Transforming Dentistry Together – Creating a Culture of Clinical Excellence, by Shalin Patel, DMD

In Culture by Dental Entrepreneur

What does it mean to Transform Dentistry Together? Running a successful dental practice doesn’t start when you open your doors to guests; it starts with the decisions you make as you finish dental school, and in the preparation you do and steps you take during the early years of your career to be a well-rounded clinician. These are the decisions that are the most critical to your long-term professional and personal happiness, no matter what happens in the future.

You probably have not heard my name, and nothing in my background has magically transformed me into the latest dental practice management guru. You are not going to learn about any “secret sauce” I discovered which no one else knows. My goal is to simply offer a different perspective on the way you look at yourself and your profession.

In fact, I am just like you–a young dentist just starting out. Actually, I’m a little older than that now, but I know how hard that transition is from school to the real world. I am also like you–an experienced dentist in mid-career, seeking a change or wondering what dentistry will need to do to adapt to this very different post-pandemic world. My book is meant for all dentists who may be just looking for more, no matter where you currently are in your journey.

I took the same prerequisites, had to keep the same competitive GPA throughout college, I took the same DAT, went to the same school interviews, and had to find a way to graduate through the same rigorous four years of dental school and pass the same licensing exams you did to practice dentistry. I may be further along in my dental journey than you are, or I may be behind you. In either case, I hope to learn and hear from you as well. The truth is that we’re on the same road together, no matter our position on that road, practicing in one of the world’s most trusted and essential professions.

In my book, Transforming Dentistry Together, I hope to share with you my own story from lessons I have learned over the years, including many of my successes and failures, and offer as much advice as I can. I believe the best education comes from experience. By learning from the collective experiences of others, you can jumpstart your career even faster. So, whether you agree or disagree with some of my suggestions, please know that I am not presenting myself as “the expert,” and I respect all models of practicing dentistry. I am simply sharing my own experiences.

Whether you are in dental school, doing a residency, working in private practice, or working in group practice, I hope you can take some small part of my message and apply it or even rethink a part of your approach. If I motivate you to do that, then I will be sincerely grateful you took the time to read the book. I hope that together as a dental community we will always strive to build one another up and help one another improve.

Preparation is everything. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” I’d like to help you sharpen your axe. Every day across our offices, I’m proud to say that the same passion and the fire we had to share knowledge through experiences among clinicians is still burning in the our Clinical Advisory Board Doctors and Owner Doctors, mentoring the next group of doctors on how to be successful by graduating through the DECA Academy. My ultimate dream is that our new doctors will continuously learn and master these concepts, so they will in turn “pass the torch” by teaching, from their own experiences, the next generation of new doctors–joining the movement and transforming dentistry together as a Family. One of my core beliefs is that we do not hire dentists, we develop leaders.

In this book I also share my story transparently and express that I understand the stigmas out there regarding dental service organizations or “corporate dentistry” as many people label them. Naturally, my first instinct is to say defensively that these stigmas are far from the truth. I am not here to convince anyone that any of the many models of dentistry out there are either perfect or fatally flawed. There is room for improvement for all aspects of the dental practice, no matter what the model. I learned that the negative experiences, stories and overall stigmas I heard about were not exclusive to DSOs and may be found just as frequently in private practice.

Working on both sides, I gained a great appreciation for what it takes to be successful, not only as a clinician but also as a business owner. I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for all of my fellow dentists; regardless of whether we are affiliated with a DSO or are in private practice, we all share the same calling of doing what is best for our guests. So, what does this mean to you? You may be finishing school or looking for your first job. Although in dental school you study hard (very hard) and eventually get handed a diploma, none of that gives you a roadmap to help point you in the direction of your future. That’s why I wrote this book–to give dental students and recently graduated dentists, along with team members who recently joined the DECA Family, suggestions on how to create a future in dentistry they truly want.

