Dr Toni Surace, a dentist with 20 years’ experience, was juggling a young family and her own busy practice in Bulleen, Victoria when a case of rheumatoid arthritis forced her to rethink her work-life balance. Amanda Lohan investigates
Recalling the event that changed the direction of her career, Dr Surace says, “I was obviously upset about the arthritis and I thought ‘I can’t keep killing myself seeing people every 15 minutes—there must be a better way’.”
For Dr Surace, that “better way” came in the form of a 30-month practice management course with Momentum Management. The Momentum program, which Dr Surace describes as a “mini MBA”, involved 10 workshops over 30 months with goal-setting guided by a personal coach. The program deals with the management, rather than clinical, aspects of running a dental practice, working on every facet of the business to cover topics such as hiring and firing, appointment scheduling, communication, relationship building, stock management, patient debriefs and handoffs, and even answering the phone.
These days, Dr Surace is a self-confessed “Momentum geek”, and has the management of her own practice down. “I actually became a bit bored to tell you the truth—I had it running so well that I didn’t have to be there!” she says.
Dr Surace started coaching, training, and presenting for Momentum and, a few short months ago when the previous owner had to step down due to family commitments, Dr Surace bought the company. It was her love of helping people that prompted her to begin a career in dentistry and coaching other dentists was a natural progression. Through Momentum, she feels that she is genuinely making a difference in dentists’ lives by giving them the skills to automate their businesses. It’s the dentists who are her real patients now.
So, which is easier, running her own practice or telling other people how to run theirs?
Dr Surace says the two present their own unique challenges, but the toughest challenge at Momentum is helping people understand how to help themselves, and giving themselves the permission to delegate control.
While Dr Surace believes the program helps take the stress away from running a practice, she acknowledges that success in the program calls for a lot of hard work. “You get out of it what you put into it. You need to be real about it, there is going to be a certain amount of work that you need to do. You need to be prepared and want to have different outcomes.”
For Dr Surace, the program was as much about personal growth as it was about business growth and she has seen many other dentists on the program experience the same depth of personal change. According to Surace, the dental profession is rife with workaholics; “Perfectionism was a huge thing for me, as it is for a lot of dentists. I needed to realise that perfection was probably never really attainable. It’s a moving target—as soon as you’re perfect, you set the bar higher.” Staff members, too, have grown as a result of the program, with the opportunity for personal development invariably leading to improved rates of staff retention.
One of the biggest learning points for dentists attending the course is the realisation that they are underdiagnosing. The Momentum program teaches that it is important to keep personal feelings and assumptions aside to present what the patient really needs,.“Somebody walks in with scruffy jeans so we won’t present a crown to them—it’s making a judgement,” says Surace. “Or a dentist is not confident in prepping a crown so they might not present it—they need to further their skills.”
Dr Surace says many dentists under-diagnose or fail to provide referrals for fear of losing the patient, however when they feel confident enough to build trust and relationships with their clients, this is no longer a problem.
Another key learning point for many dentists is that they need to stop trying to be all things to all people. With the number of dentists increasing all the time, Dr Surace says it’s important to make yourself stand out, and to get the edge you first need to choose a market. Ideally, dentists should use their new business management skills to free up the hours they would normally spend on administration to devote more time to total mouth care. This allows them to move into higher end dentistry and provide comprehensive care instead of just “drill and fill”.
The secret, according to Surace, is goal-setting. “You’re not taught how to run a business in dental school… It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make when life is organised and you know what you’re aiming for. My motto is ‘success is the only option’. Going in with that mindset, you can’t help but win.”