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Beyond the Bench
We often hear the term “lifelong learning” without really thinking about what those words may mean in today’s world. For most, it is assumed the phrase refers to immersing oneself in education that pertains specifically to one’s chosen career path. Taking courses that focus on the latest technical and clinical approaches to patient care, following the philosophies of key industry opinion leaders, attending hands-on classes from industry specialists to build proficiency in a particular skill set, joining study groups to network and learn—all are considered positive, proactive, and necessary steps to remaining current and relevant. But is this approach to lifelong learning enough to sustain a business and a career in today’s complex business environment?
The answer is no. Although it is crucial to stay current and even ahead of the learning curve in terms of one’s professional skills and knowledge, it may be too myopic if we can’t also grasp and understand the outside forces accelerating the sweeping changes taking place in our industry and throughout the world. Technology and Moore’s Law (the observation that projects the exponential growth of technology and social change) will continue to transform the workplace, eliminating some jobs while creating new ones, demanding new skill sets of technicians, and creating open and global platforms for communicating, manufacturing, and collaborating. It will also continue to be disruptive, constantly challenging the ability and creativity of business owners to adapt.
Consolidation of the dental technology industry will advance at a steady pace into its second and third stages of maturity with major players beginning to emerge as they buy out large and medium-sized competitors and claim an ever greater share of the market. Mid-sized businesses will be pressured to invest and reinvent in order to compete or scale downward to avoid the inevitable, while smaller boutique businesses will find they must hone their core competencies and specialize to justify their existence.
Private practice, the time-honored structure of clinical dentistry, will be further threatened by corporate entities and large group practices, which are steadily supplanting the solo business model. Whether it is financial security, work/life balance, educational debt, or the cost of establishing a modern practice that leads more dentists to corporatization over independence, the trend is driving nearly one-half of dental school graduates to choose either the corporate or large group practice business model immediately after graduation. Further erosion of private practice may be on the horizon as dental insurance companies take the first steps to inserting themselves further into the equation as providers of dental care rather than simply as payers of dental care.
Grasping how these and other forces stand to impact your business and what strategic changes are needed to adapt is essential. Some will feel threatened, believing their identity as technical artisans is disappearing and resist by celebrating what was and ignoring what is or will be. Others will instinctively embrace and welcome the chance to meet these challenges head on. In the end, it will be how laboratories respond to these and other accelerating agents of change in our industry that will determine their fate.