Discover effective strategies and tips to accelerate your journey in learning dentistry.
In this enlightening interview, Shawn Zajas speaks with Dr. Thomas Reed, a dentist and business owner dedicated to assisting fellow dentists in achieving success while reducing insurance dependency. Dr. Tom Reed shares his journey from becoming a dentist to owning multiple practices and the challenges he faced with insurance contracts. He highlights the significance of community and mentorship in both personal and professional growth.
Throughout the conversation, Dr. Reed emphasizes the power of community and the transformative effects of engaging with like-minded individuals. He expresses the belief that growth doesn’t happen in isolation and that the best progress is made when one is part of a community of people with shared goals. Dr. Reed’s own personal growth, he reveals, has been most significant when surrounded by other motivated individuals who provide fresh perspectives and valuable insights.
Dr. Reed recalls his earlier days in the dental profession, where insurance contracts dominated his practices. He realized the need to reduce this dependency and take back control of his business. Dr. Reed’s desire to empower other dentists to do the same led him to establish Dynamic Dental Ascension, a consulting group focused on helping dentists break free from insurance reliance.
Dynamic Dental Ascension provides dentists with a supportive community and valuable resources to reduce insurance dependency effectively. Through one-on-one coaching and weekly group calls, Dr. Reed and his co-partner, Chris, guide dentists towards creating a strategy to navigate away from insurance contracts. The goal is to help dentists regain control of their practices, improve profitability, and offer personalized, high-quality care to their patients.
The interview delves into Dr. Reed’s perspective on embracing change and adapting to challenging circumstances. He shares a dark moment during the COVID-19 pandemic when his practice faced severe financial challenges. Dr. Reed had to navigate the complexities of relief programs while managing a skeletal crew and worrying about his employees’ future. Ultimately, he successfully overcame this challenging period and emerged with valuable lessons learned.
In the discussion, Dr. Reed highlights the importance of mindset shifts, particularly shedding the notion that perfectionism is the ultimate goal. He encourages dentists to take action and implement ideas rather than getting stuck in an endless cycle of preparation and analysis. According to Dr. Reed, learning occurs most profoundly when dentists venture into the unknown and take risks.
Towards the end of the interview, Shawn asks Dr. Reed what he would say to his 18-year-old self. Dr. Reed responds with a reminder to trust his instincts and not be afraid to take risks. He emphasizes the importance of listening to one’s gut and having faith in oneself, even if it means moving forward without all the answers.
In conclusion, Dr. Tom Reed’s journey as a dentist and business owner serves as an inspiring tale of perseverance, growth, and the power of community. Through Dynamic Dental Ascension, Dr. Reed continues to help dentists break free from insurance dependency, empowering them to take charge of their practices and pave the way for a more fulfilling and successful future. His message of embracing change, taking action, and trusting one’s instincts serves as a powerful reminder for all dentists to step out of their comfort zones and pioneer new opportunities.
Dr. Tom Reed 00:00
Do you have to embrace both sides of it? It’s like this line segment with, it’s not a m. And you know, it’s got two dots on, it doesn’t have a side array. And so many people live on this earth as if as if life is a array, and it’s just perpetually moving in one direction, when in reality, there’s going to be an endpoint.
Shawn Zajas 00:20
The future of dentistry belongs to the innovators. Welcome to innovation in dentistry. I’m your host, Shawn Zajas. And I believe that the future of dentistry is going to be unbelievably great over the next decade in two decades. But the question isn’t that, the question is, are you going to be part of what makes dentistry great? Okay, so I could not be more excited today to get the chance to interview Dr. Tom Reed. And, Tom, before I set you up, let me just say, thank you so much for joining me today.
You know, it’s a pleasure and an honor to be here and vicariously, or sort of secondarily, through a friend of a friend, right. It’s our mutual connection in Joshua Scott that made this all happen inside of a, like a week’s time from from pure inquiry. So I’m honored and stoked to be here as well, to be a part of this cool frontier innovation in dentistry.
Shawn Zajas 01:24
Well, I can’t wait. Yeah, with that. I love innovation. And I know innovation can take on so many different forms that, you know, there’s clinical innovation, and there’s technological innovation. But ultimately, first and foremost, there is innovation in someone’s mindset innovation in the way that they believe, where they’re willing to actually just say, why not? Why not me? Why can’t I step up? Why can’t I be the change that I want to see in this industry? And I’m curious, Tom, how is it that you got into dentistry?
Oh, that’s a great question. And certainly one that goes back aways since I’ve been in this profession for close to better part of 30 years, when you start counting dental school, it’s actually over 30 years. In undergrad, I have earned a degree in economics and had a keen insight set on either go into the Chicago Board of Trade or the New York Stock Exchange to be a stockbroker trader, and ultimately transitioned into investment banking. And for whatever reason that that got tripped up along the way, I should say, and a dear friend of mine, whom I’m still pledged to, and grateful to, to this day, is a practicing endodontist in Chicago, and was one of my fraternity brothers convinced me that it was a wise idea to go to dental school, and he bet me that I wouldn’t graduate on time, and still make it you know, to the finish line, and get there in appropriate timeframe. So I said, you’re on. And I had to really stack the deck for myself a little bit. And get through organic chemistry, physics and zoology in order to, you know, provide enough prerequisite training for myself to, to earn admission, or at least an opportunity for admission. pasady at exam and, you know, it was a it was a long haul, but actually, the funny thing about that is, is that second semester of our senior year of college, I was pretty much done with class, except for some remaining econ classes that I had to take for upper level matriculation. And I’d always go find him in the library and say, yeah, what are we doing tonight, and so you may not recall that very much, because it was quite some time ago. But it was really an pivotal moment for me, because I didn’t start off college on the right foot and darn near failed out of college. And it was a rude awakening for my father that set me straight freshman year, that ultimately triggered me into this more, shall we say, ambitious and studious mindset that got harnessed, shall we say, toward the end of college and sprung me right into the well of opportunity that is dentistry.
