Ho, ho, ho-ly #*!@ it’s nearly Christmas again


The holidays are here – if you’ve booked them, that is. Unfortunately many dental principals struggle to organise sufficient time off for themselves or their staff.

Here Paula Buffham shares her philosophy of taking a holiday every eight weeks and explains why it’s good for business and sanity.

Paula is joint principal of Park Lane Orthodontics in Reading and she has worked with Breathe for seven years. Her LinkedIn profile describers her as “a supportive and caring employer” whose goal is to gain fulfilment from all aspects of her life. If you’re reading this at work, it’s meant for you!

  • Holidays are important. They’re about keeping you as a dentist happy, fresh and motivated. Simon at Breathe made me realise that if you’re battling to find time off you’re not going to be at your peak performance. You’ve got to make sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy relaxing with your family and friends. We’re closing Park Lane Orthodontics for two weeks over Christmas, and it’s possible because we’ve built holidays into the long term diary planning.
  • Put your holidays in the diary before anything else. This is one of Breathe’s mantras and it really works. If you don’t do it now, make sure you do it next year. In private practice cash flow is important – you’ve got to anticipate the dips and highs so you can meet your KPIs. But when you get holidays in the diary first you get a more realistic idea of the ADY [average daily yield] you need to be hitting on the remaining days, so no last minute panic, and no guilt.
  • Break the year down and pre-book the diary. This is about structuring the diary for the year ahead with a handle on the figures. You’ve got to know where you are in terms of turnover and average new treatment plan value for it to work. With that knowledge you can do it easily. In September 2014 we put in our holidays for 2015 and I know I’ll work 46 weeks after taking out holidays, meetings and courses. I know what I need to turn over for the year to meet our target and I need to be seeing 17 or 18 treatment starts per month. We plan KPI targets for the year ahead in September so it’s easy to do holidays at the same time.
  • Don’t hang on till it’s too late. This is a really bad habit because you are losing the chance to minimise the financial impact your holidays have on the business. It doesn’t make sense; everyone has got to that point when you need a holiday, you’re jaded, but you need to wait another three or four weeks to clear the diary. The result? You’re burnt out, patients get grumpy and it’s extra administrative work clearing the diary.
  • Have a holiday every eight weeks. This might sound unrealistic but it’s not, it’s our rule of thumb. You have to keep yourself sane and motivated! It works well in our practice because in our orthodontic practice appointments are on eight week intervals, so we see all our patients before the next holiday and no one feels put out.
  • Don’t feel guilty. We are our own worst enemies in healthcare. It can feel like you’re letting down patients. Colleagues in dentistry tend to assume that planning holidays really far in advance is somehow inappropriate – I think associates are particularly vulnerable to this. If you know you’ll want to take a week off in the summer when your kid is off school, book it off now! Why risk the scenario of your partner and kids going off on holiday while you stay behind working? In reality, if you get the holidays in the diary first you actually avoid the guilt of rearranging appointments and staff, which in a busy practice is stressful and a massive inconvenience.
  • Be transparent with your team. It really helps our staff to know when we’re off over the next year so they can plan their holidays around ours. Everyone has access to the diary so there’s no favouritism. When I worked in a hospital we had to book holidays in January for the whole year and if you missed the deadline it was too late – this is far more flexible.
  • Never move patients around. It’s easier to take holidays out of the diary than it is putting them in. If you’re not going to use a holiday you can fill it in. The only rearrangement we do is when patients change an appointment or something untoward comes up. You can see the disruption when other referral dentists cancel, and patients really hate short notice changes. Many make special child care arrangements or take time off work to see you, so don’t mess them around.

Merry Christmas


If you’d like to improve holiday planning at your dental practice, call Dr Simon Hocken on 07770 430576.

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