Oral Health Group

Entrepreneurism and Dentists – Mutually Exclusive? No! A necessary combination!

November 1, 2012
by Kristin Nickells

Dr. Bruce Glazer published an feature in Oral Health (Nov. 2011) called “Entrepreneurism and Dentistry – mutually exclusive?”. I feel compelled to respectfully rebut. Dr. Glazer makes the argument that because the likelihood of failure is relatively small and the ideas and services not new, dentists should not consider themselves to be entrepreneurs, nor is entrepreneurship in their best interest. Dr. Glazer goes on to say that dentists that try to be entrepreneurs often get themselves into trouble. Really?

I train dentists in basic business skills. I began life in the dental field 30 years ago as Office Manager for an OMS practice. I was right out of business school. I have since served the dental profession as business manager, bookkeeper, consultant, and then, after earning my coaching degree, as coach and business trainer. For years I witnessed how a lack of business skills affected many dentists and their staff. I realized that I could be of better service to dentists by helping them to develop their business skills, rather than doing it all for them, so I developed a program called Business Bootcamp for Dentists. I have spent the last two years teaching dentists fundamental business skills such as reading financial statements, business planning, problem solving and leadership. Acquiring these essential skills is making a difference to dentists.


I agree that dentists can find themselves in too deep when they try to stretch their entrepreneurial wings without the planning and business skills to make a good business case for their ventures. However, I feel that Dr. Glazer made some assumptions in his article about entrepreneurship that I would like to counter.

The first is that the definition of ‘entrepreneur’ is someone who takes greater than normal risks. Every business is risky, even a dental practice. In good times, it is true that most dental practices are natural money-makers; this is a double-edged sword in my opinion. When cash flow is good it is easy to assume that you are doing all the right things; however, without solid fundamentals upon which to rely, this very circumstance gets many dentists in big trouble when times are a little tighter. Even though risk may not be felt acutely at all times, it exists and every business decision must be weighed against its risk/reward. The acceptance of any risk is entrepreneurial; one does not have to go way out on a limb accepting greater and greater risks in order to be an entrepreneur.

Secondly, and most alarming, is the assumption that expansion is all about increased production only. My opinion, based on experience, is that any practice where the focus is primarily on production is in trouble on many levels, including the traditional slow and steady practice. Patient and staff retention (or lack thereof), inattention to efficiency and lack of ability to plan are symptoms of that disease. The flip side of that coin is that with careful planning and attention to all aspects of the business of dentistry (including risk management, values, human resources, efficiency, return on investment, mentorship, quality control and overall goals), expanding his/her enterprise can be entirely attainable for a dentist without compromising patient care or quality of any sort.

In my humble opinion, you have the cause and effect reversed; entrepreneurism is not the cause of quality taking a ‘nose-dive’. Rather, adverse outcomes become the norm only when entrepreneurism, in its purest form, is not practiced. Going off wildly in all directions without planning and carefully considered intent is not entrepreneurism.

I love the dental profession and I want to see it flourish. I see dentists make the same mistakes over and over when it comes to finances, business and staff management. These mistakes are preventable and reversible. I’m trying hard to do something about it! OH

Kristin Nickells is a Certified Business & Leadership Coach for Dentists. She is the author of How To Stop Making the 8 Biggest Mistakes Dentists Make (audio CD) and developer/trainer of Business Bootcamp for Dentists (an on-line business skills training program).

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