It’s one of the most important decisions you’re likely to make in your career … Will you join an existing dental team or create your own? The question is certainly not a new one, but in today’s challenging dental market, it’s more important than ever to make the right choice for you. If you don’t think it through carefully, weighing the pros and cons and factoring in your personality traits and career goals, you could easily set off on the wrong career path. Even though you could probably correct such a career misstep, you’d lose precious time. And as they say, time is money.
Without knowing you personally, I can’t say what the right direction for you would be. I can, however, spell out factors for you to consider. Respond to these points honestly – noting not only what you think but also what you feel about each – and you’ll clearly see which answer will work best for you.
Being an Employee
I used the word “employee” here so you can see if it disturbs you. That reaction could be very meaningful. Working for someone else could take many forms, each of which has its good and not-so-good points. Joining a solo practice versus signing on with a large corporate operation would result in radically different experiences. Becoming an associate with the possibility of future practice ownership bears no resemblance to climbing an organizational ladder. Allowing for those kinds of variations, here are some general pros and cons of finding a job:
- Steady Paycheck – This might have tremendous appeal if your student loan debt feels oppressive. Also, of course, a salary will enable you to put food on the table, drive a decent car, go out occasionally, etc.
- Immediate Application of Clinical Skills – If someone hires you, there are already patients for you to treat.
- Opportunity to Observe How a Practice Runs – Whether small or large, the practice where you work will be a hands-on lesson in how to operate a dental office. This can serve as preparation for running your own practice someday.
- Minimal Administrative Responsibilities – Unlike a practice owner, you will not have ultimate responsibility for team-building, systems implementation, practice finances and the many other demands of running a small business.
- Limited Financial Rewards – In exchange for the security of a steady paycheck, you will not profit from practice growth the way you would as an owner (though this would change with a buy-out agreement).
- Less Autonomy – Much of what you do, chairside and otherwise, will be dictated by others. You may influence but will not control staffing, technology, scheduling, caseload or other factors that have a direct bearing on your performance and satisfaction.
- Dictated Clinical Opportunities – When you join a practice, you will most likely be given the less desirable cases … at least initially.
- Exposure to Outdated or Inappropriate Methodologies – Many established dental practices have developed bad habits or have simply not kept up with the many changes in dentistry. Also, in DSOs, much of what you learn would be applicable only in corporate dentistry.
Going into Solo Practice
Like many young people who dream of becoming a dentist, you may envision yourself as an entrepreneur and owner of your own practice. This traditional path, though more challenging than ever, still makes sense for a large number of young dentists. As you consider this option, keep these points in mind:
- Autonomy – The greatest appeal of going into practice for yourself is “being your own boss.” If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, this alone may be the deciding factor.
- Opportunity to Translate Your Vision into Reality – Your treatment philosophy, powered by the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired in dental school and residency, will come to life in your own practice.
- Greater Professional Pride and Prestige – Your sense of accomplishment, as well as your standing in your community and among your professional peers, will probably be greater if you are self-employed.
- More Income Potential – If you run your practice well, you could earn a very attractive living and accumulate a considerable amount of personal wealth.
- Heavy Responsibilities – As they say, it’s lonely at the top … even in a small business like a dental practice. Financial matters, team management, marketing and all the other aspects of providing excellent oral health care and running a business will ultimately be in your hands.
- Potentially Low and Unpredictable Personal Income – Unless you manage to build a stable, productive patient base quickly, you’ll have some stressful days and sleepless nights.
- The Need for Continuing Business Education – You’ll need to learn about leadership, management and marketing as quickly as possible, not to mention committing to continuing this learning process until you reach the end of your dental career.
Like most important decisions, this one is not black-and-white. Many young dentists today are conflicted about what direction to take at the outset of their careers. By studying the pros and cons of working for someone else versus having your own practice, you’ll be able to make the right decision and get your dental career off to a great start.
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Dr. Roger Levin is a third-generation general dentist and the Chairman and CEO of the largest dental practice consulting firm in North America, Levin Group, Inc., which has served more than 22,000 dentists and specialists since 1985.