Photo of a CWRU dental student working on a patient's teeth

3 ways entrepreneurship is involved in dentistry

When you think of dentistry, entrepreneurship should be one of the first things that enters your mind. Most healthcare professionals obtain their training and transition to working in established hospitals or large-scale practices. In stark contrast, dentists often graduate and start or purchase private practices—essentially owning small businesses. 

Dentists are entrepreneurs, or as 17th century Irish-French economist Richard Cantillion once stated, “risk takers.” They start businesses from the ground up and use creativity in the idea stages of their business before executing technical and entrepreneurial skills. 

To learn more about how entrepreneurship is involved in dentistry during Global Entrepreneurship Week, The Daily sat with Manish Valiathan, associate dean for clinical affairs at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. 

  1. Dentists provide customer service.

As an entrepreneur, if your business is customer-facing, you need to have a handle on how to relate to customers. In dentistry, your customer is your patient. While insurance companies have impacted the patient-provider relationship, dentistry mostly remains a “people business” and the provider’s relationship to patients and staff are the backbone of a successful operation. Over a century old and fittingly delivered by the founders of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, this passage still rings true: “A patient is the most important person in the institution, in person or by mail. A patient is not dependent on us, we are dependent on [them]. A patient is not an interruption of our work, [they are] the purpose of it. A patient is not an outsider to our business, [they] are our business. A patient is not someone to argue with or match wits with; a patient is a person, not a statistic; it is our job to satisfy [them].”

  1. Dentists need to have a strong understanding of accounting. 

The entrepreneur’s understanding of the financials of their business is vital. As the leader of a private practice, a dentist is now charged with the task of balancing finances with the fact that it is a healthcare operation—a unique style of business.

Most dental graduates have been exposed to some of this in a classroom setting but there is great awareness nationally that this area needs to be bolstered. At this time, as young practitioners mature as business owners, there are several specialized resources available to them at the local, regional and national levels. In fact, there are numerous courses, workshops and consultants who work with private practitioners who desire additional knowledge in this area.

  1. Networking is a key to success in dentistry.

I prefer the term collaborating over networking! While Christian Bernard, the famous South African cardiac surgeon, was the face of the first heart transplant done in 1967, and Neil Armstrong is known for landing on the moon two years later, these accomplishments were the result of intense collaborations. For complex patients to receive the highest levels of success, collaboration between different healthcare experts is absolutely essential.

Interested in becoming a dentist—and, thereby, an entrepreneur? Learn more about programs offered at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.