How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you open your own dental office? “Same advice,” says Dr. Brett Sorensen, a 30-year-old Calgary dentist who opened his dental clinic in 2011. He shares his insight below on starting your own dental practice.
To achieve this milestone, he worked for four years as an associate dentist with many long days. He developed good interpersonal skills and learned many valuable lessons from the principal dentist who was his mentor.
He understands the frustration of graduating with large debts and having to practice with other dentists for years, “but an associateship really helps in many ways, and not just economically,” he says. “You can transfer a lot of what you learn to your own office.”
“My biggest challenge starting out was the unknown,” says Dr. Sorensen. “Dental faculties teach dental treatments but not business procedures, so I consulted with established dentists for their dental expertise and their business advice.”
“The daily grind of being a practice owner can certainly wear on you if you don’t have good work-life balance habits,” he says. “At the end of the day, everything falls on your shoulders and regardless of how many patients walk in the door, the bills still have to be paid.”
Nurturing his personal life and pursuing interests outside of dentistry, including exercising and dirt biking, helps to provide balance.
Dr. Sorensen leads a team of eight staff and colleagues and is wearing an HR hat for the first time. He admits he’s still honing his leadership style. “Some styles work and some don’t, so I’ve had to adapt,” he says.
Another challenge is not to overspend on office overhead,” he states. “Times are changing and there are too many dentists in the same communities. You used to hang up your shingle and people just appeared. Now it’s longer hours and night appointments.”
The month-long vacation tradition of earlier generations is also no longer feasible, as patients can easily switch to one of his well-publicized competitors.
“You ask yourself if you’re doing the right things,” he says. “How much should you spend on print advertising in this age of the Internet? At what point does a marketing budget make sense? How many ads do you need and where do you advertise?”
Dr. Sorensen has also wondered if he’s doing enough to prepare for the retirement he wants. “After working hard in school and sacrificing, you want to have a few luxuries,” he says. “To answer the question: What kind of lifestyle can I afford now without jeopardizing my standard of living at retirement? I asked knowledgeable financial advisors for guidance.”
He believes some recent grads have too-high expectations for the early years in practice, such as big city offices. He encourages them to tap every available resource, including established dentists “to discover the real costs of setting up a practice and the hours of work they’ll have to put in.”