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Inside Dental Technology
June 2014
Volume 5, Issue 6

Lifetime Learning Makes Perfect Business Sense

Expanding your expertise to ensure your laboratory remains viable in the dental industry

By Daniel Alter, MSc, MDT, CDT

The dental technology industry is currently in a state of flux, experiencing a rapid state of transition facilitated by the introduction of emerging technologies. Computer-aided design and manufacturing, coupled with enhanced dental products and services, are constantly developing, and have proved to be beneficial to patients, practitioners, and dental laboratories. Laboratories, both large and small, face a variety of challenges and sometimes must make radical decisions to ensure their lasting viability. However, every challenge also presents an opportunity. To have a clear perception of what is occurring in our profession, one needs to commit to sincerely being a lifetime learner and personal/professional grower of knowledge. Education, regardless of discipline or method, affords knowledge beyond the specific field of study, and offers an opportunity to expand one’s horizons, as well as the means to seek, find, and recognize solutions to personal and professional obstacles. Never before has it been more prudent to engage in absorbing all the information currently available within dentistry.

One should note that dentistry’s current industry transition is not unique—many manufacturing industries have also undergone similar transitions. The key is not to be left behind as a result of a lack of information, but rather stay at the forefront of knowledge to remain viable and have a driven edge in this extremely competitive economic environment. Well-educated dental laboratory professionals not only give themselves a competitive edge, they can do the same for their customers. This is because the knowledge they attain will position them to act in the capacity of a consultant to their partners on the dental team. This, in turn, will lead to an elevated relationship and mutual respect.

The Age of Information Abundance

We live in an age of information abundance. Laboratory professionals should make a commitment to taking advantage of this abundance to grow professionally and learn. There are different learning forums that are available for everyone’s time constraints and resources. One option is to seek out local study groups (including clinical study clubs) or education provided by an association. In these situations, dental professionals are learning collaboratively while engaging in social exchanges and creating a network of knowledge-seeking professionals. Another option in this vein would be attending a continuing education course at your local college or university. Laboratory professionals have much to gain from engaging with professionals in unrelated fields in that that they can learn how others go about solving familiar problems in different settings.

Beyond universities and professional associations, corporate sponsors can also be an excellent resource for continuing education. Manufacturers are usually more than happy to demonstrate their newest innovations, and many companies offer webinars and online videos that allow you to learn at your convenience. Additionally, good, old-fashioned books and magazines are still an excellent resource for industry information.

Making a habit of engaging in short learning opportunities will turn individuals into lifetime learners. Investing time in continuing education should never be considered as chore, but rather a lifestyle that will ultimately and significantly change your professional and personal life for the better. Investing in yourself and your abilities will create a professional synergy that will be realized for years to come.

Take a Multi-Faceted Approach

When forming a learning pattern, one must take the time to create a comprehensive strategy. The business of dental laboratory technology is broad in many respects, and education should not be limited solely to making a beautiful dental prosthesis. There are many other factors impacting the business of the profession, and learning about these factors may require reaching beyond the confines of our industry. Business education, especially in the current and competitive economic environment, is paramount. Understanding the consequences of establishing proper price schedules and employee compensation, while keeping a keen eye on the bottom line and profit margins, is equally important in a business’ success. When looking into capital investments, as some of these emerging technologies require, complete sales projections and return on investment figures must be precisely calculated. Judging the market for demand and price tolerances is a critical decision factor in completing some of these purchases. Many laboratory owners may seek the assistance of a professional or consultant when making such decisions, and this is an excellent opportunity for owners to acquire some business acumen. In the long run, it is far less costly to hire a professional than it is to make a catastrophic mistake that would affect a laboratory’s bottom line and business vitality for years to come. By becoming well-educated and executing business deals thoughtfully, you can avoid catastrophe and become more inclined toward success.

Learning and mastering best-practice marketing and communications skills are likewise important in gaining and maintaining a clientele base. Courses and webinars on these topics are plentiful online and available through several organizations. It is critical for laboratory owners to be able to communicate with their clientele and maintain a consistent brand presence within their field of vision.

It is the responsibility of the educated dental professional to maintain a certain level of communication and capture positive branding opportunities. Social media has furnished an opportunity to connect with many like-minded people in a very effective and low investment manner. Once set up, maintaining these social media communications are simple and can create tremendous returns. As you learn and grow, share the great news with your peers and clientele through all available media to set your brand and your business apart from the competition and establish yourself as an expert who can now act in a consultative capacity with respective dental clientele.

Learning for a Lifetime

Becoming a lifetime learner is a process that requires persistence and perseverance. However, these efforts are well justified when the results are truly life changing. It is the investment of time and resources that produce a better and more well rounded individual and professional. It empowers the dental professional, and affords a sense of control because all decisions and actions are based on educated and well-thought-out considerations. Armed with specific understanding and knowledge, the anxiety of operating a business in an uncertain competitive and economic environment allows for a smoother daily operation, and permits the dental business professional to concentrate on advancing his or her respective enterprise even further.

About the author

Daniel Alter, MSc, MDT, CDT is a Professor of Restorative Dentistry at the New York City College of Technology, City University of New York in Brooklyn, NY.

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