Leading by Example in a Dental Office

Learning how to effectively communicate with both patients and colleagues will allow you to set the tone and a good example in your dental practice.

Do you lead by example? Most of you will say, “Of course I do.” The cynic in me would say, “really?” The question should be what kind of example are you to your staff?That is something deeper to think about.

I had the opportunity to interview Allan M. Miller, DDS, FAGD (thatsmydentist.com) from Briarcliff Manor, New York. He had emailed me with some feedback after reading one of my articles so I reached out, excited to talk to a seasoned dentist in practice for 44 years. My thinking was that he has a perspective over time with how this industry has changed. Our conversation made me think about not just dental practices but what happens in every industry.

Here is a little background to explain how Dr Miller became the leader that he is. Dr Miller grew up with a normal childhood fear of going to the dentist. His childhood memories were of how his dentist had difficulty achieving good anesthesia so his fillings would be painless--something he makes SURE of today-- but as fate had it, his dentist was a compassionate person who gave his divorced mother a decent price for their dental care. That kindness outweighed the pain of being a patient. He was not sure how he ended up in dentistry. He just knew that he did not want to be a medical doctor. So, he applied to dental school instead to be his own boss with his own business while treating patients. He had no idea what to expect and found a world called reality opening up to him. He was not prepared for how challenging it was going to be in dental school. On the first day, the Dean told the students to “look to the left and look to the right, because 1 of the 3 of you will not be here for graduation.” That is a harsh reality and a cold statement to make for incoming students. Some teachers were verbally abusive and extremely demanding. This “education” was an experience that shaped him as he developed professionally. He learned what he did not like when it came to interacting with patients, team members, and colleagues.

Upon graduation in 1977 he became an associate in a large group practice that today would be called “corporate.” Then in 1982, he bought a small part time practice that needed to be modernized and grown. This private practice will be 40 years old this upcoming October.

When asked about the most important thing is he would tell a new graduate, his reply was, “Focus on relationships as they are the most important thing in having a successful practice.” Those relationships include both patients and employees. We all know that relationships take time to develop. “You must create an atmosphere of trust.” He often tells his apprehensive patients “I wasn’t born a dentist. I was a normal person before dental school.” It never fails to relieve the nervousness he often sees on new patients seeking his care. Dr Miller also believes in meeting new patients in his private office, in a non-threatening environment, rather than an operatory prior to being seen by the hygienist or himself in order to ask questions and review their reason for coming to the office.

Where is a new graduate supposed to learn how to be a small business owner and how to communicate effectively with others? Dental school did not teach this in 1974 nor 2022. Dr Miller learned by reading self-help books, listening to others and yes, learning from his mistakes!

He joined a peer dental study group which was priceless as they learned together from each other. He also believes that consultants can provide a way for a dentist to learn how to establish a healthy work environment and to be more productive. He realized that he did not have all the answers on how to grow his practice. Hiring a practice management consultant in 2007 was, he says, “the smartest move I ever made as a dentist and as a small business owner.” He eventually realized how truly valuable this consultant was and hired her to work full time in his office.

Now there are more online resources to help one grow and develop. Comments that your peers make online can be thought-provoking. Whether you are asking for comments on a challenge you are facing or just reading what other professionals are saying, you can learn how to make changes for continuous process improvement. But it boils down to whether the individual wants to learn and grow. Not everyone is a lifelong learner, but Dr Miller certainly is. Are you?

The challenge with corporate culture in the present day is that “Every hour in an office has to be in production.” This puts tremendous pressure on one’s time and cheats the patients and employees on making a more pleasant workplace. How are dentists going to learn how to treat people? That is not taught in dental school. No one is showing dental students how to have a good relationship with patients and how to help patients to relax if they are anxious. This is something that is missing from dental education.

Society has changed so much with the onset of technology taking over everything. Dr Miller believes that communication with patients is priceless. If you have them text, “Yes or No” to confirm their appointment, what happens when they say, “No?” He feels it is better for a staff person to call to confirm, because they can immediately reschedule the appointment. Many patients have had the COVID-19 virus this year, so their appointment was rescheduled for 2 weeks out. That is a very smart thing to do. This way you know what is going on with your patient. If not, your patient might forget to reschedule and your staff is wasting time “chasing” the patient.

What I learned from Dr Miller is the importance of having staff respect you as a leader. It solves so many issues when mutual respect is given and received. To achieve this, get input from your staff with decision making and get “buy in” for issues that matter to the practice. This will create a harmonious work environment. It really makes leading by example an effective way to run your business.

Please email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com and share with me how you are leading by example and how you create and maintain a corporate culture.