Living and Thriving in Vacationland

Ask Dr. Kala Foster about the advantages of working in a small-town dental practice, and she rattles off a long list: doing dentistry her way, appreciative patients, great work-life balance, a fantastic place to raise a family, and all the benefits of practice ownership.

Dr. Foster lives in Gaylord, Michigan, the center of what is known as Michigan’s “Vacationland” lake region. With 3,600 residents, Gaylord is the “big town” in the area, drawing vacationers from all over the state while serving as the region’s economic hub.

After living in metropolitan Detroit, Dr. Foster moved to Gaylord three years ago. Since then, she has built a great life in her new home.

“We can do ‘vacation stuff’ in the evenings. Boating, snowmobiling, everything’s right here,” she says. “I always have 3-day weekends.”

Doing satisfying dentistry

But it’s more than vacations. “My practice is busy, crazy busy! It’s profitable and I’m booked four or five months out. There’s plenty of work to go around, even with seven other dentists in town.”

She contrasts her current practice with working in Metro Detroit. There, she frequently worked Fridays and Saturdays, and she rarely did implant cases. Plus, it was a lot harder to get patients to accept treatment.

In Gaylord, though, “My patients are more receptive to treatment. The snowbirds in town are well-off and can afford it. I don’t need to sell. And I already have a good rapport with my patients, since I know a lot of them through my kids’ activities and just being around town.”

Her small-town practice cost far less than a comparable Detroit practice, and owning her building keeps her overhead low. The seller was willing to negotiate on the price, pleased to sell to someone who would provide continuity of care to the patients. Plus, the staff stayed on — which helped quickly build trust among her new patients.

Gaylord attracts dental patients from all over the region, with eight general dentists, an endodontist, and two oral surgeons. That makes for a close-knit, supportive dental community that covers each other’s vacations while offering advice and camaraderie. Dr. Foster is also active in her local component.

A practice schedule perfect for work-life balance

Dr. Foster has two children busy with gymnastics, swimming, and other activities. “Gaylord’s a great place to raise a family,” she says, with good schools and plenty to do. “Everyone’s friendly, and it’s safe.”

Through her practice and her kids’ activities, she knows the people in her community well, running into them around town. And yet, “Gaylord’s small, but it isn’t that small,” she stresses. “Everything’s accessible.”

Plus, as a practice owner, she sets her own schedule to work around her kids’ activities and other priorities.

“Practice ownership requires a commitment, but the benefits are huge,” she says. “The flexibility, the work-life balance, and the financials are all great.”