6 Key Skills for Dentists Who Run Their Own Practices

by: Freddie Rohner, iHire
August 20, 2015

Portrait of a dentist posing in her practice

Dentists who own and operate their practices are put in the unenviable position of managing a business while also providing top-notch patient care. This requires them to split their time between the two tasks and can cause significant issues if too much emphasis is given to one area over the other. If a dentist becomes too focused on efficiency and views each patient as a number rather than a person, care will suffer along with the practice’s reputation.

Conversely, if no attention is paid to the business side of the operation, the dentist puts the entire organization, along with its employees and patients, at risk. There is a fine line that must be walked between ruthless business administrator and caring clinician and while there are a number of common business skills to master, a few other abilities are mandatory to be a successful dentist and practice owner.


Operations Management

This one might go without saying, but it makes the top of the list because without it as a solid foundation even the best dental practices are sure to flounder. This all-encompassing skillset covers everything from scheduling employees and patient appointments to monitoring profitability, maintaining compliance with a variety of local, state, and federal regulations, and making difficult decisions regarding practice expansion or staff reduction.


Relationship Building

Establishing solid and lasting rapport with employees as well as patients is extremely vital. As a dentist in charge of patient care, you must be personable and present an exceptional chairside manner. As the leader of the practice, you need to project an air of professionalism and approachability. Patients should feel at ease in your presence and staff members must be comfortable to express their feelings, suggest improvements, or notify you of problems.


Marketing & Strategic Planning

Most dental schools don’t provide much instruction on things like branding, advertising, sales management, social media promotion, strategy development, goal setting, and resource allocation, but successful dentists who manage their own practices must be well versed in these processes or enlist employees or partners to handle these duties.


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Communication & Delegation

A true display of leadership is not simply doling out orders, but achieving buy-in from subordinates and allocating responsibilities in such a manner that team members understand the importance of their individual roles and are inspired to perform their best. Recognizing the need to rely on the people around you, supplying that team with the tools to get the job done, and supporting them in their work (while offering pointers when needed or serving as a sounding board for ideas) is the best way get the most out of your employees and will help reduce your own stress levels.


Cash Management & Investments

This goes far beyond keeping track of invoices, billing insurance companies, and confirming rent and equipment payments aren’t overdue. To ensure success, business owners must carefully monitor their assets and liquidity, make sound decisions when it comes time to update equipment or undertake office renovations, and avoid becoming overleveraged. This is one area where even the best dentists can run into problems, so it may make sense to simply outsource this critical duty to a trusted business advisor or CPA.


Generosity & Appreciation

Being generous and expressing thanks are somewhat tied to relationship building but deserve to be covered in their own section because of how important they can be to driving loyalty (in staff and patients) and rewarding commitment. Generosity doesn’t just mean tossing out bonuses, organizing lavish office parties, or offering obscene discounts to patients (or their insurance providers). On the contrary, true largesse can take many forms – coordinating monthly lunches for personnel, giving personalized gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, or other holidays, volunteering in the community, or assisting low-income patients.

Similarly, showing appreciation goes beyond saying “thank you.” Having simple chats with patients before, during, or after a procedure, displaying a genuine interest in their comfort, and communicating thanks for their continued business can do wonders for a dentist’s rapport, just as taking the time to express gratitude for each team members’ contribution to the office goes a long way in making staff feel needed, respected, and valued.


As with any small business, running an organization while also serving customers (or patients) can be a challenging endeavor. For those dentists who choose to oversee all facets of their operations without the assistance of a practice manager, this combination of responsibilities can prove problematic if also paired with a lack of training. Once a dentist is properly prepared, however, the key element to success becomes achieving balance between business administration and patient care. By maintaining an equal focus on both sides of the dual role that is owning and operating a dental practice, it will be easier to avoid getting bogged down by one or the other and you can manage your practice with confidence.

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