Dr. Jenna Hatfield never thought she would end up back in the small town where she grew up. After all, Norfolk, Nebraska has just 24,000 people. However, after dental school in Lincoln, Nebraska (population 283,000), Dr. Hatfield and her husband realized that Lincoln didn’t feel like the right place to raise a family.
By chance, Dr. Hatfield heard that her childhood dentist in Norfolk was trying to figure out his exit strategy. The timing was perfect: she came in as his associate, then bought out the practice two years ago.
Today, she’s built an ideal life in Norfolk. She does the type of dentistry she loves, makes a difference in her community, and has the flexibility to care for her family and children.
“I never thought I’d end up back in Norfolk, but it just felt right,” she says.
Doing dentistry, her way
Working in a small town lets Dr. Hatfield practice how she wants. “I love doing all aspects of general dentistry, and rural communities give you so much opportunity to do root canals, implants, and so on,” she says. “Patients are thrilled not to drive out of town.” That also gives her more leverage with insurers. She can negotiate fees or drop a payer, knowing who accepts what in town. Loyal patients will keep coming back on a fee-for-service basis.
And she’s part of a truly supportive dental community. She has a standing lunch date with ten general dentists, an oral surgeon, and an endodontist from around the area. The group fluctuates from week to week, but they use the time to discuss tough cases, the business of dentistry, and life. The dentists cover each other for vacations and illness while providing plenty of camaraderie, mentorship, and advice. She and her staff even attend dental bowling events — playing as the “Molar Rollers.”
A three-minute commute means work-life balance
Today, Dr. Hatfield enjoys a three-minute commute. By the time she adds in school and daycare drop-offs, she’s at the office just seven minutes after leaving home each morning — and it’s easy to drop by the school during the day if need be.
That allows her to be involved in her children’s activities and lives. As a practice owner, she can build her schedule how she likes, working around her children’s needs while leaving time to play volleyball.
And she has time to be a part of the community, something that she and her husband craved while living in Lincoln. “We missed that close-knit community feeling,” she says. “We didn’t feel like we were making a change in our community or seeing results.”
Today, they’re both involved: Dr. Hatfield serves on the local school board while her husband sits on the city planning commission. Together, they feel like they’re making a difference. And each year, Dr. Hatfield grants $1,000 in care for each employee to donate to someone in the community.
“When I talk to D3s and D4s, a lot of them worry they won’t have a social life if they move to a small town,” she says. “But the opposite is true. I know the people here, and they know me.” Even if it means she sometimes runs into them while in sweat pants at the local breakfast place.
Plus, being two hours from the city forces her to be more intentional about spending time with her spouse. “I never feel like I don’t have the ability to go to the city for entertainment. We make a night of it — we stay over and have a great evening without the kids,” she says.
Easier financing for home and practice
As Dr. Hatfield moved to Norfolk and tried to buy a house, corporate banks wanted a track record of six to twelve months of provable income before they would issue a mortgage — a tough requirement for a brand-new graduate with lots of student debt.
However, she found that the in-town local bank was willing to finance the loan on the strength of a letter from the practice owner that stated her minimum income. And when she was ready to buy the practice a couple of years later, the same banker helped her through every step of the practice loan process.
More recently, when Dr. Hatfield was moving to a new home, her local bank once again saved the day when the seller ran into some hiccups. “I wasn’t just a number — they know me, they know my business. I wouldn’t get that with a big bank,” she says.
And while Norfolk isn’t considered “underserved,” she knows colleagues in nearby areas who have benefitted from programs through the government or local Chamber of Commerce. These funds have helped her colleagues pay off student debt or start or renovate practices to serve communities in need of dentists.
Overall, Dr. Hatfield is so glad she came back to Norfolk. It’s proved to be the perfect place to grow — her family, her practice, and her future.