While our average experienced doctor earns over $250,000 per year, the most important aspect for a long-term career is ownership. We proudly offer ownership through a variety of paths, including practice affiliations and acquisitions. Also, associates without an existing practice to sell can attain personal, professional, and financial growth from associate dentist to owner dentist. You no longer must take on the full financial risks and operational burden to build a practice from scratch. We realize that with rising educational debts and the challenges of managing a solo practice, most of the younger generation of associate dentists may not have the opportunity or financial means to start up a practice from scratch. That is why we have a path for these doctors as well, who join us as new graduates or early in their career as an associate. In this model, doctors can have ownership–not only at the practice level but also at the company level. Another way to look at it is to imagine you want to buy stock. Would you rather buy stock in an individual local store or buy into the entire company, the culture, the people, the leadership team, the products, the innovation, and the future?

Our Owner Doctors lead the company and get to invest into the company itself by becoming true equity holders rather than individual practice owners. This means they get day-to-day operational and clinical support while also getting to reap the benefits of the growth in the company. DECA owner dentists do not just own one office; they own a part of every office. As Fredrick Douglass said, “It is better to be part of a great whole than to be the whole of a small part.” Our model is essential to collaboration and the ‘pay it forward’ mentality our doctors in the company have today. If a doctor only owns one office, they are likely to only be concerned about what happens within the four walls of that practice. When a doctor owns a part of the company, they have a vested interest in helping every doctor grow. They are motivated to train new doctors and new office team members because if they help the team improve, that will improve DECA, which benefits them as well.

Becoming an owner dentist through our affiliation or acquisitions is partnering with entrepreneurial dentists who currently have successful practices but are looking to expand their geographic footprint by opening more locations with the help of a robust support system. Some established dentists just want us to take over the “business side” of the practice so they can have more time with the patient and reignite their passion to do dentistry and we do this exceptionally well. We have partnered with many successful entrepreneurial dentists from across the country–from Seattle to South Florida–to add ‘fuel to the fire’. Once we’ve partnered, we have provided a full array of operational, clinical, and leadership support to help these clinicians open many new offices and allow these exceptional doctors to continue to be the clinical extension in their respective market.

Finally, through affiliations, our doctors become better providers. We have seen firsthand, doctors who previously may not have had experience with molar endo, digital scanning, implant training, or access to KPI data databases to help them provide real-time management decisions to run a more robust practice. Once these dentists partner with our team, they learn from hundreds of other exceptional clinicians, sharing the same common vision, igniting them to become even more successful as entrepreneurs. The following quote perfectly summarizes the power of group practice within the DECA ecosystem, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I hope this book will be a valuable guide for dentists who are in the middle or late years of their dental careers, facing uncertain crossroads, especially in these uncertain times, or anyone who may feel unsatisfied with where they are professionally and personally and have not found a group practice model that fosters collaboration, encouragement, and growth. Maybe you feel something is lacking in your professional life, or that you expected something more or something different. In these pages, we explore options that may lead you toward what you are looking to achieve. Regardless of where you are in your professional career, I sincerely hope you enjoy this to achieve exceptional results.

I will never forget how hard that transition from dental school to practice was for me, and I sincerely hope that by sharing some of my stories, my learning, my failures, and my successes, it will make the process just a little easier for you. The minute you get that diploma you are not just a dentist–you are also a leader. Being an exceptional dentist and leader is a great responsibility and privilege, and it will take all your passion and focus to evolve clinically and non-clinically. Remember, the foundation of your success will be making the guest a priority. Everything else, and I mean everything, is secondary to the guest, including your schedule, your time, your office, and your salary. Everything should be centered on the guest, their oral health, and their happiness. Why? Because if you don’t have any guests, you won’t have any of those other things, either.

The future is bright for the profession, and I am honored to call you my colleague. If I could share one last piece of advice, it would be to always remember to keep your mind open to learning, be humble, be grateful to your team, and join the movement to transform dentistry together!

As a recognized leader in dentistry, Dr. Patel has sponsored dental school leadership scholarships, spoken at national dental school, and educational conferences. He has been featured in multiple national dental publications and offers a PACE-approved Continuing Education course approved by the Academy of General Dentistry to increase clinical case acceptance and productivity.