The life of a dental student is rather selfish, isn’t it?
Seriously, think about it. After countless hours of your day spent in classrooms and clinics, the remainder of your time is usually allocated to studying and lab work. With so much of your schedule and energy monopolized, the most important people in your life get the short end of the stick—a version of you that’s devoid of energy and propped-up just long enough to make an appearance. Home life suffers during an exam-heavy week as dirty laundry and dishes pile up. Plants and pets are lucky to survive a finals week! Though you may not realize it, your decision to pursue a dental degree obligated those around you to years of sacrifice and compromise toward your cause.Now, please don’t take this the wrong way. The nature of the “dental school” beast demands a level of selfishness. It’s a reality all dental students share, and my story was no exception. Like you, my success as a dental student was defined by my ability to improve and advance my skills. It was a system that legitimized self-mindedness, and even rewarded it. For a long time, the primary mission was simply to work on me.
Then I entered the private practice world, and all the rules changed.
As associateship interviews approached, I began nailing down a few priority items I was looking for in a prospective practice. The list included a great staff, a boss interested in mentorship, a thriving business with ownership opportunity, and an overall compatibility with the practice philosophy and style. The criterion that rose to the top of my list, however, was “the patient experience”. Thinking about my own experiences as a patient, I wanted to work for an office that, without question, kept its patients as the primary focus.
During the course of interviews, I encountered practices that ran the gamut— a few were more staff-centered or money-centered, and some were, well, “my most recent vacation”-centered. I did find, however, a few offices that seemed to concentrate on the patient experience first and foremost. Fortunately, the opportunity to join one such office arose. In the whirlwind of my transition from residency to private practice, I almost overlooked the true significance of what I had discovered.I was beginning a new game, with new rules. In order to succeed in this new system, I would need a whole new mindset. Unlike the student experience, success would no longer be a function of things I did for me. Success, from this point forward, would depend on my ability to be patient-centered.A patient-centric practice philosophy positions the patient as a singular center, and then derives all aspects of the practice from that center. In other words, consideration for the wants and needs of the patient permeates every aspect of practice behavior.
A patient-centric philosophy is a simple concept, but “simple” and “easy” are two completely different things. The challenge to “think like the patient” can be formidable for an emerging practitioner. The new dentist’s mind is already quite busy just trying to “think like a dentist”! Making that critical shift from a self-focused to a patient-focused mindset is not easy. However, I believe it is the most impactful way to squarely position yourself on a path to successful practice, and to get moving down that path. The sooner you overcome this mental hurdle, the better!
Check out Seeing Your Practice Through Your Patients’ Eyes, a Part 2 follow-up to this post–we’ll look at some key examples of how patient-centric practice is applied in the “real world”.