By DR SIMON HOCKEN
In the last Update I wrote an article about how much dentists earn. It generated quite a lot of response from readers; some older dentists were skeptical about my figures and some younger dentists are reconsidering their career choices in the light of where the money is…
For the sake of this article, I think we can agree that these days, the average full time associate can expect to earn around £85k/year and the average full time practice owner somewhere around £130k/year.
Before Mrs Thatcher, dentistry and money didn’t mix very often; the majority of dentists worked on the NHS and those that worked quickly earned very well. Since Lady T, clinical dentistry, customer service and fees have a much higher profile (fees have to be on websites – GDC rules) and patients expect dentists to tell them how much a treatment costs. So, dental treatment fees have a much higher profile and, for very many reasons, many dentists earn less today than they did 10 years ago.
Comparisons always make for interesting reading: the average contractor GP earns £102k/year, the average senior vet earns £48k/year, the average senior pharmacist (working for Boots) earns between £36k and £55k/year. The Prime Minister earns £142k. So, I hope you are all feeling better rewarded now.
Are dentists greedy?
Clearly we are well paid, we work hard and the job can be difficult and thankless. We now have to deal with a lot of compliance and regulation which is frustrating and annoying but also true for GPs, pharmacists, vets and PMs. I think the greedy charge might carry more weight when married to the behaviours of some dentists that we come encounter. The sort of behaviours that you wouldn’t expect from a highly paid professional.
Behaviours such as these:
- Associates and hygienists reluctant to attend practice meetings (as the meetings cut into their fee-earning time)
- Associates and hygienists arriving late and leaving early (the phantom last patient syndrome)
- Rushed, short appointments (five-minute check-ups, 20-minute hygiene appointments. Why?)
- The “exam scale and polish” (pretty ineffective as a treatment for periodontal disease…)
- Reluctance to refer to a hygienist (without a kickback)
- Providing short term, single unit restorative solutions. Not offering long term restorative solutions
- Taking ortho braces off early
- Providing a compromised ortho treatment rather than a specialist referral
- Steering a patient towards a solution the dentist can provide rather than referring out for a more sophisticated solution and losing the fee (a bridge rather than an implant, for example)
- Preferring to work with high spending patients
What do I think?
I think that if you always, hand on heart, do the right thing for the patient regardless of the fee earned, you will always earn well and sleep well at night. If you always do the right thing for the practice, either as an owner or as an associate, you are supporting the business so that it will prosper and grow. If the right thing for the practice conflicts with the right thing for the patient, then something in the practice has to change.
If you offer patients choices and long term solutions, the patient benefits as well as the fee earner. I think dentists should be generous with their time, both to their patients and to their support team, it’s these two groups of people that help you earn what you earn. And lastly, I think there is plenty of well paid work for dentists who build and maintain relationships with their patients and their support team and who do the right thing for both.
Doing the right thing is about culture and creating the right consistent behaviours within your practice for all clinicians – I can help you do this in your practice
Please get in touch for more information.