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MyView: It's a good life

March 04, 2019

By Nigel Schultz, D.M.D.

Photo of Dr. Schultz
Nigel Schultz, D.M.D.
It's been two days and no call or email. Wow, unbelievable. Let me explain.

Late one afternoon I'm sitting in my office going over the day sheet and going through my mail. There's a letter from a young dentist. I get one like this every year or so. It starts out with an introduction that they are looking for a dental practice. It's usually from a recent graduate, and they would like to know if I am planning to retire soon. This letter was especially cute because it mentions his months of experience in private practice. I'm in my 30th year of private practice, and I didn't think I was going to be retiring soon, but the idea of retirement can't be that far off, can it? I do a bit of detective web searching to make sure the writer is an actual dentist, then I reply. I briefly describe my practice and that I am at a point in my career where I may be looking for someone to succeed me and that I would like to talk with them. I received a prompt reply that puzzled me greatly. They said that they would like to talk to me but would I first make an appointment to speak with a consultant they had hired on their behalf.

Huh? Have you ever read something that made you chuckle and at the same time it bugged you?

Dentistry has been good to me. I was able to return to my hometown area after dental school and set up a private practice. I live on a barrier island on the central east coast of Florida. It's a string of small beachside towns connected to the mainland by a few causeways. I have been able to buy and pay off a nice home for my family and start my own office, which is right across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. I am the typical small-town boy that grew up to be the small-town dentist. Heck, my sixth grade teacher is still my patient. It has been and is a good life.

Then it dawns on me. Much more than a computer full of charts or rooms of equipment, a dental practice will dictate a large part of a doctor's life. It defines your community, the schools your kids will attend, many of your friends and all of your neighbors. I won't just be selling some young dentist a dental practice; I'll be selling them their life. My life.

My successor should like living in a small town. You can walk on the beach and some mornings you may have it all to yourself. They should like warm weather and the ability to go outside in shorts all winter long. They should like being the small-town doctor. Over their career they will celebrate staff weddings and births, patients' funerals and graduations. Essentially, they will be taking over what is now a large portion of my life. They must be able to make some of the same personal connections I have made over the years.

I carefully replied to his generic email account saying that we should talk first. I tried not to sound too snarky, but I'm not selling something on Craigslist to the first one who shows up with the money. Dentistry is not just about procedures but about connections with your staff, your patients and the community. I said I still wanted to talk, even if he wasn't interested in this practice. I gave him my home phone number and personal email address. I said I have 30 years of clinical and business experience, having owned two private practices and worked in five different offices over my career, a wealth of free info. I ended by saying that if I don't hear from him that I wished him good luck in his search and his career. I awaited his reply.

Crickets. That prompted the subconscious, "Wow," after two days. I really expected to hear from him.

Every experience has a lesson. The letter got me to think about my future and the future of my practice. I'm going to begin my search, not with a deadline but with a goal. To pass on the good practice I've built over the years to someone who can make those connections. My patients and I deserve the security of knowing that the practice I have built will continue to thrive and evolve with a new leader. Next year one of my best friends, who also happens to be my dentist, will retire. So, I am going to need a great dentist too.

I may not know 100 percent what my life will hold for the future, but I know what my new partner's life will be like. It's a good life.

Dr. Schultz celebrates more than 25 years of practicing dentistry in the small town of Melbourne Beach, Florida.