Dentistry has historically been viewed as a stable profession with reliable income and guaranteed career security. However, practicing dentists today are facing increasing economic pressures, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to survive, new graduates increasingly need to enter the market with an entrepreneurial mindset. Here’s what that means for you…
The current dental market
Graduates entering the dental profession today are faced with a uniquely challenging set of circumstances. As practices slowly limp back towards pre-pandemic patient volume, the unfolding cost-of-living crisis threatens to send numbers plummeting again. Add to this the increased cost of doing business, the growing restrictions in dental benefits, and the record-high price of a dental education, and graduates would be forgiven for wondering: is dentistry even profitable anymore?
Don’t worry — your hard work has not been in vain! There will always be a need for dentists, and while the profession is often impacted during economic crises, it always bounces back well. That said, it is undeniably more difficult for dentists to find financial stability and security in today’s economic landscape. With an entrepreneurial mindset, though, difficult does not mean impossible!
The dental entrepreneur
An entrepreneur is, in its most basic sense, somebody who starts a business. A dentist who owns a private practice, then, is by definition already an entrepreneur. However, there is a ceiling to the success one can have with this business model, and that ceiling is significantly lower thanks to the financial pressures mentioned above. While some dentists see this as a threat, the more entrepreneurially minded are looking beyond the private practice model and seeing the opportunity to build an empire.
One way to achieve this is with the managed group model, in which several practices are managed by one owner (you!). Backroom functions, administration, and operations can all be handled from one central point, improving both time and cost efficiency. And with higher patient volumes, you can secure favorable rates from suppliers, labs, and vendors. According to Dr Marc Cooper, writing for Dental Products Report, these are among the many reasons that this business structure is rapidly emerging as the “dominant force” in the market, with an annual 20% growth rate at the time of writing.
It does, of course, take some time and experience to build up to a managed group model. In the meantime, co-branded dentistry can be a valuable stepping stone for the entrepreneurial dentist.
The co-branded model could also be described as franchising, where you buy the rights to a company’s brand and trademarks. You own the practice, giving you the freedom, control and profit shares that working for a corporate dental chain would not. Meanwhile, the franchisor supports you with the non-clinical burden of running your practice, and you benefit from their established marketing, operational expertise, and vendor/supplier relationships. Because your success reflects on their own brand, the franchisor is highly motivated to make sure you have everything you need to build a profitable practice.
Making the transition to dental entrepreneur
1. Cultivate the right mindset
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. In order to succeed as a dental entrepreneur, you must be:
Willing to make tough decisions and accept responsibility.
Tolerant of a high degree of risk and ambiguity.
Resilient in the face of stress and setbacks.
Adaptable to changing landscapes and new challenges.
Passionate enough about your chosen path to persevere through difficulties.
Speak to others who have followed this path about the challenges they have faced and the strengths that have helped them. Does this highlight any gaps in your own mindset and skills that might get in your way? If so, it’s never too early in your career to work on improving them.
2. Look for problems you can solve
A true entrepreneur is always looking for trouble! Why? Because every great business idea begins with solving a problem, and dentistry is no different.
Whether you’re studying, networking or practicing, make a habit of constantly looking for challenges (and solutions). Look out for things like:
Difficulties finding certain products, services or information.
Common complaints or requests from patients, colleagues, or fellow students.
Frustrations around the time, cost or efficiency of a process/procedure.
When you’re identifying solutions, ask yourself questions like:
What is the obstacle or bottleneck in this process/procedure?
Is there a safer/better/cheaper/faster way to do this?
Who does this problem affect most?
Is there a gap in the market for a dentist who does it this way?
If you have a problem, chances are many others have the same one. Find the solution that helps you all, and you have the foundations of a great business idea.
3. Invest in continuing dental education
When you’ve completed your formal education, the onus will be on you to keep your knowledge and skills up to date with continuing education. Some dentists do the bare minimum they need to keep their licenses active, but the entrepreneurial dentist sees an opportunity.
Continuing education is so much more than just a way to keep your knowledge current; it gives you front-row seats to emerging challenges and trends in dentistry — and the skills you need to capitalize on them. Invest as much as you can in continuing education and you’ll be perfectly placed to take advantage of the most lucrative dental business opportunities the moment they arise.
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