“Drivers” Versus “Cruisers”
The search for fulfillment as a dental practice owner
Doctors are natural born achievers, very goal-oriented people. Pursuing these goals gives meaning to their lives, something to live for. As a goal-oriented person, you’ve probably spent much of your life focusing on certain professional goals. Early in your career, the responsibilities tied to these goals seem secondary. Once the essential goals have been reached, the responsibility to maintain them becomes the heavier focus, and as more goals are achieved, more responsibilities are incurred.
That shift, when goals become responsibilities, indicates an important transition in your career. That maintenance stage lasts a different length of time for each doctor. Some doctors decide to grow their practice further and set larger professional goals. Other times, doctors may end up feeling like their practice runs their lives. It often starts with the Sunday night blues. Unrecognized, they begin to feel trapped by their professional responsibilities; what they need is a light at the end of the tunnel.
For example, Doctor A had just turned forty-six years old. He operated a successful practice grossing about $600,000 a year. His income after expenses was about 46% of the gross collections, which enabled him and his family to enjoy a good living. He practiced four days a week. His practice was stable and maintained a steady flow of new patients. He had a nice house and drove a nice car to and from the office. He started to set aside money for retirement and some college funds for his children. In short, he had achieved what many would consider the American dream. Yet, he was not truly happy.
If you can’t wait to get back to the office Monday morning, if you continue to enjoy managing and motivating staff, or if you are constantly looking for ways to expand your practice and see more patients, you are probably a “driver.” However, if you find your body is at the practice while your mind is on the golf course, if due to stress and fatigue, you regularly entertain thoughts of cutting back your time at the office, or if you are bored with the practice and are just marking time, you may be a “cruiser.” Both are natural stages in your career, but you need to know which way you are heading in order to be satisfied in your career.
Growing the practice is not likely to help cruisers find satisfaction, when what they really want is to cut back. When cruisers start looking for other options, ways of keeping the practice going while still taking the pressure off, the most common route is to hire an associate. This may help the symptoms, but doesn’t always address the true problem. We sometimes refer to such arrangements as “ambiguity-ships” because they often have either no contract or a one-sided contract; typically these have no financial commitment from the associate and offer little incentive in return. However, hiring an associate is a viable option for a cruiser, as long as it is handled correctly and both the host and associate define their expectations in an equitable arrangement.
So the big question, then, is how can a cruiser enhance his or her quality of life? On the other side, what opportunities can a driver utilize to achieve his or her professional goals? There are viable, time-tested solutions to each challenge and different practice transition options that you may not have considered before. If structured properly, these options can give you more time and freedom without sacrificing your income needs. They can give you the time to explore other vocations or spend more time doing what you enjoy most.
Structuring the right transition to meet the complementary goals of each professional can enhance the quality of life for both parties. A practice merger transition is one option that can meet the needs of both a driver and a cruiser. For example, Doctor A, a cruiser, merged his practice with a younger dentist, Doctor B, age 32, a driver. Doctor A sold his practice to Doctor B for $400,000 and put the proceeds from the sale in his pension, while working back for Doctor B for three 6-hour days. Doctor A was now able to give up administrative and management responsibilities. Due to lower stress, his production jumped from $250 to $350 per hour and he was able to take home $3,000 per week. He was also able to take longer vacations without worrying about the drop in production or overhead expenses. Before the merger, Doctor B was doing $400,000 in his own practice and taking home $160,000 a year, after the merger, Doctor B takes home $225,000 (after all overhead expenses and debt service of the practice purchase) and still has the same work load as before the merger. Other options could include basic office sharing arrangements, associateships with deferred buy-outs, selling the practice and continuing to work as an associate at your office, etc., with each transition customized to meet the needs of both parties.
Cruisers rarely become drivers, no matter how hard they try to talk themselves into it. The longer they wait, the worse it will become. However, once the burdens of ownership are taken off their backs, we have seen many cruisers really begin to enjoy dentistry again, and the more they enjoy it, the more relaxed and productive they become. Perhaps it is because they can take a stress-free vacation for the first time. Perhaps it is because they don’t have to see every weekend emergency patient. Perhaps it is because they can really focus on the quality patients in the practice. Perhaps it is because they can now take more time pursuing their other interests. Perhaps it is a little bit of all these reasons.
The key is to take a step back and recognize whether you are a driver or a cruiser and take the necessary steps to ensure that you are fulfilled both personally and professionally.