A small but growing cohort of young doctors aren’t interested in practice ownership. If you’re one of them, here’s why you should own yours anyway.

OVER THE COURSE of my career, I’ve been both a practice owner and an employee—not only as a practicing dentist but also in a variety of corporate roles. Owning and selling several profitable practices over the years provided the financial bedrock to explore other possibilities. In other words, it bought me a great deal of freedom.

There’s nothing wrong with being an employee, of course, but it’s limiting. Your earning potential is essentially capped. The only way to increase your income is by doing more dentistry . . . and one person can work only so much. Unhappy with your workplace? Your only option is to seek other employment, where you’ll also have limited control over your circumstances. Plus, should you ever find yourself physically unable to continue working (or simply burned out), then you’re done earning, without any business assets to fall back on.

Owning a practice, on the other hand, puts you in a position of power and possibilities for as long as you want. It doesn’t need to be a lifetime commitment. Profitable practices are valuable, so you can sell midcareer (or sooner) if you decide it’s not for you. In the meantime, you may discover that you’ve come to enjoy being a practice owner. One thing’s for sure: There’s not as much holding you back as you might think. Let’s examine some common concerns I hear from young doctors:

“I’m already crushed with debt from dental school. I can’t imagine taking on more to start a practice.” I get it. However, the fact is, practice owners typically pay off their student debt much earlier than non-owners are able to. If you’re genuinely paralyzed by fear over building a practice from scratch, explore the possibility of buying one instead. You’ll hit the ground running with an established patient base, demonstrated earnings and, often, a written commitment from the selling doctor.

“I’m not a businessperson—I just want to do dentistry.” I have news for you: You’re already in business for yourself. You’re paying off debts, managing personal expenses, taking responsibility for professional development, satisfying obligations like CE and otherwise managing the complex professional life of a doctor. Congratulations! You’ve already mastered the same basic skills it takes to run a practice.

“The competition and cost of living in my city are crazy.” Fair enough. However, unless you love your current home base so much that you’d rather die than leave, maybe it’s time to explore other markets. Would you rather continue living paycheck to paycheck where you currently
live? Or would you like to own a practice, build equity and live prosperously, with plenty of discretionary income, somewhere else? You might be surprised by how many opportunities are within a short drive of your current home. Even if you decide to relocate farther away, a quick plane ride back on weekends will help alleviate any attendant homesickness—and you might even have more money to enjoy it than if you still lived there.

Time, like that airplane, flies. I was only 25 when I built my first practice and was fully out of debt (and paying myself rent) well before
I turned 50. Those years would have passed regardless of whether I spent them paying myself or earning for someone else. Thanks in part to the sound financial decisions I made early on, I now have the freedom to enjoy my current job, which is mentoring doctors and helping them buy and sell practices nationwide. Still don’t think practice ownership is possible for you? Reach out to me and let’s talk before you shut the door on an empowering and lucrative career as an entrepreneurial dentist. Because once you become a practice owner, your plans can change—but you’ll always have options.

JAMES M. CLARK, DMD has filled many roles in clinical dentistry for more than 30 years. Now the head of Practice Transitions at Benco Dental, he can be reached at jclark@benco.com.