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Dentists find personal rewards in business management program from ADA, Kellogg

For several years, Dr. Sam Smiley of Dublin, Ohio, has served as a member of the board of directors for a local bank and an insurance company. Having recently completed his second session of the three-part ADA/Kellogg Executive Management Program for Dentists, Dr. Smiley says he looks at aspects of business management in an entirely different way.

"This program has really opened my eyes to the ways business people think about things," said Dr. Smiley, a general dentist in a group practice. "I just love it. This is the most interesting program I've ever had and the most challenging outside of the traditional clinical aspects of dentistry."

Dr. Robert Ettleman of Tampa, Fla., completed the Executive Management Program in 2007, the same year he founded Gulf Coast Dental Outreach Inc., a non-profit initiative that matches patients in need of dental care with volunteer dentists. The program is a safety net for people in Pinellas County, Fla., in which almost 250,000 people are considered to be low income.

"A significant part of what I do is recruit volunteer dentists and seek donations," said Dr. Ettleman. "The Executive Management Program helped me develop skills in business decision-making, leadership, finance and marketing that will help any business or organization run better. With Gulf Coast Dental Outreach, in a sense I'm pitching a product and bringing it to market."

Drs. Smiley and Ettleman are representative of the diverse group of dentists who have participated in the ADA/Kellogg Executive Management Program for Dentists.

Dentists in the program come from varied backgrounds with a variety of personal goals, but with a common interest in expanding their business and management expertise. Participants have come from private practice, specialty organizations, hospital and health organizations, the insurance industry, organized dentistry, nonprofit organizations, dental education, research and a number of different business interests outside dentistry.

"The Executive Management Program is time intensive but gives you a significant taste of every area you ought to consider in business management," said Dr. Smiley, who describes himself as "a lifelong student."

"Some people I've met in the program are interested in pursuing a career change but that's not my goal. I love being a dentist," he said. "The best thing I hope to get out of the program is to be able to apply these business principles to my own group practice and help other dentists make decisions. That would be a great reward."

One aspect of the course offered a valuable lesson applicable to practicing dentists, added Dr. Smiley. "We learned about purchasing and whether, for example, a particular piece of equipment will pay for itself over its functional life," he said. "We dentists make decisions based on patient needs and gut instincts with expensive equipment like CAD/CAM technology. It's a natural evolution to apply good sound business decisions to purchases."

Dr. Ettleman left practice five years ago after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He read about the Executive Management Program in the ADA News and requested more information. "I knew I would be taking on a greater role in a family business in the near future and recognized a need for more general business education," he said.

He had also considered the idea of launching a nonprofit system to provide dental care to adults with no dental safety net in the Tampa area. "I began the Executive Management Program, and it had this way of making me see ways where the training can be applied," said Dr. Ettleman. "I thought of the dental clinic and it was like this 'light-bulb moment' for me."

Gulf Coast Dental Outreach Inc. coordinates dental visits by matching patients referred by area public assistance programs with volunteer dentists. "Many dentists want to volunteer to help the underserved but some lack a good way of doing that," he said. That's where Dr. Ettleman came in. With his wife's strong support, he founded a 501(c)(3) organization in July 2007 and the program began providing patient treatment four months later. As of now, appointments are booked through February 2009.

"In less than one year, we have provided 460 patient visits, 500 volunteer health care provider hours from 36 volunteer dentists and over $175,000 in usual, customary and reasonable value of dental services," said Dr. Ettleman, adding that patients take an active part in their care by paying $15, sometimes less, on most procedures except those with lab fees or greater material costs.

The impact of Gulf Coast Dental Outreach on the practice community has raised Dr. Ettleman's profile, and the University of Florida College of Dentistry invited him to speak on the topic of social responsibility as part of its ethics panel for students. In June, Dr. Ettleman received the Florida Dental Association's Humanitarian of the Year Award for distinguishing "himself by actively reaching beyond the expected to take personal responsibility for others," said FDA.

Perhaps more rewarding, he said, is feedback from the dentists who volunteer with Gulf Coast Dental Outreach. "A common reaction is, 'I get more out of it than the patients do.' These dentists recognize that they are really doing something to help people.

"Gulf Coast Dental Outreach is a lot bigger than I thought it would be," he continued. "The Executive Management Program was fantastic, giving me confidence to explore and implement 'outside-the-box' thinking. In fact, there are some parts I would love to take again."