Words of Wisdom from Accomplished Dentist: Dr. Alan Stern

By: Jennifer Murphy, DDS, FAGD

Dr. Alan G. Stern graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in 1981. He completed a 1 year GPR, then worked as an associate dentist for 5 years before opening his FFS practice in Ocean, NJ in 1987. 

Dr. Stern is also an ACE Certified Health Coach and Behavior Change Specialist. He wanted to share that at age 66 he held a plank for 10 minutes and is training to attain new fitness goals.

He has also created Better, Richer, Stronger to help dentists attain that and even more. Below he shares some wonderful nuggets of wisdom and is a true gem in our dental community. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did speaking with him.

Q & A with Dr. Alan Stern, DDS

Q: Tell us about your journey in your career as a dentist.

I worked for several people who were high volume, and low fee and knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be.

I worked in corporate which was the antithesis of what I thought and knew I didn’t want.

I knew enough about myself that I like spending time with people. There are consequences to that.

I’m primarily fee-for-service so out of network with insurance. We have worked to create a warm and loving environment. Our patients are friends. I spend lots of time with them, share life with them, and do dentistry.

I never see a set of teeth walk into the office or an insurance policy. I see people in need walk into the office who want something that I can help with.

Q: What advice do you have for new dentists?

We have the right to pursue happiness in this country. There is no easy way to make a living in dentistry or not in dentistry.

We have very hard choices to make. We have to balance financial needs with emotional needs. There is no sense in going to work and making 7 figures then coming home whining, and being tired and anxious.

Conversely, if you have demanding student loans – there is a balance here – you have to find your happiness, your sweet spot – philosophically, and technically.

Spend the first couple of years churning it out to the best of your ability and in your comfort zone. Think about what you want and what you like – don’t do what you don’t like – you’re going to get in trouble!

Don’t stop learning. When you stop learning you are stagnant in life and get into a professional hole that is hard to dig out of. Do interactive free CE and never stop.

Q: What would you tell your younger self?

Don’t grow up (laughing) – remain immature (laughing even more!)  Seriously, stop thinking inwardly. Stop looking at your inadequacies. It’s not about what you aren’t, but what you are.  Get out of the comparison trap.

I suffered financially. I was compelled to buy a large house. But those struggles have given me the strength I wouldn’t have known. I’m on the path that I’m on from that adversity. Adversity is a part of life. But don’t confuse a hemorrhoid with a tumor! Don’t turn something that will not matter 5 years from now (a hemorrhoid) into a tumor (big things in life).

It’s better to look at problems as an irritant rather than an existential threat as you are more likely and be better able to solve those problems.

Q: Would you still choose dentistry? Why or why not?

If I look very deeply into myself, no. The reason is not that I haven’t had a good career or don’t enjoy work, but that I am getting more joy and satisfaction in my work with other dentists.

I am the son of a nice Jewish mother and an abusive dad; if I knew at age 20 what I now know at age 69, a career in psychology would’ve been a much better career for me.

I wouldn’t discourage anybody, but warn them that they need to understand business as well as the profession in order to make this thing work and to carry in them no expectations. 

I use humor very well. Always laugh – no one ever died laughing. Humor is a way to deal with stress.

Q: What has helped you be successful? How do you define success?

So many people define success by what’s in their bank account, and use their bank account to gauge their worth. That works for some people, but if go around using that as a label of what you’re worth, sooner or later you’ll run into trouble. I learned that lesson very painfully.

To me success is getting more and more of what you want. The trick is understanding what it is that you want. What I would tell my colleagues, friends, and clients is to sit down and figure out what you want.

Find happiness for yourself and everyday do more and more to get more and more of what you want. A lot is commensurate with the amount you give – seeking the most of what you want and allowing the monetary reward to follow.

Knowing that you don’t know what’s in my bank account and I don’t know what price you’ve paid to get what you want. I don’t know if I’m willing or able to pay that price that you’ve paid.

Pursue happiness, integrate business and keep learning. Figure out what you want and I’ll tell you it’s not money.

Q: Tell us about your Better, Richer, Stronger group.

Better, Richer, Stronger is the name of my business. I help dentists and their teams are more productive and have a happier workplace and therefore be more profitable. I focus on vision, mission, productivity, and happiness.

Very simple. I speak to groups, speak to teams, and work in offices, with individual dentists – as a result, dentists have a fuller and richer life in every aspect.

I have a FaceBook group, same name- Better, Richer, Stronger, which is about the humanistic side of dentistry, the soft side, not the technical side, on how to deal with people -ourselves, our team, our patients.

There I also post a weekly blog, my Sunday reflections. I also have guest videos coming where we talk about all aspects of life, including business, HR, marketing mistakes, money, health and well-being. This is where I share my story and relate it to day-to-day life. If you are lost and struggling, Better Richer, Stronger is the place to be.

There is no better real-life resilience example than him – no BS. Life is good, and it’s getting better

Q & A with Dr. Alan Stern: In Summary

And, that’s Dr. Alan Stern. I truly hope you check him out and perhaps even reach out to him. He is always so generous with his time offering those in need a “virtual cup of coffee.”

I also wanted to share that he is creating a Mastermind group for young dentists called On the Ride.

Dr. Stern believes nobody gets there alone, dentistry can be an isolated world, and that there is a need for an inner circle and mentorship. So, he has created On the Ride to fulfill that which will be a safe space for young dentists to discuss issues, and talk about things that crop up in our professional lives – technically, and the day-to-day things in our personal lives.

He hopes young dentists will join him to share in a safe space with colleagues who understand and any problem we have is shared by somebody else.

Dr. Stern shared that in this group he will facilitate discussions on subjects that he and participants choose, meet 2 times a month, and have guest speakers and that it will be an enriching group – month to month – ongoing – low cost – high value.

Please reach out to him at BetterRicherStronger@gmail.com.

Photo by EVG Kowalievska

Jennifer Murphy

Jennifer Murphy

Dr. Jennifer Murphy graduated with a Doctorate of Dental Surgery in 2006 from The Ohio State University. She is a member in good standing of the American Dental Association, North Carolina Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Murphy earned her Fellowship from the Academy of General Dentistry in 2021. In addition to practicing general dentistry, she is also a practice coach for Benco Dental.