Just a Dentist? No, You Are a CEO!

December 4, 2019 by Doug Fettig, CPA

Does your dental practice suffer from this one critical weakness; the lack of awareness that you, as a small business owner, are far more than “just a dentist”?
Think of the tremendous positive impact that your dental practice has on the lives of your family, your dental team and their loved ones, the health and happiness of your patients, and your community. To all of these people you are viewed as the CEO of a business that is helping their community prosper and grow. And so, going forward, that is how you and every other small business owner should view yourselves – as a CEO who is a vital contributor to the lives of so many others.

Re-frame Your Thinking

When I speak to dentists around the country, I challenge them to re-frame their thinking. From this day forward, your title is that of CEO, so update those business cards! Re-framing your role and title helps you think about running your dental practice like a true business. It can help you be more open to utilizing benchmarks and setting goals, incorporating best practices and new technologies, and partnering with dental industry specialists to provide skills that you may not have (e.g. financial, legal, marketing).

It will also make you more open to learning to become a great leader. How many of you have taken a leadership course and focused on how you can become a dynamic leader? Don’t you owe it to your dental team to make your work environment one in which your team grows and thrives?

These are approaches that are taken by outstanding business leaders. Why should your dental practice be run any differently?

Planting the CEO “Seeds”

When I speak to third and fourth-year dental school students, it becomes quickly apparent that the seeds of thinking like a CEO are not planted early on. Most dental students are understandably focused on the immediate task at hand, which is to graduate and get their dental license. Everything else takes a back seat.

Consequently, dental students graduate with little to no training on the business side of dentistry. This lack of knowledge leads many dental practice owners to neglect the business aspects of being a CEO. What’s the solution? The same as it is for every other entrepreneur – surround yourself with industry experts. Do these experts charge a fee? Of course, but if they are not bringing in more value than their cost, you are working with the wrong expert!

Consider surrounding yourself with expertise in the various areas of your business, like finance, legal, and marketing. Not only will you be running your practice like a CEO, but your personal life will also thank you for not trying to take on the roles of CFO, Director of Marketing, Legal Advisor, and more!

Case Study – SWOT Analysis

Have you ever heard of or conducted a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of your practice? The process is simple and helps you to shift your thinking to that of a CEO. Going through the SWOT process often helps you come up with a strategy to improve your practice.

Below is an example of the SWOT and how a practice might go about the process:

Dr. Craig Derrick has a well-established practice located in a stand-alone house that he owns. He expects to retire in 10 years and would like to add an associate and a few more operatories. Most of the team have been with the office long-term and are at the top of their pay scale. Fees are updated every few years, as he doesn’t want to upset their aging patient population. He has just updated the digital imaging system and is considering adding technology to begin placing dental implants. The office has intra-oral cameras of good quality but they aren’t used very often There is a steady flow of 12 new patients per month; these mostly come from word-of-mouth and children of current patients who have school-aged children. They have a very simple website but no social media presence. They have a very simple website but no social media presence. Their front office person Kathy knows all the patients and is very engaging with them. She works on scheduling unscheduled patients when she can, but they are booked out for several months. The hygienist, Judy, is close to retirement and socializes with patients more than she talks about dentistry. The lead dental assistant, Peggy, orders supplies from several vendors and also shops online.


  • It is a well-established practice
  • Dr. Craig owns the building
  • Mature patient population with a good number of new patients
  • The practice has updated technology


  • Inconsistent hygiene schedule follow-up
  • Limited operatories for additional providers
  • Lack of reserved appointment blocks for large procedures and new patients
  • The dental assistant paid for time spent shopping for supplies


  • Additional operatories
  • Additional technology for implant placement
  • Team communication skills to increase appointment scheduling, including training for both hygienists and doctor
  • Fee updates
  • Technology training to help increase treatment plan acceptance


  • The fee schedule is not updated every 6-12 months, but team members have had consistent raises
  • Outdated website and no social media presence
  • Lack of retirement plan

Utilizing the SWOT Results

Once you’ve completed the SWOT analysis (which I recommend working on with your team and your dental rep – their perspectives are very valuable) you can go through the quadrants and determine your action items (with deadlines and who will be responsible for implementing). I recommend rating action items from the most impactful to the least impactful. This will allow you to help prioritize where you should begin your efforts to strengthen your practice.

Oh, and then review and update the SWOT on an annual basis. You’ll be surprised at how things can change. Making the document an evolving tool will help you continue to maximize the value of your dental practice.

Becoming the CEO
My challenge to you? From this moment forward, commit to thinking like and becoming a true leader and dynamic CEO. Your practice, team, and family will thank you. Most importantly, you will inspire yourself and find true joy in the impact you are making in the world.