There is no doubt that the land- scape of private practice is rapidly changing across the country. More and more dentists, especially recent graduates, are joining group practices and corporate dentistry. But deep down, most of us envision ourselves as entrepreneurs and when we picture our ideal life as a dentist, we dream of being our own boss and doing our own thing.
Dentists, like most U.S. small business owners, do technical work.
And like most entrepreneurs, often times make a fatal assumption: if you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work. They are in fact two totally different things, and frequently the technician fails to see this. The tragedy is the realization that the business that was supposed to free you from the limitations of working for someone else, actually enslaves you.
Suddenly the clinical aspects of dentistry that you know how to do so well, becomes one job you know how to do plus a dozen others you don’t know how to do at all. The entrepreneur inside of you started the business, but the dentist that goes to work may be facing a nightmare. The dentist with an entrepreneurial dream takes the work he/she loves to do and turns it into a job. The work that was born out of love becomes a chore, among a welter of other less familiar and less pleasant chores. Rather than maintaining its specialness, representing the unique skill the dentist possesses and upon which he/she started the business, the work becomes trivialized, something to get through in order to make room for everything else that must be done.
Almost all dentists chasing their dream experience the same feelings. First, exhilaration; second, terror; third, exhaustion and finally, despair.
A terrible sense of loss, not only the loss of what was closest to them, their special relationship with their work, but the loss of purpose, the loss of self.
The problem is that every dentist that goes into business is actually three-people in one: the entrepreneur, the manager, and the technician. It gets more complicated by the fact that while each of their personalities wants to be the boss, none of them wants
to have a boss. They started a dental practice together in order to get rid of the boss…and the conflict begins.
The entrepreneurial personality is the visionary, the dreamer. The one that turns problems into opportunities and craves control so the imagination can run free. This personality lives in the future, never in the past, and rarely in JB White, DDS the present. To the entrepreneur, the world is made of an overabundance of opportunities and people in the way.
The managerial personality is pragmatic and loves to plan and have order and predictability. The manager is the part that organizes hundreds of burs in tiny bins that are divided into diamonds and carbides and stacked perfectly on equally spaced shelves stored in the ideal location and labeled perfectly with pictures as to never disturb order. As the entrepreneur lives in the future and craves control, the manager lives in the past and craves order. Where the entrepreneur thrives on change, the manager compulsively clings to the status quo.
The technician is the doer and lives in the present. As long as the technician is working, he/she is happy, but only if they are working on one thing at a time. The technician mistrusts the owner who is always trying to get more work done than is either possible or necessary. To the technician, thinking is unproductive unless it’s about the current task, and as a result, he/she is suspicious of lofty ideas or abstractions. The technician feels responsible for today’s production and feels that without them nothing would get done; but lots of people would be thinking about the work. In other words, the entrepreneur dreams, the manager frets, and the technician ruminates.
The technician is often frustrated and annoyed by the entrepreneurial ideas that interrupt the course of what needs to be done, as they feel that something new that probably doesn’t need to be done at all. The manager is also a hindrance because he/she is determined to impose order on the technician’s work to enforce “the system.” To the technician “the system” is impersonal, dehumanizing and violates his/her individuality as an artist. To the manager, however, work is a system of results in which the technician is but a component part. Thus, the manager thinks the technician becomes a problem to be managed. The technician thinks the manager is a meddler that needs to be avoided. To both of them, the entrepreneur is the one who got them into trouble in the first place.
Every dentist has an entrepreneur, manager, and technician inside of them. If the personalities were equally balanced we would be describing an extremely dynamic individual. Unfortunately, few dentists are blessed with such balance. Dentists tend to follow other small business owners in that they are 10 percent entrepreneur, 20 percent manager, and 70 percent technician. The entrepreneur speaks up one day and says, “I should own my own practice.” The manager screams, “Oh, no!” and the technician is in charge.
Once you realize you are no different than the majority of small business owners across the world, technicians who went into business, you realize there is hope. I’ll even give you a hint…it’s not an occlusion course. ■