Shawn Zajas 04:18
Okay, so just to try to track with this. You went to for undergrad to kind of like, what? Not to be an economist. It was in economics that you could be an investment banker. Now, did you actually assume that role and step into that for a few years, or did that never actually actualize?
It’s never actualized in reality, it perhaps is actualized in my mind, because I think I’m still pretty sharp in that department. And so I still, perhaps, dabble and delve into econ related and finance related issues on a daily basis in you I manage my life on that side of things. Still to this day. However, I never formally took a job or a role in that industry. And it’s primarily because the economy in the early 90s 1991, when I graduated college was not great for job opportunities. So it made perfect sense to consider continuing education. And it was in that timeframe when I made the election to give dentistry a shot and applied to dental school got accepted right away. So went right in and never looked back.
Shawn Zajas 05:35
So from the start of your undergrad with econ to graduating dental school, what was that timeframe?
That was a straight eight years, I, you know, I went right out, I went into college, I’m pretty, it’s pretty young. So I was 17, when I went to college, pretty naive. But just what it was back then and finished college in four years, dental school, right their effort after subsequently in four years, and then went into a hospital based residency for the subsequent year before going into private practice. So we bounced around a little bit, because I went to college and Ohio, dental school in Chicago, back to Ohio for residency, and then back to Chicago for my first stint in private practice before moving to Denver, where I’m at today.
Shawn Zajas 06:23
So your first stint in private practice now you actually mean like, owning it or being an associate for known?
Yeah, we after hospital residency or GPR program that I did at Ohio State went back to Chicago, because my wife and I weren’t ready to give up the big city yet. And and so we went back and I worked for two different offices, two diametrically opposed styles of practice. One was very clinically minded, and the other one was rather boutique key. But the underlying theme at both of them, which is more commonplace back then, was a heavy, heavy, heavy emphasis on PPO contracts, particularly the capitation. type or design or array that are really no longer in play today. But they were good.
Shawn Zajas 07:12
Well, I was just gonna say so like, what was your surprise? Getting into a practice just even as an associate like from from the business side of things, were you just like, oh, my gosh, like, because you saw some you saw the owner, dentists navigating dentistry in some way, whether it was successful or not. Do you remember having those like initial impressions of, Wow, the business side of this is really messy, or or did that like, Hey, I think I’m the way I’m actually wired, I think I’m really gonna do good at this.
You know, I’d really wasn’t sure. And I think it’s a classic issue of many of us in this entrepreneurial vein, have a high tendency toward impostor syndrome, and so many levels. And I really, really didn’t go in, I was pretty naive, still, at that point. And the one practice that was very clinically oriented was very much a spit ball type of business. I mean, they just flew by the seat of his pants. The other practice was much more sophisticated, a very savvy business owner. And I learned some from him, but he kept a lot of it under his own vest, and rap and iron fist and didn’t really share a whole lot of that side of the of the industry with me.
Shawn Zajas 08:34
So at what point you go from associate dentist to all of a sudden, like, either practice ownership or feeling like, you know what I like? When did you start identifying as more of an entrepreneurial dentist? Did you kind of already know that was your you’re leaning? Or did you discover that at some point along the journey,
you know, I think actually was much further along the way. There was a point in time in our life, or our second stint of Chicago, that we kind of got tired of living in the city, in the cities ways and woes. And we both my wife and I came to the agreement that you know what, we haven’t tried Colorado yet. That’s where my side of the family’s from. Let’s go give it a go. And, you know, we weren’t really sure if we were going to stay here because of uncertainty and certainly job security or direction. She was working for a large market research firm at the time, that was actually headquartered in San Francisco. So we sort of looked at it as like maybe this will be a stepping stone to ultimately landing there. Because you know what, up until that point, she had supported me. You know, I was not the breadwinner of our household. She was all along from right out of undergrad into you know, those first few years posts. You know, certainly all the way through dental school we got married my second year of dental school, but she was the supporting breadwinner for us. So I was more I had her acquiescence to say, you know, I really want to pursue this career. And I thought, well, I’m pretty portable, I can take this show on the road anywhere, I just have to pass it to state, you know, exam and, and prove that I’m qualified to practice dentistry in that state or region depending. And, you know, I’ll just run with it. And so we moved here to Denver, and I actually took a job with a very large prominent DSL at the time, wasn’t called a DSL is actually a publicly traded one, which are still quite infrequent. And it was mostly because it was a stepping stones like, Okay, we’ll give this a go. If Denver doesn’t work out, well, we’ll move on. And at that point, is when I really started to feel the entrepreneurial itch, because that was a wake up call in terms of how leadership operates in a business, what’s expected of associate doctors or so called partner doctors that I was determined to be. And I ultimately made an offer for this location was in to the owner of the of the chain of practices. And they offered me a 42% stake. So I said, Well, that doesn’t fly, here’s my 60 day notice, and it would be pretty obvious to anybody that, you know, that’s still a minority stake, the name of the corporation still on the door, and I’m still answering to the big man. At the end of the day, even though I’ve got this burden of 42% of the of the overhead to deal with. So I parted ways and actually bought into the practice my flagship practice that I stone to this day, and the rest is history.
