Welcome to the Authentic Dentist Podcast.
Join Dr. Allison House of House Dental in Scottsdale and Shawn Zajas, Founder of Zana… a company helping Dentists extend their Care Beyond the Chair, as they lead dentists deeper along the journey of authenticity – to reach greater fulfillment in their professional lives and to deliver remarkable patient experiences.
At the core of the authentic dentist is the belief that the answer to the current challenges in dentistry is dentists discovering that their greatest asset and point of differentiation is their personal brand – and that forming that brand out of their authentic selves is the best strategy for success in dentistry today.
Listen above, or read the transcript below 😉
Shawn: So this is Shawn, founder of Zana and I’m here with my good friend, Dr Allison House.
Allison: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Shawn: So we decided that we would start a podcast because we both care about dentistry and want to see how together we can just help dentistry with our perspective and with everything we’ve come to know me with what I know about business, and you as a excellent dentist because how long have you been in dentistry?
Allison: So I’ve been practicing 19 years now. I graduated in 2000. I’ve had my own practice for about 17 years and I started from scratch. So it was, it’s been quite the journey and I would never say I had everything figured out. I don’t know if you ever figure everything out, but I figured out a couple of things and I’d love to share and I’d love to hear other people’s opinions.
Shawn: And my experience, growing up in my dad’s with his dental supply company and since then starting two other businesses, it’s been understanding the struggle of having to start a business, run a business and everything that goes into that. And that’s why genuinely I think dentistry is incredibly hard, especially today. So maybe 20/30 years ago it was okay to have like a yellow pages ad or just the listing and that was enough. But now I feel like because of the way things have changed, a dentist is expected to have clinical excellence and at the same exact time really know business, which is I think such a unique challenge these days.
Allison: So I remember I told you kind of what I was doing and what my practice was like and you looked at me with a shocked look and said, “So you’re an entrepreneur and you’re the business manager and you’re the surgeon? How is that even possible?” And we just do it. But it doesn’t mean that we do all three well. It’s very difficult. I was trained to be a dentist, but I have no business education whatsoever. None, this has all been learned on the fly.
Shawn: Would you say that’s true of most dentists?
Allison: I would say most of us.
Shawn: Like how common would it be for a dentists, let’s say, to have an MBA?
Allison: Very uncommon.
Shawn: And that’s just because the time and money you invest in your dental education?
Allison: Well, if I was going to invest more money, I’d want to invest in my clinical skills. I probably wouldn’t invest in my business skills even though I recognize I need those skills.
Shawn: So I guess that leads us to why we’re doing this podcast is because we recognize dentistry is at this interesting place. And I think as we’ve talked about, because of DSOs and the way that they’ve entered the market and brought business best practices to bear in the industry, it’s not okay anymore for a small group practice or a solo practice to simply just open up a shop and practice dentistry.
Allison: I think you can, but it’s, you’re going to run into a lot of challenges. Like I said, the learning curve is really steep to run your own practice. You have to know all the things you just said with marketing and branding. But you also have to know all the CDC guidelines on how to keep your practice clean, you have to know all the guidelines on how to run your insurance and you have to have all your clinical skills. Oh. And then you have to manage your team, which is quite the challenge. So it’s a lot. It’s a lot to learn very quickly.
Shawn: Well, so I know with my team, I have specialists in most of those areas and I entrust them with those areas. But I know most of the team that a dental office would have is specialized to actually providing good oral care. I know there’s a office manager, but even the office manager, like how often is it that they have a degree in management or even like, like I said, some higher level education, like an MBA in business?
Allison: I would say that is very rare. Most of the time your office manager is someone you’ve promoted who used to be a dental assistant. So it’s rare probably for them to have a bachelor’s degree.
Shawn: Wow. Yeah, I see. So I think that’s like unfathomable to think that again, you’re charged with having to just do business great. Like you need to attract eyeballs today, you need to be able to handle online reviews. Well, you know, your online presence with a website, just hiring correctly, all the HR issues, just managing your whole brand. But at the same time, if you have an option to continue learning, you’re probably going to invest that in your clinical expertise. Right?
Allison: I think you want us to, right?
Allison: As patients. Yeah. So it’s created some real challenges for all of us and it’s made it so our younger dentists have trouble breaking into becoming owners.
Shawn: So tell me a little bit more about maybe you, where you’ve come from, even where you’ve served.
Allison: So I grew up in Flagstaff and I went to Northern Arizona University because I had a scholarship. And then I went to the university of Alabama, Birmingham for dental school, which was quite the adventure and I have wonderful things to say about it. But my husband and I moved to the South and then I came back and I started practicing in a corporate practice here in Phoenix, Arizona. And I ended up working in seven practices in two years.
Shawn: Wow. Why?
Allison: I didn’t like where I was and I couldn’t figure out why I was still uncomfortable. I got fired from one of them. Yeah, that was devastating. And the reason I got fired, I had a patient come in and I supposed to pull all of her upper teeth and put her denture in. And this is back when we had folders with notes in them.
Allison: Now of course we have computers. You can’t work in dentistry without a computer now. But we used to have these charts and I opened up and I couldn’t read the handwriting and I couldn’t see who had taken the impression and made the denture.
Allison: So there were four other doctors in the practice. And so I went to every one of them and asked them, “Okay, so who made this denture?” Well, I finally figured out that an assistant had taken the impression and the lab had made a denture out of it, and I just couldn’t pull her teeth and deliver the… I just, I couldn’t.
