By Dr. Rick Huot
At the end of August, while Hurricane Dorian was on its unpredictable path, I headed to San Francisco for the American Dental Association’s Annual Meeting. Before my duties started as ADA Board of Trustees liaison to the Standards Committee of Dental Informatics, I sat down to write this article in the relative comfort of the Marriott Marquis. Whenever I have the Weather Channel on for more than five minutes this time of the year while away from home, you can be assured that Joanne and I are checking to see how the “wind is blowing” back in Florida. In 2004, we spent Labor Day in Maine watching as Hurricane Frances — and three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne — give Florida the infamous “Plywood State” moniker, and as empty nesters, it doesn’t take us long to pack and secure our home not knowing what the force of nature is planning for the week ahead.
Early that Friday morning, and with help from Delta, we decided to leave a day early for our trip to California, knowing that conditions in the Caribbean were deteriorating, and there was a good chance that flights all over Florida would start being cancelled as early as Saturday. That was confirmed by the Delta folks when they graciously put me on a plane leaving out of Orlando Friday afternoon.
After a quick call to Marriott and the shuttle folks, we now had an extra day to “play,” and we quickly contacted longtime friends from Chicago now living in San Francisco for dinner, and the conversation quickly shifted from Dorian to our respective careers. Helen has been working for Delta since I was in dental school at Northwestern and continues to fly the international routes and loves her work. Mike is a successful retired businessman who invested wisely in his career since his early days in Chicago, and this year’s New York Marathon will be the 100th he has run since he started many years ago.
These days, longevity experts talk about your early 60s and what you can reasonably expect life to play out from there. Given that you are in good health, and that you also have excellent financial health, your options multiply when you could adapt to life’s curveballs and make lemonade when someone like Dorian hands you some lemons.
Kiplinger Magazine has an excellent article on the “go-go years” and beyond, and we remarked that the four of us were taking this very seriously. At this point, you may be wondering what the above events have to do with dental practice transitions, but please keep reading on, and you will see the method to my madness.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I was asked by Dental Economics to co-write an article on disaster preparedness, and lessons learned from surviving the 2004 hurricane season. Although some of the material is now dated, a lot of what was learned then is reinforced every hurricane season, and other natural disasters throughout the country all year long.
Given that the solo practice model has slowly become less prominent, and the cost of running a dental practice continues to increase, a dentist reaching the age of 50 has more options today available to them, especially if there is a chance that a facility could suffer damage that would prevent dentistry from happening for a prolonged period of time.
Retirement “catch-up” provisions allows dentists over 50 to set aside more income in pre-tax programs, and the proliferation of solo 401K plans allows dentists to sell their practices, contractually “workback” as an independent contractor to the new practice structure, and give the dentist more free time to enjoy life, while continuing to practice and share management responsibilities with younger dentists who desire the private practice model, but could use a little “on-the-job training,” eventually taking on a younger dentist with similar goals in the near future.
Today, most dentists approaching that age should be looking to partner with another dentist who has a similar philosophy of practice, especially if one of the offices is more “dated.” It should be noted that the business practice model of most dental service organizations (DSOs) call for at least two dentists working four-day weeks with extended hours, and covering the entire week, and sometimes including weekend hours.
Millennials and the new Generation Z coming of working age are more prone to “shopping” and have convenient hours as one of their prerequisites for selection of a dental office. A shared office space arrangement allows dentists to fulfill that desire, with minimum disruption, and allows them to offer the same convenience features as DSOs or large group practices.
Thankfully, it appears that most of Florida dentists fared well from this latest storm. The disruption to our practice lives disrupted patient care at least all that week and may have delayed some of the “snowbird migration” that we experience this time of the year.
Back at work, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I ready for the “go-go” years, regardless of what happens to my practice?
- Whom am I compatible with practice philosophy-wise in my area, and might we benefit from a joint location/dental practice, and a reduced cost of overhead?
- If my office was damaged, is the cost of rebuilding/repairing my space a good return on investment, given the amount of years I’m looking to practice in the future?
- Is it time to reexamine my financial strategic plan, and make some major changes? More boldly, is it time to downsize, and reduce the clutter and “stuff” we have accumulated?
- Are my contingency/practice succession plans up to date?
I’ve completed my term as ADA First Vice President, and it has been a privilege and honor serving our nation’s dentists and ensuring them clinical and financial success for the past two years. Be well.
Dr. Huot is a Fellow in the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists, the Academy of General Dentistry and the Pierre Fauchard Academy. He currently serves on the FDA Political Action Committee Board of Directors and served as ADA vice president for the past two years. He had a private practice from 1985-2008, still practices clinical dentistry and is the CEO of Beachside Dental Consultants, Inc., a practice management and health consultant firm. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.