Shawn Zajas 11:46
Now, part of the reason why I have this podcast is to encourage any dental professional that’s on the cusp of, I feel trapped, I feel like there’s more, or maybe I’m an associate, and I want to just step up, it doesn’t necessarily mean stepping out of the office, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to, you know, step up and be a coach or consultant or speaker or start a software company. It just means like stepping further into that place where you’re going to find fulfillment. And yet at that time, whenever you want to do that, whenever you get that itch, you still have to wrestle with everything that’s uncertain. Like at that time, Tom, you didn’t know, you know, while leaving the structure, that this DSL that wasn’t called the DSL at the time offered where, you know, they they have processes, they have systems, you receive a paycheck, and sure you don’t have complete autonomy, but you also don’t have to worry about complete liability. Right? And, and to leave that and to step up into the uncertainty of man, it’s kind of on me. How was that? Was that something that you had to battle? That impostor syndrome? Or those feelings of? Man? What if it’s too soon? Or what if you’re not ready? Like, did you ever have to grapple with that? Oh, all
the time. And I think even to this day and age, I still grapple with it as I lean into challenges. And I think that’s kind of the key piece of it all is that when challenge arises, you know, you got to find somewhere in yourself to lean in to it as opposed to run from it. And I think comfort invites the running away. Because it is easier, there’s less friction, I could have stayed very easily and perhaps created what you might find in this day and age on the reverse where someone has built a thriving operation and they sell into a DSO and liquidate some of their asset or take some chips off the table. Well, they were going to put me at a hamstring me at a spot where I would be limited. And, and I’d be buying in to it. So sort of that reverse role. And it just didn’t sit well with me. And I was immediately turned off. And so I started searching, it had already been under underway actually searching for new opportunities. But at that point in time, we had already I’m trying to think, No, we only had one child at the time. So my wife was still working. So I had a little bit of latitude. You know, she was still working full time. It wasn’t until our second child came along that honestly, the cost of daycare eclipsed the part time salary that she was earning. And we just made the conscious decision like look, I’m going to I’m going to lean in all in 100% and go for this. And at that time, I was a 20% partner in a large practice that I bought into that had so much, you know, growth potential and, and legs to it going forward. And I knew there was opportunity there because there were older practitioners that I had joined forces with, and I just had to bide my time. But that is a long arduous journey, as opposed to perhaps taking the big leap of faith. and putting a stake in the ground and doing the old scratch start or, you know, de novo operation which had crossed my mind. So, all along that way to answer your question, I think impostor syndrome has plagued me and run with me throughout most of my working career, because I’m often wondering, you know, why am I qualified to do this? And you second guess yourself time and time again. And it’s tough to get out of that frame.
Shawn Zajas 15:30
But it’s amazing, because the second that impostor syndrome lifts, even if it’s just temporarily and you start stepping out, and you get rewarded in the marketplace, and all of a sudden, you start realizing like, wow, Could I could I have done this earlier? Or where could I be at, if I would have just faced this earlier? And that’s what I love about your story. That’s why I love that I’m getting to interview you today. Because if there’s a young doc right now, that’s maybe in his early 30s, that’s contemplating some of the things you contemplated, it’s like, maybe they just need that little encouragement that, you know, what, you don’t need all the, all the reassurance that everything’s gonna be okay, no one can give that to you. You don’t need to guarantee that it’s going to work, no one can give that to you either. But at the same exact time, if you just lean in, and you trust and you find that support system, you know, Dentistry has amazing communities, like you’re going to feel an experience that fulfillment in actually just going for it. You know, I know, for my life, I have so much more regret over the times that I didn’t step up. I didn’t step out. And I kind of wonder, like, man, like, I love that I’m getting to contribute and try to make a difference. I’m feeling fulfilled. But I feel like I could have done this, like, 10 years ago, I just had all those excuses, that kept home with you. Kept me comfortable, maybe, you know, to use the whole, like, boat analogy, like kept me in the harbor, with my anchor down, because I dreamed about the open seas. I dreamed about the adventure. But no one could really tell me it was gonna be okay. And I wasn’t ready to face that. That unknown. So even now, Tom, you are in transition? Or maybe you already did transition, and you’re now even doing some coaching and consulting? What gave birth to that?
Well, that’s a great question. I think, you know, that’s epiphany, well, one, I was a competitive soccer coach for a better part of close to 15 years, walked away from that, because basically, our youngest child just got too good for me to even consider running that Academy program anymore. And it was getting awkward to that point. So I was like, you know, what, I’m gonna leave you to the true pros and the experts. And, and it was getting to a point was weighing me down on time management. And so, you know, walked away from coaching, but I missed it all along. And one thing I’m also would like to throw in there is that, you know, I didn’t have a lot of mentors, and, you know, growing up, and I don’t mean to, you know, throw a sad story in there. But I lost my dad when I was in college, at almost age 19 or 20, unexpectedly. And, you know, the great guy that he was, he took his own life, and it was unexplicable. As to why and I still don’t understand to this day why that happened. But I do look at that moment in my life as a pivotal moment, to say, look, mentors are really important for you, my father in law, who entered my life, you know, some a number of years later, after that tragic event, has still been one of the most foundational people in my life from from male to male perspective. And so when I look back on that, and I fast forward to the most recent times, I think, well, it’s time to give back, you know, there’s this ascension that you take throughout life, and you’re like this student, maybe become an educator, become an expert, and then you should become a mentor. And I feel like I’m transitioning into that mentor role. And really, I’m thinking more in terms of folding time for previous versions of myself. And that’s what really spurred on this coaching program, and paired up with a another guy from that mastermind group that I’m a part of. And we’ve just joined forces, he’s considerably younger than me. But we have very similar thought processes and, and mindset about what we’re trying to accomplish. I’m an acquisitions guy, I’ve always acquired practices over the years. He’s a de novo guy. And so we’ve, we’ve blended those ideas together. And we’ve put together a pretty solid grassroots mentoring program that’s allowing us to share in our knowledge and our experience from multiple levels in full time for these young practice owners. And that’s sort of the basis and the foundation of this program.
