimes by doing nothing or the same thing over and over, expecting a different result). Stated differently, the opportunity cost of attempting to self-learn the business of dentistry may conservatively cost the owner $750,000 to $1,500,000 over a 25-year career and/or bankrupt the gifted dentist before he or she ever realizes what has happened.

Production: Production can be one of the most misleading KPIs and is routinely measured at full fee for service without taking into consideration insurance adjustments (by carrier and plan), marketing adjustments and numerous other adjustments. Adjustments are different from write-offs, yet in most instances, they are lumped together, resulting in inaccurate data that leads to an incorrect diagnosis and ultimately the wrong corrective action. All production adjustments should be separated by categories and reported accurately.

Quadrant dentistry: The majority of dental school curriculums teach single-tooth dentistry without regard for the well-being of the patient and/or dental businessperson. Unfortunately, most dental school programs lack the money, time or faculty to prepare new graduates for the business of dentistry, yet alone clinical competency. With that said, and through mentoring, most dentists can achieve their goals and objectives. A few of the benefits delivering quadrant dentistry include fewer appointments for the patient, increased production and collections for the business, increased cash flow, decreased burnout of all team members, decreased equipment and facility maintenance, fewer insurance claims, improved clinical outcomes and much more.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, in which I will provide additional tips on how to increase your efficiencies while ultimately leading a balanced lifestyle.

Change is inevitable. It can be logical or forced. There are marvelous and gifted dentists and surgeons who have suffered tremendously as a result of insufficient knowledge in the business of dentistry. A comprehensive education in every aspect of your business is paramount. The business clinician who can master excellent business and clinical skills will always have a place providing wonderful dental care with reduced stress.

Duke Aldridge, DDS, MBA, MAGD, MIC

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

There Is No Plateau, Period

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of returning to Cleveland, Ohio, where I lived a few years back. (I like to forget the four years of dental school horror that paralleled those fun years in the snowbelt.) I was actually nearby for an orthodontics continuing education course and used the opportunity to recharge the batteries. And to no one’s surprise who knows me, I got some serious self-reflection and personal/professional growth opportunities out of it. Because that’s what I do.

After sneaking into the dental school to check out my old digs — and finding 20-plus students setting denture teeth on a Sunday afternoon (ah, yes, the horror; thank you, removable lab techs everywhere for your service to this profession!) — I pulled a last-minute self surprise and got a courtside ticket to see my beloved, World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I think that perma-grin on my face was the same one I had when I came down Christmas morning as a 5-year-old to find my first bicycle under the tree.

I got there 90 minutes before tipoff — just me and the security staff. And LeBron James. Yeah, that’s right. Playing three to four games a week and practicing daily with the team (not to mention his family, brand and entrepreneurial outlets) just wasn’t enough. He was out there sweating. Moving. Learning. Adjusting. Perfecting his craft. The guy who is one of highest performing individuals in any profession, period, was using what time he had before busting his butt for four quarters to work on a specific shot sequence. One after another, after another. Like clockwork. Once I picked my jaw off the floor at the size, skill and impressiveness of it all, I realized a couple things:

  1. James appears to be not OK with status quo. To him, there is no plateau, period. Sure, he was gifted with the genetics and innate strength and ability of a superhuman. But to see the focus and energy he put into a 45-minute shooting session was unreal. Most of his teammates came out close to game time, an hour later, and spent their time goofing off, playing “horse” with the ball boy or tossing underhanded heaves from half court. James was wearing headphones, grinding. It reminded me of the days in the office when we do much the same. I know I’m not OK with status quo. I hope and assume that many in my profession feel the same as well. Learn. Adjust. Perfect your craft. That’s partly what we took an oath on all those years ago as denture-setting dental students. Critique yourself, your work and your presentation skills. Your leadership methods. Spend your career doing it. Don’t ever stop. Hit the plateau, and set your sights on a brand new one. You, your team and your patients will be better for it. 
  2. James is still human. After the grind session, he was ready and willing to high-five every little kid whom he neared. Smiles. Fist bumps. He gets it. It’s all about connection in life, in everything, with everyone, even in dentistry — even more so in dentistry. Patients don’t come into my office asking to see my diploma or transcript from dental school. They don’t care which associations I’m a diplomate of. They want to know I’m going to take good care of them, to provide them with honest, affordable dentistry to the best of my ability, all while showing them respect not unlike being a part of my family. That’s it. It’s time we all see that. No more treatment planning by scaring someone into your professional superiority or speaking in a foreign language, basically, spitting out every bit of dental encyclopedia filler we know. Sit down face-to-face with your patients and learn about them as the people in your chair. Ask them open-ended questions: “Do you have family in town?”; “What do you do for a living?”; “What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”; “What truly matters to you in life?” Treat the person, not the disease. You, your team and your patients will be better for it. 

There are no plateaus, period. So keep grinding. And enjoy the process along the way.

Donald Murry III, DMD


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The statements expressed on this blog to include the bloggers postings do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), nor do they imply endorsement by the AGD.