Home Practice ManagementLeadership Developing Your “Practice Owner” Mindset

Developing Your “Practice Owner” Mindset

by Steve Parker

I was speaking to a large group of dentists recently, when I was asked, “Why are some dental practices successful and some fail?” It was far from the first time I’d been asked that question.

Because of my role with The Profitable Dentist Magazine, and the history of my company, a lot of dentists have come to believe I have some secret, inside information about divining which dental practices grow and which die.

They seem to think their practice would skyrocket if I would only tell them how to find that perfect location, or the best patient-to-dentist density, or some clever marketing slogan, or how to find the right team, or which new procedure they should learn. So, when I answered the question with, “The single most important differentiator is the mindset of the practice owner,” I was met with a lot of confused looks.

Are you qualified to be a practice owner?

I asked the audience, as I always do on this topic, “How many of you graduated from dental school?” Every hand went up. I followed with, “Awesome. How many of you have a license to practice dentistry in your State?” Again, a few chuckles and every hand went up. I then said, “Congratulations! You’re ALL educated, trained and qualified to be dentists! But, how many of you have any formal education, formal training or formal experience running a business other than your own?” Not one hand.

I have always been astounded that in dentistry, 84% of dentists own their own practice. There is no other profession that merges two such dissimilar vocations, in such a high percentage. Roughly 51% of physicians are practice owners, but 89% of those are owners in a hospital-owned, physician group. Only 9% of Accountants own their own business, and the percentage of attorneys who own their practice shot up to an amazing 5.5% in 2018. More astounding, only 19% of MBAs start a business, and 50% of those fail within five years…and they have an advanced degree specifically teaching them how to operate a business!

Created for science, not for spreadsheets

The other thing that’s always astounded me is how fundamentally different dentistry and business education are. Dental education is all about the science of the body and mouth, and defined techniques and procedures. Business is all about building a fundamental understanding in order to make largely subjective decisions, measure results, and make corrections accordingly. Essentially, while there are objective measures in business, such as profit, the path to results is about making assumptions, taking actions and risks, and developing a leadership style. Exactly the opposite of a dental school education.

Develop a new skillset

So, back to my audience question. I explained that the practices I see doing exceedingly well are headed by a dentist who understands that the education they received in dental school did not prepare them to be a practice owner, and that they were responsible for developing that entirely new skillset on their own.

These practice owners show up every day with the understanding that their “Dentist Mindset,” requires focus on the patient’s clinical needs, but their “Practice Owner Mindset,” requires them to focus on their “customer’s” needs, such as convenient location, visual appeal, efficient staff, concise billing, reasonable fees, expanded procedures, and an acceptable level of customer service they receive in every interaction with the practice. They understand that, as the owner, their clinical skill will only take them so far in attracting and retaining patients, and building a profitable, thriving practice.

“The single most important differentiator {of success and failure} is the mindset of the practice owner.”

They know their practice owner mindset is needed to effectively manage the personal, economic and emotional needs of their staff. They use this mindset to define the hard work and complexity of finding, training and retaining a staff that aligns with their clinical values, as well as their practice goals. They know that relying on their dentist mindset to make these decisions often leads them to unsuccessful outcomes.

I wrapped up my answer by reminding the audience that earning their dental degree and license only meant they were educated, trained and qualified to be a dentist. It had nothing to do with setting them up to be a successful practice owner, and the sooner they embraced a practice owner mindset, the more they would feel in control of, and enjoy their role as owner and practice leader.

Afterward, I was approached by several practice owners about more specifics, so I put together a few examples of a Dentist Mindset vs Practice Owner Mindset, which I’ve included here.

I’ll hire a really talented, experienced office manager who can take care of the business stuff, so I can do the dentistry I love. I am the owner of this practice. I can delegate authority, but not responsibility. Every important decision is ultimately mine, whether I like it or not.
I expect my Front Office person to handle the daily policy stuff for that part of the practice. My team looks to me first to set the example. The values I demonstrate every day with my actions, such as punctuality, attitude, and patient care, become my practice culture.
My office manager has been with me a dozen years. Our kids went to school together. She’s like my sister. I can trust her completely. Solid, proven financial safeguards that I control are critical to any business, and don’t mean that I don’t trust my office manager. In fact, a good office manager will insist on them.
I HATE conflict. I expect my Office Manager to handle that stuff so I can focus on being the dentist! Conflict is part of any relationship and especially employee relationships. This is my practice, and the unacceptable behavior I tolerate, will ultimately become acceptable. Hiding from it won’t correct it.
Am I the only one who cares how tight cash flow is?!?! This is my business, and I am the only one who cares about cash flow. While team members may love me and care about the practice, they expect a regular paycheck. It’s up to me give them the security that will happen.
It’s important that prospective new patients know that I graduated at the top of my class from dental school, take gobs of CE every year, and I have the best clinical skills in town! Prospective new patients assume I graduated from dental school, have a license to practice, and am at least a decent dentist. What they really want to know is if my practice is a good fit for their dental needs, and 82% will rely heavily on my online reviews to determine that. So, my goal is to make every patient I see satisfied enough with their experience that they share it online.


As I was leaving, a doctor from Michigan came up, shook my hand, and thanked me. He said he had struggled for 25 years and had never really thought about his role as owner and leader of the practice, only as the dentist. He said, “Starting Monday, I’m going to figure out what skills I need to learn to run my practice like a business, and take classes to be a better owner.”

I told him, “Changing your mindset is not easy. But you’ll like your practice a lot more and struggle a whole lot less if you do, my friend.”

Leave a Comment

Related Posts

Join Our Community

Get the tools, resources and connections to grow your practice

We will never sell your address or contact information.

Adblock Detected

Please support us by disabling your AdBlocker extension from your browsers for our website.