Two Hats Every Dentist Must Wear

Two Hats Every Dentist Must Wear

There are two hats that every dentist has to wear.

Hat number 1 is the dentist as an employee. Hat number 2 is the dentist as a leader.

The role of a leader is not restricted to practice owners. I think this is a misconception, and in my opinion whether you are an associate, a hospital dentist…or whatever your role may be, you always wear both hats.

All dentists are leaders, regardless of whether they own the practice. Plus, all dentists who own the practice still have a role as an employee in the practice.

In this article I explore both hats. The role of a dentist as an employee looks at developing your clinical skills, chairside manners and being part of a team mate.

I then explore the role of a dentist as a leader – looking at communication skills, personal branding, business leadership and working with team mates as a business leader (whether you are an owner or not).

If you'd like to listen to Chuck McKee and I talk about this on the T-Bone Speaks podcast hit play on the player below. Otherwise....read on and let's get into it.

The role of a dentist as an employee

I refer to this as being ‘in your job’.

I am a dental practice owner, but I also consider myself to have a role as an employee of my practice. 3-4 days a week I am treating my patients and doing my job. During these times I have to comply with practice procedures and work towards the practice vision – not necessarily my own vision.

The concept of a practice owner also having a role as an employee is not restricted the dental or medical industry. For example, consider a restaurant owner who also cooks in the kitchen or runs front of house – that’s exactly the same. During those times, the owner is also an employee.

The role of a dentist as a leader

I refer to this as working ‘on your profession as a dentist’.

This encompasses all the things that you do when you’re not in the chair.

Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, you’re in control of your own success. This is a leadership trait that anyone can have, whether you work for someone or not.

So many successful people struggle with leadership. It’s not innate in most people.

Let’s take a look at what it means to wear the employee hat, what should you be focussing on?

Clinical skills

More often than not, when one person is growing and another isn’t, the differentiator is education.

To advance yourself as a clinician, whether you own a practice or you’re an associate, you need to consistently educate yourself to be able to expand your skillset.

Many dentists struggle with continuing education. Something we should ask ourselves when we take CE is are we doing it as a necessity, a passion, or because we are proactively trying to grow?

Consider this – many dentists spend a quarter of a million dollars (at least) on dental school, then for the rest of their career they spend $3-5k a year on CE. It’s hard to comprehend.

You should always think about moving up to the next level, as if you are in the corporate world.  Don’t stay still.

Chairside manners

Chairside manners are a skill that needs to be learnt when you are working ‘in your practice’ as an employee.

When you are first starting out, developing chairside manners can often be a challenge. Adopting the right balance of being talkative vs professional, and understanding the level of information to provide and in the right style…all of these things take time to learn.

Listen more than you talk

We should all listen more than we talk.

The reality is, everyone grossly over-talks! Many dentists feel they have to over explain what they are doing which can be quite intimidating to a patient. You need to be sensitive. It’s important to remember that just because you do something over and over again, it’s still a big deal to your patient.

It’s really important to engage with patients in a genuine way and body language plays a big role. For example, if your patient has an important question or concern and clearly wants to talk, take your gloves off, put your equipment down, spin around and look them in the eye.

It’s amazing how many dentists have lost patients because they didn’t listen.

Being part of a team

When you are wearing your employee hat you are part of the team.

When I do speaking engagements, I often ask what’s the number one challenge in a practice – it’s always the team!

My team consider me to be a part of the team – even though I am of course the boss as well as a team member.  I’m not above doing what everyone else does in order to ensure the practice runs smoothly.

When you’re leading a team it’s like raising a family – you want to be respected but not feared.

You need to know your people. Not just as employees, but as people. We’re in the people business, our business is people – I want to know what’s going on in people’s lives because I care and also because if affects me.

Be authentic in your practice and you’re going to win.

Let’s take a look at what it means to wear the leader hat, what should you be focusing on?

Working ‘on your job’ and being a leader

Too many dentists work in their job Monday to Thursday, and they do nothing to work on their job in-between.

Often, in dentistry, dentists achieve a goal, for example, opening their own practice, and then they plateaux. They don’t move beyond that point. They are not working ‘on’ their practice. When this happens their income level will stay fairly flat over time and they cannot realistically expect to grow.

Working ‘on’ your practice is not necessarily a weekend activity. You can dedicate time when you will not be working in the practice e.g. not with patients.  For example, I carve out 10-12 weeks a year to work on my practice. I will take a week and go into the practice, but I am not seeing any patients. Instead, I’m working on the practice and spending one-to-one time with the team.

This does not come naturally to many because not everyone is as passionate about their dental practice and dental career as me. I’d estimate 25% of dentists are truly passionate and want to be true leaders.

Personal Branding

Personal branding is about becoming known, being recognized as an expert, and being acknowledged as a referral source for those in your community.

Two Hats Every Dentist Must Wear

Whether you’re an owner or non-owner – leadership is about personal branding. What do you want to be known for?

Leadership is identifying your passion and doing what it takes to become known for that. I’m not necessarily  talking about becoming internationally known, or even locally known - start with becoming known in your practice for that.

We are in the people business. People seek out, buy, and invest in people who are like them - people that they can relate to.

Personal branding is the number one thing that every dentist needs to work on

Business Leadership is all about the team

It’s all about the team. If you focus on people most things take care of themselves. We have got to grow our teams.

Leadership is about recognizing when people are ready for a new challenge, giving them the tools and the permission, and being there to support them.

Most people want more satisfaction from work. People need to feel like they are growing.

A good test is to spend a few days making a note of everything that you do – clinical and non-clinical. Then assess from that list, is there anything that someone else could do instead.

If you continue to do the things that your team are there to do, you are failing as a leader.

When you are assessing the team, ask yourself, are you holding me back, or am I holding you back? Most of the time it’s the dentist holding the team back. Give them opportunities and in doing so free up your own bandwidth.

Even if you’re an associate, that assistant works for you. You may not pay their pay check but if you can grow that assistant, they will be loyal for life. Recruit others to work for you, and team mates in the practice that want your leadership will flock to you.

In Conclusion

Every dentist wears two hats – the ‘employee hat’ and the ‘leader hat’ – this is true whether you are an associate, a hospital dentist, or a dental practice owner.

When wearing the ‘employee hat’ it’s important to focus on your clinical skills, chairside manners, and being part of a team.

When you’re wearing the ‘leader hat’ it’s important to focus on communication skills, personal branding, business leadership and working with team members as a business leader. Everyone is a leader whether you own the practice or not.

It’s really important that we recognize the two hats that we wear in order to grow and succeed.

About the Author Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal represents the next generation of leadership for the dental profession. As a respected speaker, author and opinion leader, he is changing the way general dentists and their teams practice.

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