I was sitting behind special mirrored glass at a research facility watching an interviewer speak with a dentist. We were doing the research for what would become ADA Practice Transitions. I watched as yet another dentist said, “I want to sell my practice to someone like me.”
This sentiment is at the heart of what we are trying to build at ADAPT: we believe that a consistent philosophy of care is critical to the longevity of a dental practice, particularly when a change of ownership occurs.
Previous interviews had taught us that we would hear that statement frequently: “I want to sell my practice to someone like me.” But we had also learned that we needed to dig a little deeper to understand what “like me” actually meant.
Originally, we assumed that “like me” referred to a similar philosophy. But that occasionally proved to be misguided. Too often the dentist meant that they wanted someone who “looks like me.” What they were really saying was, “I want a man (like me) or a woman (like me) or a white person (like me) or someone with Asian heritage (like me).”
The skilled professional interviewers dug deeper, which led to statements like, “My patients expect a man to be their dentist,” and “I don’t have anything against people from other countries, but my patients want someone familiar to them.”
When we probed to understand why the dentist felt this way, it almost always was justified by what they perceived their patients wanted. It seemed odd to me that dentists would choose accidents of birth as the defining characteristics for what their patients wanted in a dentist. The dentists were convinced their patients wanted someone who identified as male or someone who happened to be white. The dentists did not seem to assume that what the patient wanted was someone who was as technically skilled as their dentist, or as empathetic, or as trustworthy. It seemed like the first consideration was gender or ethnicity, followed by things we are calling philosophy of care.
Why philosophy of care matters
Three years into ADAPT, our experience tells us that personality-driven characteristics are more important than accidental ones.
The service we built and the match recommendations we make are premised on matching dentists based on philosophy of care. As a company, we believe that philosophy is independent of gender and race and ethnicity and sexual orientation. In fact, we go further and say we believe that philosophy is MOST important. That philosophy drives:
- How you interact with patients and staff
- How patients come to know and trust you
- How you manage a case
- How you communicate with your patients
After all, we know that there are multiple acceptable approaches to many cases that are all within the standard of care. But patients have likely become comfortable with their dentist’s approach. If the patient is used to a “wait and see” dentist, they are unlikely to click with an “aggressive treatment now” dentist. A practice’s new associate (or especially, a new owner) is more likely to succeed if they have a philosophy similar to the current owner’s.
“I want to see a photo”
We built the ADAPT matching system and algorithms to prioritize that philosophy as the core value. When we began showing potential customers the beta version of the platform, all we showed initially was a candidate’s philosophy. No picture. No name. No gender indications. Still, we heard over and over again, “I want to see a picture of the potential candidate. I feel more comfortable if I can just see a picture.” While we certainly understood the request, we feared that some great matches could be pushed to the side because they did not fit some preconceived notion.
At ADAPT, we are committed to keeping dentists’ approach to patient care and running a practice at the heart of match decisions.
At ADAPT, we continue to believe that the philosophy deserves top priority. We still do not show a picture or release a name until both dentists see a potential match through the philosophy of care statement. We are committed to keeping dentists’ approach to patient care and running a practice at the heart of match decisions.
This belief is partially driven by some demographic realities in dentistry today. The overwhelming majority of dentists at retirement age are white and male. According to 2020 data from the ADA’s Health Policy Institute, over 37% of all dentists were age 55 or older, but over 47% of male dentists were over 55. Less than 22% of female dentists were that age.
On the other side of the career spectrum, the incoming classes of dentists are much more diverse than those now retiring, both in gender and ethnicity. According to the 2020 ADEA Snapshot (American Dental Education Association) of first-year dental school enrollees, 50.5% were women and 50.6% identified their ethnicity as something other than white.
Sometimes we hear that docs will not accept a foreign-trained dentist now licensed in the US. However, when QS World University Rankings released the 2021 list of best dental schools in the world, seven of the top ten were outside the US. Only 14 of the top 50 were in the United States. At ADAPT, we want to take advantage of all the potential options in an effort to find the very best match for each practice, for each dentist, and ultimately for each community and patient.
If you’re approaching a career transition of your own, try to leave your preconceived notions aside. There is no single characteristic that will define the best match for your needs. Rather, look for the right person to carry on or grow your dental legacy, or the place where you feel you can be successful. That person may not look anything like you do – but they may be exactly the right person for your patients.
Ready to begin your own career transition? Whether you're buying, selling, hiring, or looking for a job, create your free ADA Practice Transitions profile to get started and begin matching with dentists and practices that share your philosophy of care.