Shawn Zajas 19:55
Tom, I just want to thank you for just having just the honesty and care urge to share about about your dad. Like all of us share in the humanity of life through the traumas that we’ve gone through. And what I’ve found is that so often, the things that we want to hide from are the things that we’re not proud of, or some of the things that we’re maybe even ashamed of, or don’t know how to reconcile. It’s in actually facing those and own and finding what gift those moments gave us. You know, I use this as an example, but a really good friend of mine grew up with a mom, that was insanely OCD, making her and her siblings always wash their hands, and they were never clean enough. And she’s like, I could be a victim from the fact that I grew up with a mom, that was obsessive compulsive. But instead, I realized, my mom gave me a gift. I have an understanding now of people and I have an understanding and a compassion that I never would have otherwise had. And maybe other people, Tom wouldn’t have had an appreciation for the real impact of of a father or of a mentor. And no one wants to have the ache. No one wants to have the I lost my my dad prematurely. You know, like my dad, he lost his dad when he was 17 years old. And my mom lost her mom when she was 17 years old. So needless to say, I didn’t have a lot of grandparents. I not less than most people. But I remember both my parents used that pain and that wound of losing their their parents to really double down and give us like the most amazing childhood, and to just be these amazing parents. And you know, just four years ago, my mom passed away to lymphoma. And she’s just such an amazing woman, such an amazing grandma, to my kids. And I just remember thinking like, this tragedy that happened, I didn’t want it, no one wanted it. But it’s like, she wouldn’t want the tragedy of what happened to her to then take out her kids. So I’m like, How can I find a way to let what happened imbue my life with greater meaning. So that instead of getting taken out, and instead of getting depressed, like living greater and shining brighter, just even to make her proud even to honor all that she poured into me? You know, so I think there’s even that sense of honor Tom of like, everything your dad poured into you, now you’re able to even pour in to those. To those people now.
It’s so true. I mean, I think, you know, the old saying is we’re living and dying every day, and you have to embrace both sides of it. It’s like this line segment with it’s not a m and SKU, you know, it’s got two dots on it doesn’t have a it’s not a ray. And so many people live on this earth as if as if life is a ray, and it’s just perpetually moving in one direction, when in reality, there’s going to be an endpoint, no one really knows what that expiration date is. And, you know, I’m not meaning to, like, make this the Debbie Downer show. But I too, have lost my mother as well, to illness and disease unexpectedly, she lived an independent, wildly independent life, since you know, posted our dad’s passing, and I lost her last year. And I think that was sort of the even greater tipping point for me to do exactly what you’re doing is that is to embrace life. And to say, we’ve only got so many laps around the sun, we need to make the most of this. And if it means, you know, leaning into some challenges, and really looking for the opportunity in that obstacle, just go for it. And, and also not living a life of regret, like you said, it’s not too late to make changes effectively to your, to your path. And if so, you know, run them past a group of folks have faith in and some confidence in and that’s the other thing I wanted to build a community of like minded folks who have a safe environment in which to share their, their horror stories and faults and failures. And, and feel some solace in that and then grow from it and learn because we’re all going to learn something from that moment no matter what. So let’s put it together and build on that because growing up in dentistry, not gonna lie, and I’m sure some of your guests who are more seasoned like myself might share in the fact that there was far less of this fellowship in it and it was a bag of marbles kind of game where you’re clutching onto it really tight, would not share any trade secrets, or embellish on anything you are up to for fear of, of chastising, or this idea of failure or just not equipped to be in this profession kind of mindset that it puts in. And to be all honest with you. I don’t think we’re really it was sort of this. You’re in competition with other dentists kind of view. And honestly, I don’t think we compete with each other whatsoever. There are far more mouths out there. I mean, our market penetration might be 50% on a on a good day. And so we have a long ways to go to take this profession to the next level and really make it even greater than it already is. However, you know, like I said, we don’t compete with each other, we compete with the likes of BestBuy and Sephora and, you know, soccer clubs and vacations and so forth. Because dentistry, you know, it doesn’t hurt, you know, we’re competing with time, fear and money and lack of perceived need, and these consumers that come see us, so we have to find a way to connect with them. And so that relationship aspect is just second to none. And you learn relational skills and strengths from these unfortunate events, I think more than ever, for sure.
