How I Became a Dental Entrepreneur Woman and Why I’ve Remained

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I grew up in a small town in South Carolina. My first “job” was as a babysitter for our family dentist and his wife, who also attended the same church as my family. I loved this family but I did not like having dental work. I didn’t even pretend otherwise. When confirmation calls came in for dental appointments, there were times I forgot to tell my mom. As it turned out, she was always a step ahead of me and made sure I was there at the appointed times.

Although I disliked having dental work, my dentist was very kind, as was his hygienist. His sense of humor while delivering treatment led me to be interested in dentistry. They seemed to have fun at work! I shadowed him and his staff a bit while in high school, graduated a year early and started dental assisting school before my high school classmates started their senior year in high school. It was hard, especially because I missed my friends and my parents and my hometown.

I was the youngest person in my dental assisting class. It was tough at first. I didn’t study much in high school. But microbiology, head and neck anatomy and radiology changed that! I worked hard, developed good study habits and made great grades.

By the way, I got over the disdain for having dental work done. Anyone who has ever attended dental assisting, dental hygiene or dental school will tell you that we’ve been known to practice on each other. After being a guinea pig for what seemed like 50 alginate impressions, I had to get over it.

The year I graduated, my dentist was the president of the local dental society and attended our awards ceremony. I assume this was part of his duties and can’t believe I never asked. As it happened, I received the award for Outstanding Clinical Performance, and my dentist was there to present it. How ironic and special. Before the night ended, I would receive another amazing honor. My classmates voted me the recipient of our Class Merit Award. I remember feeling incredibly honored, a little embarrassed and very happy that my parents and my dentist were there to witness it.

So here I am, more than 30 years later. I still love dentistry and feel blessed to have a career I love.

That young woman, who turned 19 just three weeks prior, would never have believed that 17 years later, she would become a consultant and entrepreneur in the dental industry. In the early 1980’s, 90 percent of women in dentistry were employees in a dental practice. There were very few female dentists and fewer female consultants and business owners in the dental industry.

During those early years in dentistry, I worked as a chairside assistant, scheduling and financial coordinator, and office manager. I moved a lot during those years. Although it was tough at the time, moving often did have one benefit. I saw the effects management style has on practice culture, employee satisfaction, atient satisfaction, loyalty, and ultimately, practice success.

Realizing a strong desire to expand my career and education, I returned to college and studied business management. Armed with experience and knowledge of the inner workings of dental practices, I began the next phase of my career, and began working with a large dental practice management and transition group. I worked as a consultant with this firm until they decided to focus solely on practice transitions. Tp be fair, the owner did extend the offer to stay on and work in his transitions division, but I couldn’t do it. Practice management was my passion.

My next step would be to start a consulting firm of my own and with that, The Dental Business was founded.

One of my first clients was newly divorced, deeply in debt and behind on taxes. This kind gentleman, picked me up to go to dinner and discuss the practice, in an old truck that smelled of gasoline. Just to be clear, he drove the truck out of necessity, not nostalgia

This client was in his early 40s, knew he still had a lot of work and life ahead of him and didn’t like the direction things were going. That being said, hiring a consultant was not an easy decision for him to make. Of course, there was the financial concern and it was likely the largest. However, he was also concerned about his team and how bringing a consultant in would affect the practice dynamic.

What the team needed to hear was, he didn’t hire me because he felt any member of the team was incompetent. He hired me because he needed to increase his income and realized he and his team needed help to make it happen.

You don’t know, what you don’t know!

After completing the initial practice assessment, I knew he would see improvement immediately if he would agree to the recommended changes. Initially, he had a difficult letting go of old systems. However, he was committed and chose to implement the necessary changes to policies and systems.

The year before he hired me, the practice collected $487 thousand. I began consulting in his practice, during the month of February. By the end of the year, the practice had receivables of $662 thousand. That’s a $175-thousand and 36-percent increase in collections in one year and with 10 months of consulting. In 2001, this was a massive increase. His collections were 98 percent, and he worked 186 days that year and was able to take a total of six weeks off.

Prior to our first in office consultation, the doctor faxed me a document with his two-year, five-year and 10-year goals. In just one year, we met his two-year goals, and by the end of the second year, we surpassed his five-year goals.

It wasn’t always a walk in the park. It did take work, but we were committed to seeing the practice become successful, and successful it is!

My passion is helping dental teams with owners and managers who lie awake at night worrying about the schedule, staffing issues or how they’re going to meet payroll.

The client I discussed is the reason I still coach and consult in dental practices today. There were times when being a small business was hard. And I wasn’t ignorant to the fact that I could make more money doing something else. But I refused to give up. I knew then, and I know now, that I’m doing what I’m meant to do. And that is to work with dental teams and practice owners who have the desire to be successful, enjoy going to work each day, have a patient base that happily refers others and have worry-free time away from the office. This my WHY.

Mary can be reached by email at, mary@thedentalbusiness.com.

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