Balancing intense discipline and a roll-with-the-punches attitude helped me overcome business catastrophe and carve a unique path to a successful practice.

By Noemi Cruz-Orcutt

MASON CITY, IOWA, is a long way from Puerto Rico, where I was born and raised. It’s a great town for my practice and for raising two kids with my husband, Kevin, a radiation oncologist. When I was growing up, did I ever imagine I’d make my home in northern Iowa? Not once.

Yet there are a lot of exciting opportunities for dentists in smaller towns across America—and compromise isn’t necessarily part of the equation. My practice is fee-for-service, and like every doctor who has gone that route, I had to earn it.

I made sure I set myself apart as a center of excellence for comprehensive and cosmetic dentistry. I accomplished this by taking high-end continuing education that allowed me to provide more advanced and specialized procedures.

I don’t approach my practice’s growth or professional development any differently than if I were based in Miami or Chicago or L.A. However, a smaller community makes it easier to get involved and make a difference. I support my fellow local businesses, and they support us. Another key to success in my practice is social media, which amplifies our community involvement more than it probably could in a bigger city.

I have a difficult time asking patients for reviews, but if a patient offers an especially nice compliment, I will ask them to share it. I think there’s less skepticism about reviews in a smaller town. Here, patients routinely come to our office after they see a positive review or Instagram post and say, “I would like a procedure like that one.” One 72-year-old specifically asked to be on our Instagram after we finished her case.

“I want to be one of your before-and-afters,” she said.

I’m part of a changing demographic of dentists in general, and certainly one of the few minorities here. I see that as refreshing. Every interaction is an opportunity to be someone whom younger people can look up to—not only other Latinas, but anyone with the dream of being a successful doctor or business owner. We also have some minority patients who speak only Spanish, and it’s a great asset to be able to accommodate them.

While some things can be easier in a small town, the sacrifices are largely the same. I committed to CE such as the Dawson Academy, Spear Education and Kois, among others, and quality education can be a significant expense. Patients don’t necessarily understand how much you’ve invested, but they sense that I’m always striving to elevate the quality of the care they receive in our office.

Empathy breeds empathy, and that culture is especially important when it comes to creating an environment where patient care is the top priority.

Whatever your locale, too, you must meet changing workplace demands. My entire staff is female, and we all have kids. That’s something we strive to balance. On Halloween, for example, we close the office at 3 p.m. so everyone can go home, get their kids dressed and start trick-or-treating by 5:30. People want to work for a boss who is flexible and who understands their needs. Empathy breeds empathy, and that culture is especially important when it comes to creating an environment in which patient care is the top priority.

My practice was destroyed by a fire in 2018, and I had to rebuild from scratch. I saved this part for last because it could happen to any business owner. I learned that you can create what you envision. Don’t get distracted by obstacles. My focus has always been on serving patients and taking care of my team. Everything else is flexible. Whether you set the stage for success in a small town or a big city, close to home or far away, there’s no single path to your goals, as long as you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish.

NOEMI CRUZ-ORCUTT, DDS was valedictorian at the University of Puerto Rico and earned her DDS from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and an AEGD at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before moving to Mason City, Iowa, she practiced in Charlottesville, Virginia.