Shawn Zajas 25:52
You know, I love what you’re saying, though, Tom, about community, like the greatest growth I’ve had personally doesn’t come on an island, you know, like, I love self educating, I love reading, I have a hunger for that. But it’s when you’re in community with other people, other like minded people, whether you’re part of a mastermind, or there’s someone that can be like a, you know, a mentor, figure. And just their perspective, their experience, even just like you said, the safe place of like, you can actually just be real here. The understanding I get of what Dentistry was like, for such a long time was, it was almost like that the good old boys club where everyone was supposed to be successful. So it’s like, well, how’re you doing? I’m doing great. Well, how you doing? I’m doing great, too. You’re crushing it. Yep, I’m crushing it too. And yet, deep down inside, both you guys know, I don’t really know how to talk about the stuff that I, I don’t want to talk about the areas I’m struggling, because it almost wasn’t okay. It was like there’s this weird stigma or shame to it. And the reality is being clinically great. And also being great at managing people and a business and having to, you know, change as the dynamics of, of, you know, the community around you changes and what they need changes and how they’re being served changes. That is incredibly difficult. I don’t know how all I do is business like that. That’s all I’ve been, I’ve never been a clinician. And I think keeping up with the rate of change in business is hard enough that I can’t imagine having to stay on top of CEE and not just being a doctor, but being a surgeon like you are actually the clinician, the surgeons that do the procedures. Dentistry is so difficult. And that’s why I’m like, Man, if I can ever just give a glass of cold water just to bring refreshing and to bring honor and to say, You know what, it’s cool. I love the communities that are forming in dentistry. I love that you Tom didn’t give up when things got tough. And you overcame, so that now you can provide that wisdom, the strategies, the insight to those that maybe aren’t as far along, as you know, and give them a chance to shortcut some of that now, tell me in the last 15 20 years in dentistry, was there a time you know, I like to refer to it like the dark night of the soul where either you couldn’t get out of bed or you didn’t know how to keep facing it? Because something about I don’t know, it was just a low, a low that you weren’t expecting. And how did you overcome that?
Oh, office. I mean, there’s been multitudes. You know, when you practice through and run a business through enough recessionary times, and economic uncertainty, you realize real quickly that, you know, that was a just dodged another one there kind of feeling, and you learn something from those events. But up until 2020, there has never been a time in my adult career in life where a full disruption took place in the in the operation of a dental practice. However, in March of 2020, when we were all informed that we were a non essential element of the economy, and we had to shut down because of uncertainty. I mean, I completely understood because of the unknown of aerosolization. And where is this thing going with this COVID 19 pandemic? I understood it. But I took a step back at that point in time. And I thought, Well, wait a minute, this profession innovated a long time ago, in the 80s and early 90s, with this whole idea of blood borne pathogen standards, and adopting universal principles of infection control, with PPE and so forth. We’ve been using this stuff for decades. already. I was born into the profession when it was already, you know, we were, you know, early on in the early 90s. It was sort of a quasi pursuit era. If you’ve, you know, everything was disposable. We were going through gloves and masks and gowns and so forth. It was going out of style. And, you know, I remember back in those days and think, Well, why is this any day for it, other than it’s, there’s so much craze and uncertainty and fear and anxiety circulating about not only the US, society but worldwide. And thanks to in large part to the advances in technology, we just had much more rapid dissemination of inflammation. And so that just leads to the frenzy, right and the froth. So you know, abiding by that we still thought, Okay, we’re going to pivot here. And we’re going to remain at least open for emergent reasons, I’m going to take a chance here and be remain as a viable option for people to come and receive emergent dental care. And we’ll do this kind of on the download. But we’ll, we’ll run a skeletal crew, and try to keep people out of the emergency room, which typically is not equipped for oral health care services in the first place. How do I know that I spent a long time staffing an emergency room at an institution that had a dental school, and we still weren’t all that well equipped, back in those days. So anyway, so make a long story short, that was probably one of the most dark moments in my time, because I watched financially, the dwindle. And then the uncertainty of like, Okay, how are we going to manage this, you know, money is not grown on trees and ever has, and I don’t plan it, think it ever will. And so when we started getting this idea that, okay, we’re gonna have this payroll Protection Program, or PPP, and there were all these acronyms, you know, ABC 123, is getting thrown about. And I had to go about applying for it. And I got up to the 11th hour and sifted through it on my own, our accounting firm, is wonderful. And I am endear to them to this day, but they still were like, we don’t really know exactly how this is gonna go. So I started applying and went through my bank got up to the 11th hour only to be told that we were not in line for money, because the money had dried up prior to my turn in queue. And that’s because of some of the institutional investors and groups that were in ahead of me with bigger contracts, basically, and bigger mouths to feed. And they said, Well, you’re kind of on your own. I’m like, Are you serious? What is what does that mean? And so they gave me a few names of some other options. And a lot of the FinTech type of platforms that were available are fairly new to us, as you know, as, as a banker, you know, as, as, as banking goes. And so I started exploring it and found an option. And literally, on that Monday morning, that we were set to reopen at six something in the morning, I got a notification, that the money, the ACH transfers that occurred it both practices, and the money dropped in there. And I came home from work and out, told my wife and said, Well, looks like we’re gonna survive this one. Because I’ve run out of money. I mean, literally, at that point, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. And I had promised all of our employees to come back to work at that point, and wasn’t really sure that that money was going to be there. Because the premise was that our banking, our credit facility was going to provide that for us, and they didn’t come through. So that was a pretty low point. But we survived, you know,
Shawn Zajas 33:20
if there’s any industry that could have gotten completely taken out by COVID, it would have been dentistry, because you are on the front line hygiene is right there in the mouth, dentists in the mouth, the aerosols. And to know that I feel like most of the people in my community that I’ve talked to, they survive. And I’m like, Man, this one thing that showed me is that dentistry is remarkably resilient. And I think a lot of dentists operate at such a fast pace that they don’t always get the time to just integrate into their own identity like, wow, you’re right. Like I, we survived, we overcame, we made it. And it’s like, if you can overcome that, like, again, if you’re listening right now, and you’re thinking, oh, man, I know I have that dream on my heart. Or there’s some area where I, I want to step up, or I want to step out, it’s like, Look, you survived through COVID. You’ve survived through a global pandemic, that shut down dentistry, you are resilient, you’re more than enough and you can step out today. So Tom, I’m curious in your journey, what was a mindset that you you had to shed in order to get to where you’re at today?
