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My View: Encouraging greater professional satisfaction

August 06, 2018

By Kenneth L. Krowne, D.M.D.

Dr. Krowne
Kenneth L. Krowne, D.M.D.
At various times during my 52-year career as a dentist I have been asked, “Is it really true that there is a high rate of depression amongst dentists?” I haven’t been able to respond to the question, other than to say that it hasn’t been my experience to know many dentists who seem to suffer from this condition. Certainly, it would be an important topic at any number of the study clubs I’ve participated in, as well as in courses at continuing education institutes. We attend any number of programs to improve our clinical skills, but what it takes for us to be creating satisfaction for ourselves in our everyday practices seems to have a much lower priority.

Definitely, the demands of working hard to provide excellent quality dentistry, while tending to the various other aspects of our practices — like working with our staffs, dealing with insurance companies, communicating with labs, as well as vendors — can all be daunting at times. Yet, my experience of practicing has generally been very satisfying and enjoyable. It’s been wonderful to be able to relieve dental pain, lower apprehension, provide pleasing esthetics and get to know thousands of people over the years. Frequently, I’ve wondered what it might be like for many of my colleagues. Certainly I have been in enough dental offices to have formed my own opinions; however, I was looking to broaden my view.

Recently, I took the opportunity to interview three sales representatives from the companies that sell us most of our supplies. I asked them what was the atmosphere like in offices they visited and what that might say about the satisfaction these dentists might be experiencing in their professional lives.

While they reported that their experience of the majority of the practices was very positive, there were a significant number of practices that did not seem like there was a healthy environment present. While this is a highly subjective assessment, and open to question, it got me thinking.
I decided to look at how we did our initial visit with our new patients, from the prospective patient’s first call, to how we greeted them, how my hygienists regarded meeting them and how I interacted with them. While I wanted the new patient to feel welcome, I also very much wanted to experience satisfaction myself with both that visit and with this new relationship.

I began meeting with a number of dentists who were at different places in their careers and shared with them how we did our initial visit. The main points were to attempt to have the dentists experience satisfaction with their time with the patient and to begin to create a relationship that would engender trust and confidence.

In our office, I generally go out to the reception room and introduce myself briefly. I tell the new patient what the hygienist will be doing: cleaning their teeth, going over their health history, discussing prevention and X-rays and doing a thorough examination. I let them know that I will then come in and begin to get to know them by asking them about themselves then sharing about myself. I might say that I like the adage of “never treat a stranger.” I might ask them about their backgrounds, job, family, interests outside of work and will be open about myself as well about these areas, then we do our exam. A key part of this is putting myself in their world, and listening carefully to what they share. After the patient leaves, I will write down several notes from our conversation and will follow-up on some detail of interest when they return for dental treatment or at their next recall. Definitely, people appreciate that we are interested in them, and I believe this makes for a great beginning in our professional relationship. It’s also very enjoyable to me. Typically when I go home at night, my family doesn’t ask me how the #3 MO composite turned out, but they frequently enjoy it when I share that our new patient may be working as a chemist looking for breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease or pancreatic cancer.
The dentists who have begun incorporating at least some of this method into their protocols have all reported that they are enjoying their first visits more than ever before, and, hence, enjoying practicing more. In fact, one of the dentists, who has been practicing more than 30 years, shared with me that previously she had been reluctant to talk about herself, fearing that her patients might think that she was boasting. In fact, she’s finding it very satisfying to be open and her patients are now getting to know her more as a person. She is so enthusiastic about it that she finds herself being more open with all of her patients and enjoying her work day far more. I further believe that our patients develop greater trust in us earlier in our relationships when we give them the opportunity to get to know us.
While what I have discussed may not be for everyone, I invite you to tailor it to your style and see if you notice any difference in your level of enjoyment and satisfaction in your practices, as well as in the quality of your relationships with the people who add so much to our lives: our patients.
Dr. Kenneth L. Krowne practices in Brookline, Massachusetts, has been a guest lecturer in practice management at the Boston University School of Dentistry and is a past president of the Brookline Dental Society.