Living Your Values

In Print Issues, She's a Dentist by Cheryl Brunelle

Interview with Dr. Cheryl Brunelle.

Author note: I wish we had recorded this interview. Cheryl laughs throughout and always radiates a smile. Her laugher is infectious!

Can you share a bit about your practice to help our readers get to know you?

I always had an interest in dentistry starting as a dental assistant during high school in 1988. I graduated from Case Western School of Dentistry in 1998 and opened my f irst practice in 2000. At Case Western, we were trained to work in tandem with EFDAs (expanded function dental assistants). This really set me up for success and productivity. Today I work “in” the practice as a clinician two days a week, and “on” the practice and business side three days a week. I adopted that from Productive Dentist Academy. On Wednesdays I host executive team and manager meetings. We rotate topics each week so that we are focusing on marketing, finance, HR / recruiting and strategic planning each month. This structure allows for growth instead of just putting out fires.

I’m also married to my dental school sweetheart, Suresh Goel, DDS. He’s an incredibly talented periodontist and visionary for our Seattle Study Club in Rochester, NY. Together we have eleven dental practices and five children. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun!

How do you balance motherhood and entrepreneurship?

My role in both arenas is to be a positive role model. Whether team members or children, they see and hear everything. Our goal is to raise both our children and our team members to be strong, independent thinkers and to have fun.

It wasn’t always easy. I was pregnant on and off for about eight years while working full time. Those years are such a blur. It was a lot of bottles, diapers, laundry and car seats. Looking back we realize that sometimes we were just going through the motions, but we had a lot of excitement and experiences along the way. Thankfully we have a lot of family support nearby, and we could not have done it without their help.

I encourage many influences for our children, including parents, grandparents, great teachers and coaches. It really does take a village. Positive role models and a safe environment are the most important aspects of the sports and activities our kids engage in. We hope our kids realize that it is more important to support your teammates and have a happy and fun environment than just being on the winning team.

How has your marriage played a role in your success?

Beyond our foundation of love and respect, I’d say two things hold us together: organization and a sense of humor! Marrying the right person and having a life partner is important to me. One of the main reasons I married Suresh was because he makes me laugh. I’m the focused, get-it-done person. He’s the visionary who comes up with great ideas and puts a funny twist on everything. It’s no wonder we now own a Comedy Club. In dental school, no matter how hard of a day I had, he would always make me laugh.

We approach problem-solving in very different ways which helps us create innovative and unique solutions. One of the blessings of our both being dentists is that we can be empathetic with each other for the challenges that the profession brings. Of course, the bigger challenge is to turn off the dental talk. In that respect, owning an unrelated business has been a nice distraction.

Our secret sauce? Travel! Every Thanksgiving we schedule out the next year’s family and educational adventures. Thanksgiving, New Year’s, spring break, our anniversary, CE events and more–we love to be on the go. Club Med has been our “go-to” destination for over a decade, and we have met so many returning families and amazing team members along the way. Going to Club Med is just like arriving to a home away from home.

How can you afford to travel so much?

Training, organization and a strong executive team allow us to be away from the office – although we are always available to discuss any issues of the day. Early on, the team I had made me feel guilty about being away from the office. The team I have now appreciates how hard I work and that taking time away lets me come back refreshed and focused. Being away also gives the team an opportunity to have more responsibility and grow in their leadership roles.

What drives you?

I don’t want to let my team down. When I’m not giving my best, I take a moment and remember how many families are dependent on this amazing business we’ve built. It gets me up and gives me a smile for the day, knowing that we support one another and our families. I also love that we are a female-led company. We don’t focus on gender per se, but I do think it keeps us balanced and compassionate.

One of my favorite things is to take a young employee and mentor them to become leaders. One team member in particular was a bit timid in the beginning. We sponsored her Dale Carnegie training, and today she’s a very confident manager. I love seeing how much she’s grown.

What has your experience been being a woman in Dentistry?

My dental school class was the first to be more than 50% female. We had a lot of strong female instructors who were great role models. After dental school, I joined the Army Reserves which was a more traditional environment with respect to females in dentistry. When I find others talking down or underestimating me because I’m a petite female, I look arrogance in the face and smile. Rather than arguing, I focus on what I need to do to keep moving forward.

Today, having grown my confidence and experience in practice management, I find it much easier to encourage my associate doctors to adapt to our practice philosophy. We are united, and I encourage the team to leave ego at the door and focus on creating a welcoming, positive environment.

What advice on continuing education?

Continuing education defines what makes a clinician and a team exceptional, in my opinion.

When people ask, “What if you invest in your team and they leave?” I say, “What if I don’t invest in them and they stay!” We provide educational opportunities in leadership, clinical care and personal growth. Personally, Spear Education, The Kois Center and Seattle Study Club have set my standards clinically. From the business perspective, I wouldn’t be where I am today without Productive Dentist Academy and Dale Carnegie.

Patients appreciate our technical and clinical expertise and that we do not pressure them into treatment. I do comprehensively diagnose and have found this allows patients to make educated decisions about their own care. More often than not, they choose to proceed with optimal health.

What advice would you give others?

•  Maturity is seeking first to understand and have a dialog rather than just reacting.

•  Don’t lose sight of where you are going. It is easy to get distracted. Stay focused, and keep bringing the conversation back to your core values and plan.

•  Surround yourself and family with positive influences and be a good role model who others want to follow.

•  Be willing to have the tough conversations and give people choices.

•  Look for maturity when you bring team members into your tribe, especially in leadership positions.

•  Be involved in your community creating the change that you want to see. Volunteer, and show up! It means a lot more than just writing a check.

•  Focus on relationships and not transactions.

•  Remember: At the end of the day – it’s just teeth.

What do you do to take care of you?

I am very focused on health and wellbeing. I like to be behind the scenes, and I cherish my quiet time. I have been a vegetarian my whole life; and I love yoga, powerwalks and pilates classes. When I work too much and don’t take the necessary time out, I am less focused and experience higher levels of stress. I become more reactive to things when not feeling physically fit, and that is when I know to escape to a yoga class or meditate and refocus.

I’ve come to realize that I cannot be everywhere at the same time. If we cannot make it to a child’s event, we’ll make arrangements for a grandparent to be there. If it’s a work meeting I am unable to attend, I’ll have a manager represent me. I used to feel guilty about not being there, but now I realize that learning to delegate has let me balance my responsibilities more evenly. For the kids, having grandparents at their events is especially nice. Recently, our youngest child, Tyler, had a poetry reading and we couldn’t attend. I called in both grandmas! They loved it, and Tyler was thrilled to have them there.

If you weren’t a Dentist, what would you be doing?

Genetics has always been an interest of mine, and I did consider becoming a genetics counselor for a time before becoming a dentist