Should dental students cover business management?

woman studying business managementGurvel Singh questions whether universities need to move with the times and offer business management education as part of the curriculum.

Twenty years ago, if you visited a dental school lecture hall and asked who in the room wants to own a dental practice one day, you would have been greeted by a sea of enthusiastic students raising their hands.

If you went to do the same thing now you would have a large section of the room shrugging at each other. Others would debate whether they want to put their hands up.

We can attribute the phenomenon of young dentists not wanting to go into practice ownership to many things. But we mainly argue that the idea of working nine to five entices many dentists. This allows a great work-life balance. Dentists know that outside of these hours there is minimal stress and work to complete.

Universities teach us how to practise dentistry. So doing dentistry and going home makes sense right? But, as we all know, without practice ownership the profession is not sustainable.

I believe a big factor scaring potential future practice owners off is that the business management side of practice ownership intimidates many. Dental school teaches us how to do a crown prep. But it doesn’t teach us how to balance a spreadsheet. It also doesn’t teach us how to market ourselves or a practice. And we are certainly not taught how to get patients into the chair.

Why would the dental school teach us that? We are training to be dentists not accountants. However, the role of a dentist in the era of social media and the internet is evolving. So the role of a dental school needs to evolve with it.

Business management

The curriculum for most dental schools includes how to carry out basic dental procedures. But BDS courses are notorious for under-preparing its students for the world of real dentistry.

A minimum of five years spent with endless nights in the library, fuelled on Red Bulls and Tesco meal deals revising for written exams and OSCEs, for what? Many argue that the main aim of attending dental school is to get to a clinical experience level where you are safe to practice under a foundation trainer.  Some argue this is where your real education begins. Both in terms dentistry and business management.

Although many of us get the opportunity to learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ from a mentor in a well-run practice, not many students will have access to that opportunity.

Unfortunately, some students will go into foundation training in a practice treading water. With a foundation trainer that is doing the bare minimum to get by.

You might argue it’s only for a year and then you get the chance to be an associate and learn from your principal.

I agree, in an ideal world gaining knowledge and experience ‘on the job’ is the best way to learn about the business management side of things. However, with the current NHS dentistry culture and constant pressure on principals and associates to meet UDA targets, is there time for principals to share their knowledge?

Even in private practice, principals spend a large part of their day carrying out dentistry. As well as dealing with difficult patients and managing staff.

The last thing they want to do is spend more time away from their family. Time spent explaining everything to a wet-behind-the-ears associate, with dreams of practice ownership.

MBA qualifications

Many of the dentists considering practice ownership deliberate whether to undertake an MBA qualification prior to purchase. We can see this is a key issue that needs resolving.

Key features taught in most MBA programmes include accounting, business management and writing a business plan. If you can add team management into the mix, you have the perfect starting blocks for practice ownership.

Teaching these subjects in dental school, even to a small degree, would give many students a head start into practice ownership.

An MBA program would come at a significant cost between £10,000-£45,000, and could potentially take up to three years to complete. This is a lot of time and money to spend on a qualification that in the end gives very little direct application to running a dental practice.

Therefore, if we can implement this teaching into the BDS program, both the students and the profession will benefit.

Transferable skills

I believe the best way to overhaul this flawed system is to implement classes into the dental school’s curriculum and teach the economics of dentistry.

Many individuals enrolled in BDS programmes are not inherently business-minded. They lack opportunity to gain knowledge in the area whilst at university.

Implementing non-examinable seminars and lectures into the course teaching, everything from staff management to marketing and basic accounting, would be a great aid and boost to future practice owners.

Even if students don’t end up becoming a practice owner, these skills are transferable. They will stay with students for life. Dentists cane use them for personal finance and branding alongside other avenues.

Others may argue that they didn’t get as much clinical experience as they would have wanted during dental school. So we should dedicate any extra resources towards that, rather than financial education.

There is also the argument that the BDS degree is stressful enough. All without adding further seminars and lectures onto the already high pile of work.

This is why these should be introduced as non-examinable. But still providing the resources so they are on hand for students to learn.

Healthcare is business

At the end of the day dentistry is a profession, but healthcare is a business. Without adequate business management the profession will suffer.

It is proven time and again that even the best clinical skills can’t save a practice that is poorly managed.

If newly graduated dentists feel as if they lack the necessary skills to run and manage a business, then the undergraduate dental surgery program has failed once again to prepare a dentist for the modern world.

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