How I did it: Safa Al-Naher from Serene by Dr Safa

Safa

Dr Safa Al-Naher from Serene by Dr Safa explains how she has combined family and professional commitments.

The practice

Serene by Dr Safa

56 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7JN

Telephone: 020 7112 4919

Email: [email protected]

Website: Serenedental.co.uk

The ethos

Serene by Dr Safa is a sanctuary in the heart of Knightsbridge where patients can come to address dental, aesthetic and cosmetic concerns.

The beautiful clinic interiors have been carefully designed to exude a sense of calm and luxury, akin to that of a spa.

Various enclaves have been created for clients to relax prior to their appointment, savouring the holistic experience on offer. From the moment a patient steps into the clinic, the aim is to promote feelings of serenity and peace.

The team members will endeavour to anticipate beverage and scent preferences, helping patients relax and gain the most from their visit.

Dr Safa has attentively trained all of her dental professionals in the ideal patient journey, patient assessment, and the Enjoyable Dentistry Technique.

My story

There are few families and businesses in the world that haven’t undergone thoughtful reflection in the past year or so. The pandemic has turned lives upside-down and devastated others, but for some it has left a legacy of change.

For Dr Safa Al-Naher, director and principal dentist of Serene by Dr Safa, a high-end newly launched dental and facial aesthetics clinic, it merely hurried along her next chapter.

Opening her own clinic in London’s Knightsbridge mid-pandemic, and while heavily pregnant with a third child on the way, one has to ask – why now?

Family

Her father is Dr Bashar Al-Naher, principal and owner of the Care Dental Group. He is well known for his patient anxiety-control method, The Enjoyable Dentistry Technique.

It was at his clinics in Hammersmith, west London, that Safa honed her skills and expanded her knowledge as a dentist. She practised up until just a few months ago.

In fact, the answer to ‘why now?’ was there a long time ago. It is no coincidence her new venture coincides with the 10-year anniversary of her qualifying. Rather than allowing coronavirus to derail her, her planned career journey was simply nudged on a tad in pace.

Safa explains: ‘It was always my plan to set up on my own. My father never expected me nor my sister Sara (who is the clinic’s business development manager) to be tied down.

‘Sara and I joined the practice the same year. We took on different, but complementary, roles. Some years later, and as a new mother, I needed flexibility. Practising within the family business acted as a security blanket for me. I am lucky to have had all the responsibility as clinical lead without the financial burden. There was a  determination to get myself to a level clinically where I could then do it alone.’

Arising opportunities

COVID-19 certainly got the tight-knit family thinking about their next steps and the prospect of starting new ventures. As practices were coming up for sale – an opportunity arose and Safa went for it.

‘My father actively encouraged us to do our own thing, so we agreed to remain open to new opportunities.

‘At 56 Knightsbridge I was not allowed to take over the records because there was no traditional handover. In effect it is a squat. I changed branding and we settled on the name. We opened as a dual dental and facial aesthetics clinic six months ago.’

The passion for both disciplines is not new. Even before qualifying as a dentist, Safa was joining her father on facial aesthetics course. Because she was a dental student, she couldn’t officially take any of the exams. Therefore, she retook courses once she had completed her foundation year and passed with flying colours.

The vision

Her enthusiasm for what is often referred to as holistic care is tangible. Describing herself as a ‘chronic learner’, she sees her career as an on-going investment of training and education.

Her vision was to create a clinic with an environment so patients can experience dentistry and facial treatments ‘like never before’. So, what sets Serene by Dr Safa apart from other clinics?

Safa says: ‘Ultimately, dentistry has evolved to the point where, ideally, it is no longer firefighting; it is more about enhancing somebody’s life and doing this to the best of our ability.

‘Any gaps I have in my clinical experience, I want to fill as quickly as possible. I am as much focused on facial aesthetics as I am cosmetic dentistry. The fact that I do Invisalign and can achieve so much more by moving teeth rather than with surgery means I can combine this approach with minimally invasive aesthetic procedures so we enhance the whole face.’

She adds: ‘Combining the two disciplines is all about blending and discovering patterns. I am also interested in the psychology of aesthetic treatments, and what it can achieve beyond the physical enhancement. If we make a smile wider, we look younger. Clients often say they feel in a better mood when they’ve had Botox because it prevents them from frowning. We elicit this information by talking and listening carefully to our patients. This is a key component in empathetic and holistic care.’