Oh, I’ll just go all the way back to the dental school days. And just talk about it from a from an economic perspective. I was in a pilot program at Northwestern University where I went to dental school, and that was to get a concurrent enrollment opportunity in the business school. And I was offered this was sort of a pilot option at that point in time. And the reason I was selected I think was probably because because of my back Ron, and myself and one other classmate were the first to to go in on this program. And we had to do a case study and we had to go out in the field, and basically review from top to bottom and then do a analytical report on a then fledgling Managed Care Insurance Program that was just getting legs and getting started in the in, in, in there in Chicago. And so I sort of got a taste firsthand of what you know, capitation and managed care and PPO and whatever you want to call it DMO principles were all about. And honestly, I feel like I got a little brainwashed at that point in time, thinking that this was the way of the future. And so fast forward into my first stint in private practice. I mentioned, I think earlier that both practices that I was working for in Chicago males in the pre chat were heavily were two diametrically opposed models as far as style of practice, but both were just inundated with PPO contracts, or even then capitation programs. So I got to this point where it was like, Okay, this is status quo, came here to Denver joined forces with a large DSO program, again, saturated with these contracts, and got very accustomed to working the system and managing around these heavily subsidized programs and got pretty good at it. And even into my ownership days at the practices that I still have, that I own today. For the longest time, it was the status quo of the patients coming into the office, they were referred to us by their dental plans, basically, not because of the quality of service or the relational aspect we have with the community it was, we’re on their list, we’re in network, so it got very comfortable and the volume and the guaranteed stream of patients was great. And back then you could call it a marketing expense, because the write offs weren’t all that egregious relative to our total, typical fee along comes in a torpedo and our operating patient base because one of the big groups that we serve just around the corner from us, dropped their in house dental program and went to a contract with a huge provider, and you know, will remain nameless, for the purposes of safety and comfort here. And so that just took all the control out of our out of the operation of that portion of our practice. And it just so happened to be a corporation that this practice had been a part of at one point in time, but we had broken away and become our own private entity. So we were staring at both active employees and retirees in this program that were suddenly coming in on this contract that had much nastier teeth to it. And at the same time, a large employer that was servicing us as well with active patients from the community that was already hung this plan went bankrupt and belly up. And so we we got frustrated and literally dropped all of our contracts overnight at that point in time. And it literally almost bankrupted the practice, because we saw an immediate drop, we had no plan in place. So this was in the early to mid 2000s. And so what was born out of that though, which was option was pretty cool was our membership program that I still run to this day. It almost has the same context as it did back then. So you know, call me a harbinger a trendsetter. We had developed a membership program back in 2006. I think it was that wow, helped us service, this, this need to try to reinstall or reinvigorate the practice, and bridge the gap, especially with the retirees from that company that the practice used to be a part of. And it really, really took off. And we pegged our, you know, our annual cost of the membership program, based upon prepaid hygiene services, like most of them, probably still are to this day. It’s a great deal. It’s like, you know, it’s a pay it forward. It’s a prepaid membership program. And you know, you’re buying future hygiene visits with with that annual fee. In addition, we pegged our savings rate at 15%. Because it really split the uprights of what we were seeing is typical write offs back then on these PPO contracts of anywhere from 10 to 20%. So it’s still the same premise in here we are today. But if you think about it, in today’s day and age, we’ve got anywhere from 40 to 50%. Adjustments are haircuts on most of these dental plan contracts. And so really back to that timeframe. We went all the way back in network and so I got into APO dependency once again, and fast forwarded to a point in time where another big provider of dental benefits really started going sideways on us. And the contract, reimbursement rates just went through the floor. So we went completely out of network on that one. But we, we did the old fashioned letter approach this time without a plan, and sent it out to the patient base of that contract, and literally scared them all off with our letter. And so but you know, for the most part, they’ve come back and I learned from that one. So fast forward to just pre COVID gotten this idea that, okay, we’re going to do this right, we’re going to really go about this with a defined plan, and some thought to it, and developed a whole program on how to effectively reduce insurance dependency, and enacted it and hatched it and we went through a very, very methodical approach COVID pandemic hit. And that’s when I realized, okay, the profession of dentistry is not recession proof, unlike what I was thinking beforehand, we are not bulletproof, like we thought we are, we can try to fortify ourselves to get there, but we’re still going to take it, you know, take it on the chin pretty heartily once in a while. And like you said earlier, this profession was on the brink of disaster, I think thanks in large part to that, that timeframe. And nobody had a plan or was prepared for it, including myself for the most part financially because we didn’t really think it would ever happen. And it really set in my mind that we’ve got to find a better way and not be held hostage or burdened by by this, shall we say this tax, it’s probably the largest line item expense on a that never shows up on a profit and loss statement. And that is the top line haircut that comes about from accepting these contracted rates. So we are completely on attached or we have migrated away, shall we say, from all of these contracts. And it’s been the best thing that ever happened to the organization. But the mindset shift that it required was to be basically Okay, with not being busy, you know, and not feeling this unsets. This unbridled sense of like, Oh, my God, I’m wanted in every chair, and every room, and every hour of the day now, and it takes a little bit to get over.
