By Dr. David Black
Treated correctly, Boomer doctors can be a huge asset. Ignored, they can be a wasted asset. Six ways to get the most out of experienced doctors before they retire.
I just had my seventieth birthday. Being born in 1946 makes me one of the first of the “Boomers”. I practiced dentistry for over 40 years, and my practice was bought when I was sixty-five. I continued to work for the young, Gen-X doctor and his MBA partner for four years.
I appreciate that they let me work those extra years for emotional and financial reasons. I continued to make a good living, which added to the wonderful cash buyout at purchase time to ensure my ability to live well in my retirement. They were nice people who had a good business plan. We still have a good relationship, discussing what they are doing in their multiple office business.
In retrospect, I look at the increasing dissatisfaction I felt over the progress of those four years, and the various reasons I retired at age 68. The reason I use most is a back injury at age 65 made me progressively more uncomfortable practicing. That is true, but I also was just tired, and I had lost my joy of dentistry and my motivation to continue to work at this fast-paced and demanding job.
By most studies the traits of Baby Boomers are they are Work-Centric, Independent, Goal-Oriented, Competitive, and Self-Actualized. That pretty well describes me and many independent, one doctor operators, who still make up the bulk of the dental work force.
What happens when one of the Boomers is Deactivated? I will give my reflections on what happened to me.
I had worked long and hard, taken many classes, hired several consultants to build my fee-for-service, restorative practice. I was very work-centric, always driving to improve my skill, and my production in my practice. I was so independent, I had trouble keeping associates who couldn’t keep up with my level of commitment. I always had goals to keep me moving forward, and I was competitive enough to try to be the best in the community ( in my estimation). I felt a sense of accomplishment and success in what I did.
Then someone bought my practice. They became the boss, I was no longer able to make independent choices, someone else set my goals and never really monitored them, and instead of identifying me as a doctor with special talents, I became one of ten doctors in a group, that never capitalized on the skills I had acquired for over forty years.
I still continued to work hard, to be a productive employee, BUT something big was missing. Emotionally, it was hard on me, but too bad, I had been paid well, I had agreed to the terms of the contract and sale, and my emotional health was not a concern of the buyer.
In reflection, what a waste of talent. My talents could have been used in a much better way. For those of you who are buying practices and for the young doctors who are working in larger practices, I have a couple suggestions for better use of the resource of older, more experienced doctors.
- Capitalize on the experience and talent. I had done a lot of cosmetic dentistry, and had positioned myself in the community as an expert. Continue to use this reputation to your advantage in advertising.
- Use doctor to train younger doctors in procedures. Do you know how few veneers a doctor has done upon graduation? Probably none. Do you know how much it costs for an over the shoulder course to learn those? Why not REQUIRE young doctors to shadow some procedures to learn them instead of going to expensive courses.
- Show appreciation, we all feed on it. My new, young boss told me he didn’t think there were any good cosmetic dentists in the area, and he had never taken the effort to look at the many cases I had done. This is Depreciation, and it will Deactivate any remnant of motivation that may be there.
- Seek input and reinforce goals. I probably was the best person to ask what my capabilities were. I guess they liked the production level I did without guidance, but I was never asked what I thought I could do or wanted to do. The conversation will motivate by itself.
- Incentivize any doctor who moves from a fee-for-service to an insurance driven practice. In most cases, that in itself is a 25-30% compensation drop for the insurance write-down. Most of us don’t want to work harder, when we have already lost all the perks we had as an independent doctor.
- Feed our ego for your own good. Luckily I have a pretty good self-esteem, and that helped me to continue to work for four years without goals, guidance, or encouragement.
I think that the young owners wasted what could have been a MORE valuable resource. If they had encouraged me more, if they had used my talent better, and if they had recognized and capitalized on my special talents, they could have made more money while I was their employee. I also could have helped them bring young doctors up to speed at less cost to their business.
“A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE”, and young doctors, both owners and employees should take note, and use a natural resource that is begging to be used.
Dr. Black’s 43+years of clinical experience, mentors such as Drs. Pankey and Dawson, and integration of information from four major consulting firms give Dr. Black expertise in a wide range of topics.