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Working in the Dental Practice Management Model: Two Views
How to weigh the pros and cons of private and group practice to make the best career decision.
Today’s large and small group practices, whether privately owned or owned by larger corporations—or managed by dental practice management companies—represent an alternative way for dentists to practice oral healthcare without the burdensome tasks associated with practice management. Yet, what attracts dentists to these models may depend on where they are in their careers—newly graduated from dental school or already well-established in their careers. Similarly, their perspectives on the pros and cons of working in such an environment may differ accordingly.
Christian Bauer, DDS, a 1999 graduate of Marquette University Dental School, realized during his studies there that it was easier to practice as part of a group, whether it was a two-person group or one with more people. He felt there was more security, with one advantage of joining a group right out of dental school being that the patient base was already established.
“It makes it a little bit easier to start practicing dentistry or doing what we are trained to do versus the business aspect, for which there is limited training in school,” says Bauer, who joined an American Dental Partners practice upon graduation and now works in ForwardDental in New Berlin, Wisconsin. “Being part of that group enables you to learn from seasoned dentists about good clinical experiences, but you also start to learn about business management.”
Ray Scott, DDS, president of Carus Dental in Austin, Texas, was the first to roll his practice into the American Dental Partners affiliation in 1997, doing so because it felt right and was something he wanted to be a part of based on Greg Serrao’s vision for a partnership relationship. He says that since then, the partnership has lived up to his expectations, enabling him to be part of a bigger whole and experience all of the reward without the risk.
“There is a sense of camaraderie, collegiality, and that we’re all in this together,” Scott observes. “We’re not just a group of doctors practicing in the same location. We’re truly a doctor group making decisions about the clinical part of dentistry in collaboration with our business management partner, and it’s become far more successful than we ever imagined.”
Scott recalls that his private practice was always successful, but he admits that success may have been in spite of themselves. They didn’t have processes, systems, or structures in place that enabled them to create something enduring or that would be in perpetual motion in terms of growth or creating opportunities for people.
“We partner the clinical acumen with the business acumen, and they’re truly working together in a synergistic relationship to create an environment that’s good for everyone,” Scott believes. “Dentistry is only as good as the doctor who performs it, and when you’re placed into a setting where you can thrive clinically, where quality of care is built into guidelines and standards, you’re going to be much more successful.”
Bauer emphasizes that the focus of his practice has always been patients, and he appreciates that American Dental Partners manages the non-dental aspects of practice, which enables him to spend more time developing treatment plans. Although there are quality assurance measures and peer review within his group, he emphasizes that nobody dictates how his dentistry is to be practiced.
“Too often when I hear people talk about large group practices, they refer to us as corporate dentistry, and there’s a negative connotation to the business model,” Bauer says. “In my situation, there isn’t a non-dentist calling the shots or mandating how we practice oral healthcare. Our dental practice management partners are here to help support us in making us a successful practice, relieving the stress associated with investments, financing, purchases and the like.”
Working in a dental practice management group environment has had positive effects on both Bauer and Scott’s personal and professional lives, from a balanced work/personal schedule to reduced stress; increased income to skills development; and work development to giving back to the community. Scott emphasizes that when doctors join American Dental Partners’ practices, they won’t have to work 40, 50, or 60 hours every week to make the practice successful or earn a good income.
“The work style is very conducive to balance, and it allows us to make a difference in the lives of patients and people working with us,” Scott says. “I think dentists want to be validated and know that they are making a difference, whether tooth by tooth, patient by patient, or on a bigger scale.”
“Each person has different goals and ideas about what they like and don’t like. Some truly enjoy being in a small, private solo practice, while others—like me—enjoy being in a privately owned but larger group practice that’s supported by a partner that relieves the stress of investments and expansion,” Bauer observes. “There’s a sense of belonging and shared vision, and the larger group private practice certainly has a good niche in the oral healthcare profession.”