Fostering the Dreams of Dentistry’s Future

March 27, 2020

Dentistry is a complicated and challenging industry. Because this career is entrepreneurial by nature, we should be teaching dental students not only how to dream, but also how to run a business.

It isn’t hard to make a difference in another person’s life. It can be a patient or an employee. I saw this firsthand when I met Devion Fothergill, a dental hygienist student who has big dreams. He had been working in computer coding but didn’t find it meaningful. He realized that interacting with people was more important, so he made a career change into dentistry and was hired by Gino DiGiannantonio, DDS, LVIP, FIAPA. 

Devion is now working as a receptionist in DiGiannantonio Aesthetic Dentistry, a boutique dental practice in Woodmere Village, Ohio. 

What was exciting, for me, was walking through the door and seeing a male receptionist. (I hope that that doesn’t offend anyone, but it’s what I was thinking.) Devion is someone who greets you graciously when you arrive. This isn’t the case in all practices, yet the person you encounter at the front desk has an impact on the practice’s image. 

What’s your practice’s image? And is your image being represented by someone like Devion, who has mastered customer service, or by someone who inadvertently drives business away?

Devion is fortunate to have a boss and mentor who believes in him. He’s receiving support and career advice that are priceless. How wonderful it is to have someone who recognizes your potential and encourages you to dream big! 

The most valuable thing Devion has learned since joining the practice is, “Never give up.” What a wonderful mantra to have in this field. He learned this by watching his boss, who works extremely hard to overcome challenges and to solve patients dental problems. 

Does your staff value your guidance and career advice? Devion is inspired to pursue his goal to become an orthodontic surgeon because he’s inspired by Dr. DiGiannantonio: by the doctor’s volunteer work, how he works harder when he’s short staffed and how he still makes time to teach at the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University - all while running a successful practice. 

Without a doubt, Dr. DiGiannantonio is impressive. His expertise includes cosmetic and general dentistry, and neuromuscular dentistry. He sold his first dental practice to follow his passion: cosmetic dentistry. Even with small children and a wife at home, he pursued his dream and trained in cosmetic dentistry at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies. And in 2016, he opened his new practice. 

His story really is a life lesson for all of us. Are you making your dreams come true? Are you even dreaming? 

This is something I believe Dr. DiGiannantonio is fostering in Devion. He’s encouraging him to dream. Just as important, he also teaching him how to make that dream a reality by thinking like a businessperson. 

Dr. DiGiannantonio makes it a point to mention that dental schools don’t address how to run a business. A concern I’ve heard from many dentists. There might be a couple of hour-long lectures on how to run a business, but basically, you end up learning through trial and error, by making your own mistakes. 

Which can be very costly. 

When Dr. DiGiannantonio graduated from dental school, he hired consultants and paid a lot of money for their expertise. Maybe he wouldn’t have needed to do that if dental school had addressed business ownership.

Another challenge: Students are coming out of dental school half a million dollars in debt. When Dr. DiGiannantonio graduated, he was able to get a bank loan for $1 million to start his practice. Nowadays, graduates can’t get that kind of loan. Why? They have no collateral and such big debt. So many of these new grads end up working for big corporations because they have bills to pay. 

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For most grads, it’s just too expensive to start their own practice. Especially when the corporation signs them up for four to six years and agrees to manage their debt. Their base salary may be $110,000 to $120,000, plus what they’re producing or perhaps 32% of what they get from their collections. The corporation will then typically pay off $150,000 of their student loan, as long as the students fulfill their entire contract.

Another financial challenge: New grads are just starting out, so they have no patient base and no experience. Why would anyone go to them? So they need to draw traffic to their practice. Marketing costs money.

Corporations get it. They see dental practices as a business. They work with financial experts and contract with insurance companies. They give new graduates a funnel of patients so they don’t have to go out and drum up business. 

What should a new graduate do? For those with an entrepreneurship spirit, they should go out on their own. Find a mentor and learn from that mentor’s mistakes. If they’re swimming in student debt and need to earn money fast, the corporate path may be the right thing to do, at least temporarily.

Dentistry is a complicated and challenging industry. Because it’s entrepreneurial by nature, we should be teaching dental students how to run a business. But the real question is: What’s going to happen after they graduate? If they’re walking out of school in serious debt, what then? Will we see a decrease of students in the programs? Can they afford to follow their dreams? How will that impact society if there are fewer dentists out there?

My meeting with Dr. DiGiannantonio and Devion was thought-provoking. And because I’ve heard these same concerns before, from other dentists, I figured it was time to write about them. 

We need to make a difference - not only with future dentists, but also with our own staffs. Foster their dreams. Help them figure out barriers to success. Guide them as they’re looking for ways to pursue their passions. And most important, talk about the issues I raised here. Through brainstorming and strategic planning, we can help others achieve their goals - and live their dreams.

Comments? Please email diana2@discussdirectives.com. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for tackling these challenges.