by Joseph DeRosier
Recent graduates from dental school are used to making tough decisions.
Consider this, within the span of only a few years they had to first decide to join the profession, pick a school, narrow a field of study, and finally, find that first job.
But even with that experience behind them, for many, a whole new round of career-defining decisions looms ahead.
After a few years in the profession as an associate, many young dentists decide that the next step is starting their own practice.
Peter Ackerman, a certified public accountant and a certified valuation analyst at ADS Dental Practice Transitions for more than 20 years, said he thinks that dentists have the skills and instincts to be good small-business owners.
“Most doctors don’t realize what they are giving up (financially),” he said of dentists who don’t own a practice. “Owning and operating a dental office is not that difficult and associates can make four to five times more as practice owners.”
He said making the transition work might be a matter of overcoming obstacles, real and perceived.
“The trade off of not facing the fear of the unknown and the opportunity of owning a private practice is typically not worth the income they forgo by staying as an associate,” he said. “If anyone wants to be a private practice owner, the skill sets are not that hard to learn.”
Wendy Pesavento, managing partner of Cutting Edge Practice, a consultancy firm that helps with dental start-ups, post-transition consulting, buyer due diligence among other business-related aspects of dentistry, said most young dentists wait at least two years after graduation before they start thinking about striking out on their own.
That time between graduation and jumping into practice ownership gives those starting out a chance to better position themselves financially and professionally.
“Most (young dentists) can’t get a loan until they are two years out of school,” Ms. Pesavento said.
However, there is another category of dentists graduating from dental school – dentists from other countries who are older and more experienced. She said most of that group can immediately look into opening their own practice.
But someone who just graduated from dental school often needs to get their financial house in order and gain on-the-job experience, she said.
Regarding financing your own practice, she added that many financial institutions are comfortable making loans to dentists because dentists have
one of the lowest default rates of any profession.
Plus lenders see advantages in developing business relationships with young professionals, she said.
Sharon Kantor Bogetz, Ms. Pesavento’s business partner, said while the goals of young dentists vary with some wanting a solo practice and others envisioning operating multiple offices, “all have the capacity, with guidance and coaching, to realize their vision for the practice they want to have,” she said. “There is room for everyone and practice sizes for every individual. There is a practice income level for everyone.”
She said some dentists starting out have more entrepreneurial aspirations. “Some want to build an empire of 30 practices and then sell them off,” she said. “All spell success a different way.”
But experts were unanimous about what young dentists should do before they start their journey toward practice ownership: have a plan and know what you want.
“You have to decide where you want to practice and live,” said Robert Uhland, a dentist who recently started Chicago Dental Broker, a brokerage and consultation firm in the north suburbs. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to drive all the way out to Algonquin or McHenry because those areas are growing?’”
Ms. Kantor Bogetz said young dentists also have to determine their vision of what they want to do professionally, including the demographics of the patient base.
Doing that homework and having a good grasp of where they want their careers to go will help consultants and brokers steer someone looking to buy a practice in the right direction, the experts said.
“The first three to five years (after dental school) are an outstanding opportunity to develop clinical hand speed and skills and learn the big aspects of dentistry,” said Mr. Ackerman.
It is a time when a young dentist can figure out the best career path, he said.
And when the time comes to start looking at flying solo, the best advice, experts said, was to make sure the take off is not done blindly, without the aid of consultants and a flight plan. Mr. DeRosier is the CDS staff writer.