As a dentist, here’s what I learned during the pandemic

By Dr. Bill Simon

A career in dentistry can certainly offer up its share of challenges. Some may feel like little bumps in the road, some like speedbumps, and some, hopefully very few, will feel like the road has disappeared. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the road to disappear. As a dentist, you live and you learn.

As a practice owner whose office survived a major fire and a lost lease, many of the lessons taught by the pandemic were ones I had been “fortunate” to have learned before. Some, however, were new. Let’s take a look at those lessons learned.

Perseverance

Don’t stop. Keep on pushing. In times of urgency, it is pedal to the metal, from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. It may be unpleasant and exhausting, but you must endure. I recommend reading the book “Endurance,” by Alfred Lansing. It will make all your challenges seem minimal in comparison.

Lead

Initially, in a time of crisis or urgency, I recommend leading from the top down as opposed to the bottom-up style of leadership I prefer in “normal times.” It is critical that you give your team the sense that you have things under control, even if you don’t. Show them that you are the calm, collected expert who will give them the confidence they need to feel their hope that things will get better and return to “normal” is achievable. Once you get there, it is time to return to leading from the bottom up. Allow your team to take over tasks and, most importantly, help to create the solutions that will get you through the challenges. Your team’s sense of ownership in the process becomes crucial to your rate of recovery. I recommend reading the books “The Big Why” and “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek. These two books have helped me with my leadership skills more than any other books I have read.

Be flexible

Long-term planning becomes very difficult in a time of disaster, especially when the road to recovery is unclear and changing day to day. For me, this was even more evident in the pandemic than the fire disaster. With the fire, we could lean on advice from those who had already experienced one. The road to recovery from the fire was not riddled with practical unknowns the way it was with COVID-19. The financial unknowns after the fire were tempered by something called Business Interruption Insurance. The pandemic was unprecedented in our time and the financial uncertainties enormous. Even the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s did not cause practices to shut down. Guidance from the CDC and the ADA changed daily. In this environment, one must be flexible and ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. Sometimes the changes need to be immediate, sometimes day to day, week to week, or even month to month. There may even be a need to adjust your five-year plan.

Take advantage of opportunity

During challenging times, it is important to keep your ears close to the ground and your eyes open to opportunity. In times of challenge, help can often present itself it many forms. Is there an insurance benefit available to you? What programs have emerged to help? In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cares Act brought multiple forms of relief. Some practices even finished 2020 in a better financial position than that of pre-COVID. If you were not paying attention, you may have lost out on some major recovery benefits. Other opportunities included adjusting your staffing, changing your practice hours, invoking new systems (virtual payment and form submission for example), and new approaches (teledentistry and Zoom meeting, for example). Crisis drives action towards improving efficiencies. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Prioritize

Prioritizing has always been a challenging thing for me. I prefer to work on things that are fresh and ones that I am most passionate about. There is a saying, “Eat the frog.” This means that you should do the important things you don’t like to do first. Even though I have a mini frog on top of my monitor to remind me of this, I continue to have frogs croaking. I have learned that during challenging times, like the pandemic, “eating the frog” is more important than ever.

Take care of yourself

You have probably heard over and over about the importance of maintaining your mental and physical well-being. Many dismiss it. During any challenging time, this is probably more difficult to commit to, yet more important than ever. Exercise is critical to keeping you at your physical best. Letting your mind rest in the form of meditation or periods of calm will keep your mind clearer. Lastly, find time to take a break. Take a day, or even two, to set all things work aside.

Dr. Bill Simon’s 35-year dental career has included its share of challenging situations. Starting as an associate in a run-down Medicaid practice, Dr. Simon grew to become the sole owner of two highly successful multi-doctor practices. His experience includes six build outs, nine locations, four space-sharing arrangements, one practice acquisition, and more than 25 associates. He experienced a lost lease, an embezzlement scheme, robbery at gun point, and a major fire after which the team worked out of three offices before settling into an abandoned dental office while he rebuilt. The fourth month after the fire, Dr. Simon’s practice had the best production month in practice history.

These experiences, coupled with Dr. Simon’s passion to help dentists succeed, have inspired him to speak to and mentor dentists. Sharing experiences and imparting lessons in leadership, communication and practice management principles, Dr. Simon encourages dentists, their dental teams and dental students with the knowledge and hope they need to allay their fears and facilitate their success.

Next read: Embracing failure to adopt everyday innovation

Note: “Learning is Hanging Out” by cogdogblog is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/