Like many practitioners who offer facial aesthetics, Safa believes her colleagues are well placed to do so.

Safe decisions

‘It should be our professional concern how unregulated the facial aesthetics industry is. By offering these procedures, we can help patients make safe decisions. Dentists are specialised to deliver care in the facial zone. We are trained in that area from the beginning. We have much experience focusing on small areas, so facial aesthetics can come naturally.’

She also believes dentists can pull from the whole gamut of different holistic treatments to enhance appearance naturally, safely and effectively whilst also managing patient expectations.

‘There are so many treatments we can recommend that complement each other. It makes sense for us to be able to provide these services in one clinic. It means we know our patients are informed, cared for and seeking procedures safely. For example, in the case of a gummy smile, we may recommend Invisalign or gum surgery. As a facial aesthetician, I may then recommend lip filler or Botox – options that I feel as dentists we should be able to deliver.’

Safa trains other dental professionals to carry out facial aesthetic procedures and acknowledges the role has enhanced her own learning.

She says: ‘The ultimate aim is to give each patient bespoke and optimal results. For me, it is hugely important to strike the right balance between the two, so that work together to ensure the best outcomes.’

Transitioning

A decade is considered a powerful and symbolic milestone. For Safa, she has seen growth both professionally and personally in the past 10 years and is grateful to have had the opportunity to work within a family business towards establishing her own brand, business profile and professional voice.

She says: ‘Practising in the family business has been an incredible gateway to becoming a solo practice owner and a luxury few clinicians are afforded. I am so lucky and feel like it has been the best training programme.’

She admits she has waves of withdrawal symptoms from her father’s clinics, but there remains crossover between her new business and his – he kindly trained her new team in the Enjoyable Dentistry Technique so her patients too will benefit from the unique way in which they deliver treatments.

Meanwhile, his award-winning clinic has reached a stage where it is self-sufficient but with room to grow for the remaining practitioners.

Safa says: ‘I plan to have a grand opening of the clinic now our daughter has been born. I am really looking forward to the next chapter and I will delegate patients in order to oversee everything in my own time. This pandemic made us all re-evaluate our priorities and it is important to take time out to reassess how we want to live our lives.’

Transitioning clinically and creatively to find her own space within dentistry has, for Safa, been a joy. With her own third bundle of joy now safely ensconced in the tight-knit family unit, Safa is already back in her Knightsbridge clinic with their warmth and support whilst she offers hers to her much-valued patients.

Final words from Safa

‘Five years into my career I decided to stop NHS dentistry after having my first child. This was because I wanted to be there for my son and realised the truth of the old cliché that dentistry is such a great career for a woman. 

I also decided at that point that my time was worth more. I needed to make my hours at home and at work worth it. Some might say it was easier for me working at my father‘s practice to have flexible hours. However, the truth is that most of the team at Care Dental are female and of childbearing age. All of those who needed the same flexibility were afforded it happily. 

‘I invested in courses that would allow me to provide premium dental treatments and consequently increase the financial value of my clinical time and effort. I have always said my children’s wellbeing and positive development is my priority.

‘Although, I don’t think that means I have to choose them exclusively over my own career progression and business aspirations.  I chose to open my own business to give me the flexibility to spend as much time as I need with them, and on my own terms.

The bigger picture

‘Many people ask me how I do it all.  I believe a background in NLP and self-development (an interest inherited from my parents, who are both life coaches) has helped.  It has allowed me to break down many of the mental blocks that people can sometimes place on themselves (and/or society tries to impose).

‘I spend time every year planning and imagining my future – my next year, five years and 10 years. It changes sometimes from year to year and that’s okay, but it helps me see a bigger picture and work towards what I desire most.

‘I then break this down further into the smaller steps I need to achieve this – for example what extra help do I need? What would my day look like? On a daily and weekly basis it does require a lot of organisation and awareness, and I have not yet mastered the art of eliminating some anxiety.

‘However, on the whole I would say I feel satisfied and happy most of the time and, most importantly, enjoying the moment rather than feeling torn. When I am with my children, I cherish the time and find that I actively try to engage with them more, and when I am at work, I also shut off from my home life and give my business, patients and team my full attention.’   

This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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