Shawn Zajas 42:28
So I imagined with your consulting, this is one of the things you can help practices do is get untethered. Tell me so among all the options, why else would a dental practice say you know, what your consulting group is the best fit for me? Well, tell me what else you guys do.
Okay, well, I mean, this is one aspect. You know, the cool thing is, is we, we have a option for one on one, like, I have several clients who meet with me just exclusively, and we have a standing weekly call, anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes, I have to cut it off usually two hours. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a bit a bit loquacious and chatty myself. But I have to give fairness to the people that are buttering my bread and let them have the floor and and tell me what’s going on. So we can problem solve. However, the biggest the coolest part of it is, I think, the community that we’ve built, and so we have a weekly zoom call that we run with the group, and we present a topic and generally speaking, it’s going to be, I try not to be too much in lecture format. But I’ll usually provide a lot of content to it. And it’s not required attendance, but it’s requested. And what we do request, before we engage in a private call with any of these clients is that they’ve at least got themselves caught up on the live call presentations, or at least catch the recordings so that we can be as current as possible, but we’re taking real time issues and putting them into actionable events or items for them, you know, start 10,000 foot and work our way down to the nitty gritty are really what I think dent most dentists want. And that’s the answers to the test before they actually have to take the test. So we have to get there at some point. But you got to know the why first. And that’s really kind of our approach. We took sort of the big funnel and work our way down to the key point. I think because we’re practicing dentists as well, we’re still relevant to to them, we’re still pretty close to the fire. And so I look at my practices as the incubation site for all of these great ideas. And, you know, by golly, I’ve had a lot of failures along the way too. And I know a lot of folks out there who are doing this type of work will probably profess the same thing is like, look, come learn from my failures. Let me full time for you. And I couldn’t agree more with that. And you know, there’s so much wealth involved in that basket of knowledge that it’s hard to share it all, you want to share it all at once, but it’d be like no watermelon through a garden hose for most people, including myself. So we dole it out, you know, in very succinct fashion, it’s weekly, and it’s evolving, and we keep it stored for them to always have access and in our private group, and you know, I always tell them, Listen, maybe not literally, but consider me your figurative, 2am friend. And that is that if something crisis hits, and you know, we’re really at a pivotal moment, call me. And I’ll always be there for you. And no one ever did that for me. And I really feel as though that’s an empowering element to our operation.
Shawn Zajas 45:51
So first off, I want to apologize because I phrased that question wrong, I said, more than just doing this getting free of PPO dependents is huge. If that’s all you did, that is enough value in dentistry, the fact that you also have this amazing community, the fact that you get to, like you said full time, wow, being able to fail forward and fail fast. It takes it takes time. And it’s challenging, and a lot of practice owners are like, not willing to go through that. So they kind of just want to know what the shortcut is, and I get that, but you didn’t know who to trust in the fact that you’ve already gone before. You’ve already done it, you’ve blazed away, and you’re still learning. Like, what an amazing community, Tom, like dentistry needs, what you guys are doing, I love this,
I agree. And I think more and more people need to have the belief in themselves that they can do this, I don’t think everybody’s necessarily cut out to be a coach or a leader, you know, I would tell you that, you know, from experience, I was a good soccer player, but I wasn’t like pro level, but I understood how to connect with the players, and really get the most out of them and get them to believe in themselves. And, and not, like get all wrapped up in their narrative. And, and also look at the, the community around them and, and, you know, they’ll improve themselves by improving those around them. And that was one of my hallmarks as a as a, as a competitive youth soccer coach. And I really enjoyed that part. And so, you know, no different in dentistry. You know, I love clinical dentistry, don’t get me wrong. And I think it goes without saying that we as a profession have standards to uphold, and there’s clinical standards that are by far here, and they have to be upheld, and if not exceeded, from a technical standpoint. And that’s, that’s just, that’s just a rite of passage, or that’s, that’s part of our code, right, so. But on the flip side, the community that we serve, probably doesn’t care so much about those skills, they just want to know that they’re, they can trust us to take care of them, and to listen to them. And to provide them this opportunity to come have a very stressful degree of service applied to them in a very sensitive personal space, in a comfortable, predictable and manageable and affordable manner. And there’s my childhood dentist that I went and visited years ago when I first thought long gonna give this professional whirl. And that was his parting words, to me, that still sticks with me to this day, it’s it, you know, teeth or teeth, what comes along with the teeth matter the most. And so that, to me, is all about relationships. And, and that is one of the, you know, the bread and butter virtues of the practices I run, and it’s still what we impart to our community. My one on one coaching is mostly born out of this desire to shed insurance dependency. So that perhaps is, you know, a key thing to mention. However, those calls have also evolved into more of this one on this level and up to better versions of ourselves type of discussion to
Shawn Zajas 49:08
what I love it, you just said one of those early mentors was saying, you know, it’s more than just the teeth, meaning like it’s the people behind them. And what I find is a lot of people in life, you know, hear wisdom or encounter it, but they don’t always hang on to it. They don’t always keep it like they don’t always properly wait. So that’s something that needs to be central stay Central, and the fact that you made the person and the patient center. I’m sure that has paid dividends over your career, because from everything I understand, patients go back to a practice when or stress eight patients don’t go back to a practice, even if they just feel a general sense of indifference. And all that means is there just wasn’t some connection. And most of the time that just means human to human. I didn’t feel seen or I didn’t feel cared for or I didn’t fit for you Like, I mattered or belonged, and for your ability to just be present with a patient, and connect with them in a real way person to person and make them feel like they belong. Oh my gosh, I’m sure like that massively has influenced the even the lifetime value the patient loyalty. And again, that’s playing the long game, it is not just the, the turn the dental mill of like numbers, efficiency, and there’s there’s a, there’s a part that efficiency needs to play. You know, but not as a, you know, I guess everyone has their own style, but I love, I love the approach you’ve been taking. So if someone right now is super curious, and they want to learn more, because maybe they want to be part of your group, where do you want them to go?
