Retirement is wasted on those too old to enjoy it

Dentist David Row reflects on his career and why selling his practice has let him make the most of life

I won’t be alone when I say that dentistry is a fast-paced profession, especially when juggling it with a busy life outside of work, time can pass by quicker than you realise.

For me that realisation is especially pertinent because, as I write this, I’m days away from retiring from the career I’ve spent the last 40 years building.

At 57 it’s come a few years earlier than I’d planned, but a mixture of health and circumstance mean that the time’s right for me. What’s more I’m thoroughly grateful that my line of work – along with the decisions I’ve taken within it – has given me the opportunity.

Deciding on dentistry

When people ask what inspired me to become a dentist, I tell them it was the dentist I used to visit as a child: he was so bad, that I knew I had to do better!

On a more serious note though, like many of my peers there are three main things that really drew me to the profession.

The first was the appeal of the practical work – I’ve always been very hands on, so it suited me well.

Second was the fact that I got to work with people. I’ve built up some great relationships through work, both on a personal and a professional level.

Thirdly, dentistry is one of the few professions where – with enough hard work – you can really be your own boss.

Branching out

I took my first associate job in 1986 and landed my first partner role in Ashington in 1990. Back then I honestly thought I could work forever. The buzz of being a partner really spurred me on, and when I was given the opportunity to join my current practice, Kelvin Lodge in Newcastle, I jumped at the chance.

Three of us bought in at a similar time and the practice, already well established, went from strength to strength. We all had our own areas of interest – both in terms of dentistry and the practical side of running a business – and I was able to focus on implants and surgery.

We maintained a good reputation both locally and beyond, and to this day we still have patients coming back from as far as Italy, France, Greece and even Russia.

Selling up

As we reached our mid-50s though, we all realised that there was more we wanted to do inside and outside of work. This combined with the growing administrative efforts needed to keep the practice running and compliant, meant we started looking for one of the associates to buy in.

The plan fell through but, at the same time, we were contacted by one of the large dental groups asking if we’d consider selling. After exploring it further, we decided this provider wasn’t for us as we felt they’d undervalued the practice and were suggesting terms that we didn’t want to accept.

Shortly after we were contacted by Bupa Dental Care. Immediately we knew that their offer was different and we were impressed by how much they understood the practice.

They recognised that we were a strong performing practice and so were happy to let us keep running without interference. We sold the practice to them in January 2016.

A fresh approach

While we’ve been able to maintain an independent approach to practising, Bupa has provided a huge amount of admin and clinical governance support. Ultimately this has meant we’re able to focus on patient care and team development, without being distracted by the paperwork and challenges that comes with IT, HR, overheads and equipment.

It’s honestly like being back to when I first started out: I’m back to working nine to five and can leave without the stress hanging over me.

All was going swimmingly until, 18 months ago, I suffered a serious heart attack.

During this time I had the stark realisation that, if I hadn’t have sold the practice, there’s no way that I would have taken the time needed for a full recovery. Our practice was built on us sharing the workload and – while my colleagues are nothing but supportive – I’d have personally felt I was letting them down by not returning to work.

Instead, Bupa were hugely supportive and were able to give me the time off that I needed – both at the time of the heart attack and surgery itself, and when I had to take time off for back problems.  They were able to bring in additional dentists too, who proved such a good fit that they’re now staying on at the practice.

Looking to the future

After 40 years, I’ve understandably got mixed emotions about leaving the profession.

For all the stress of the CQC inspections and the late nights earlier on in my career, I’ve also been lucky to work with some brilliant people, and will certainly miss the camaraderie with my colleagues.

Likewise I’ll miss my patients too, though I know that I’ll be bumping into them on the golf course instead, which doesn’t seem like such a bad compromise!

On the plus side, I know I’m leaving the practice in good hands. What’s more, I’m looking forward to getting some more travelling under my belt, in particular surprising my 85-year-old mother with a trip back to her native Kenya.

It’ll be a poignant trip but one that makes me feel grateful for the fact that I’ve got plenty more trips ahead, while young enough to enjoy them.

If you’re considering selling your practice, or just want to hear more about your options for the future:

Tel: 01454 771 575  Email: [email protected]


Bupa Dental Services are provided by Bupa Dental Services Limited. Registered office: 1 Angel Court, London, EC2R 7HJ. Registered number 479557.

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