Well, they should start with our, our website just to get a feeling of you know, who we are and what we’re about. And that’s www debt, dynamic dental ascension.com. That’s a long word, phrase, but that’s where you’d want to go first. You can schedule a exploratory call with myself or Chris, my co partner. And, you know, there’s no commitment, we don’t have any contracts, you can start up and if it’s not a good fit, and you want to bail, and not continue on, that’s there’s no hard feelings. We know we’re not basically ideal for everyone. And, and but I think a discovery call would be a certain first point that can be on Zoom could be on or on a phone call. From there, then we would sign you up and get you started and invite you into the to the family, he’d start joining us on these Monday calls that we have, and then build out a you know, a very specific recipe or game plan for you, that is going to help you improve your trajectory. We’ve got results already. Yeah, I mean, you gotta want to be someone that enjoys implementing, you know, you got to you can’t just be out there spinning your wheels and absorbing content, you got to be able to put it into action. And that’s when the rubber meets the road, of course, and, and so we check in regularly and make sure that the things are moving forward. And some people like regular check ins, others don’t need a whole lot of maintenance. And so we customize accordingly.
Shawn Zajas 52:30
Okay, I love that you said the whole rubber meets the road. It’s all about implementation, because for years of my life, Tom, you don’t know how many ideas I shot down in the boardroom, because I wasn’t sure it was going to work. But what I robbed myself of is I never actually knew. So now I tell everybody, like true learning doesn’t take place when you’re reading the book, or when you’re listening to the podcast. It takes place in action when you finally ship something when you launch something when you do it. And then you get the feedback from the marketplace. That’s where you’re now actually learning. Now you have the opportunity to go, Okay, I was off a little bit. And I just need to iterate in a line. And that’s why even for the listeners today, it’s like, if you’re just reading books, if you’re listening to podcasts, if you’re just going from one event to the next trying to store up information, my encouragement to you is do something take action. And the action you may need to take today is reach out, reach out to his consultant work, join his community look into that. And I love what you’re saying also about if it’s a good fit, I honestly think like that you can provide the best value to someone that really is going to be a fit is going to be aligned. And if they’re not it really it’s better to know on the front end, you know,
correct? Yes. Because I mean, listen, you know, might be a no name to many in this profession, because I’m just like you I put my pants on one leg at a time. And I’m out here in the, in the, in the frontier, certainly in Colorado, but it’s a great frontier to be on. But you know, I’m practicing dentistry in the trenches alongside of you every day. And so I don’t have any really thing anything special or flashy, to say, here’s a bright shiny object that you might want to follow. It’s just the reality of living life as a dentist, I will tell you that you know, I like you am a bit of a perfectionist and so this whole idea of Ready, Aim Fire, it needs to be flipped a little bit once in a while and I had to learn this the hard way too is sometimes you gotta go ready fire aim. And it’s an insecurity. Okay? Because perfectionism is the ultimate form of procrastination. Like you were saying, Shawn, you could sit there and spin your wheels over and over and over again and not get anywhere. Oh my
Shawn Zajas 54:52
god, that is so good. Okay, so here it is. Here’s the last final closing question. Maybe you’re ready for it? Maybe not but okay, so Tom, here you are. You’re walking down the street, and often the distance you see 18 year old version of yourself. And you know, you’re gonna pass and only have a brief moment to communicate one sentiment, what do you say to 18 year old Tom,
I would just tell him to trust his instincts. You know, they say your gut is your second brain. And it empowers you to do so much. And you know, don’t change the answers to the test. Just go for it. I need I learned that later in life. And, you know, so I’m a little late to the party. And but I’m not, you know, in fact, I feel more empowered today. Having had that epiphany at 53, or in this last few years of life, than I probably wasn’t ready for it until now. So here we are.
Shawn Zajas 55:52
Okay, that is amazing. And that’s the perfect cherry on top of this entire episode. Because right now, even for the listeners, it’s like, between the lines of what we’re saying, they’re hearing something and it is like the gut kind of saying, Hey, here’s that dream. Here’s that passion, or here’s that next step. And then what do we do? We overanalyze, we somehow rationalize, we somehow talk ourselves out of it to stay in that comfort. And it’s like, no, no, no, we’re breaking that comfort zone. We’re breaking that box over you were saying you are completely free and you have permission right now to pioneer and you have permission to listen to your gut. Tom, thank you so much. It is an easy to enter, interview you and honor you. As an innovator. I love what you’re doing in dentistry. Thank you so much for joining me today.
It’s been a real privilege and an honor. And I am so grateful to Josh for introducing us. And I can’t wait to keep pushing the frontier and watching others and alongside and living vicariously through their adventures and innovations as well.
Shawn Zajas 57:04
Thank you, Tom. Thanks for listening, and be sure to follow so you never miss an episode. To learn more about what’s going on in dentistry. Check out innovation in dentistry.com
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