Shawn: That’s not acceptable. Right? Like-
Allison: Well, I didn’t know how that denture would fit and I’d left. I mean, I would leave her was no teeth. That just seemed unfathomable to me. Patient was pissed at me really, really, because she’d taken the rest of the week off. She was ready for this and my boss was not happy with me either. And I got fired for it. I wasn’t fired that day, but I was fired soon after and it was quite obvious this was why.
Allison: And my husband was not amused. I had never been fired from a job before. And we had student debt, and we had two little kids. It was not fun. And now I look back and it was this ethical decision, but it was also really a financial decision. But I had support. My husband at least had a job. I can’t imagine if I was the primary breadwinner, could I have made that decision? I don’t know. And I worry about young dentists. Are they putting that position still?
Allison: Anyway, so that’s one of the reasons I started my own practice is because I wanted to have control. But when you’re on your practice, you still have to pay the bills. People expect you to pay the rent?
Shawn: Yeah, the struggle is real. I mean, just hearing your story. It’s like, yeah, like what were you supposed to do when faced with this ethical decision early on in your career and deep down inside you just knew like you couldn’t pull the teeth.
Allison: I just couldn’t do it. People were-
Shawn: But the consequence of that could like-
Allison: It was devastating.
Shawn: Yeah, the vulnerability in your professional, I mean you had, like you said you had debt and I’m sure there’s challenges that current dentists and young dentists are facing today that’s very similar to that.
Allison: I hope it’s not on that scale, but I do think that they’re facing some challenges like that and I’m hoping that this podcast will give them some hope that they could start their own practice or maybe they make just a change in the practice environment they’re in. Stand up for yourself. If we all stood up for ourselves, I think we can make a change and it would benefit patients too, not just us.
Shawn: Oh, absolutely. So being that I’ve known you now for three to four years, I know a little bit more about some of the things that you probably don’t want to tell everyone just because it might come across like you’re bragging, but you’re kind of a big deal.
Allison: Thank you.
Shawn: And if you just like to share, I know you were the youngest dentist to serve as the President of the Arizona Dental Association. Is that correct?
Allison: Yes, I was the youngest state president. And I was pretty-
Shawn: So what is what even led to you wanting to pursue that?
Allison: Was there, back to the two years in the seven practices, I wrote a letter to our dental association back then and I told them the whole story because I assumed that they didn’t know, nobody could have known this. And they reached out to me and after we’d worked on it for a while, Kevin Earl came along and he’s wonderful with legislation and he wrote some legislation here in Arizona about what needed to happen. And we have business owners have to be registered and licensed here in Arizona in order to have a dental practice. I know that shocks the lay person that they weren’t before, that they weren’t. So you could just open a practice.
Shawn: So part, like your letter helped influence that actual legislation getting passed.
Allison: It did.
Shawn: And, I mean you probably had no idea that just, you taking the time to write a letter to the association could actually have such a profound effect?
Allison: Well, a lot of people listened. I got to help write the bill, I got to testify and suddenly I understood the power of a group.
Shawn: So you kind of got thrust into that?
Allison: I did. I did. And my parents are very involved in their physical therapy association. So it was something I would have done anyway, but I was really young to start.
Shawn: For sure.
Shawn: So that just kind of ushered you into wanting to continue to just make a difference, be aware of how you could, like how your voice mattered when it came to just legislation and I guess just leading and directing the direction of dentistry.
Allison: I think that you want to be in charge of your own destiny. And as I gotten older and watched this industry change, I’m recognizing that a lot of people are making decisions about our lives, dentists’ lives that are not dentists, and we need to have control of our dentists’ destiny. So yeah. So I’ve really tried to put myself out there and talk about it, which is scary of course.
Shawn: Absolutely. So just really quick, I mean we’ll probably get into this more in future episodes, but how is it that we ended up coming to meet each other?
Allison: So you came to the Mission of Mercy and what’s funny is I was the President of the Dental Association at the time, but that had nothing to do with the Mission of Mercy. They just told me, “Go over and talk to those people.” So I did. I came over and I met you and you were just so inspiring. It’s like you just got what we were doing. And most people don’t. They’re overwhelmed by all of the things that the Mission of Mercy. But you got it. And you’ve developed this amazing product with the toothbrushes. I just am so impressed by you.
Shawn: Well. So the irony is here I was with this company and trying to figure out how we could help the underserved communities just across the country that really weren’t getting the oral care they needed. And I hadn’t met too many organizations or even too many specific dentists that kind of identify with this is what dentistry is like in this area and I met you and then I met Dr Valcheck and I was just like, these have got to be like the two most inspiring people to really care about dentistry and what dentistry stands for.
Shawn: And unfortunately it was a little misleading because some of the organizations I’ve met after that were nothing like CASS, now Brighter Way, they didn’t care the same way that Dr Valcheck did. And unfortunately some of their dentists may not have been as connected to caring as you were either. So I was thinking that everyone I was going to meet was going to be as amazing as you, but that’s, that’s when I met you. And again, just right off the bat I was like, wow, a Dr. House is just amazing, the way she is serving, the way she making a difference. So that is, that is how we met and that’s, I guess-
Allison: Kris Volcheck is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I mean, I got to give him a shout out. He is an amazing person. So that’s the second one you met. Yeah, that bar was high.
Shawn: It was. So if you’re listening and you don’t know anything about a Brighter Way or a Dr Kris Volcheck, look him up. It’s just amazing, amazing what he’s doing. So that has led us, I guess, to this place now where we really believe that it’s best for dentistry when dentists are really practicing in a way that’s true to their version of dentistry, that’s authentic to their version of dentistry. So that at the end of the day, like the patient is going a great experience. It’s all about what’s best for the patient and what we believe is best for the patient is dentists that are connected to what they really care about in dentistry so they can live some life-giving.
Allison: Yeah, so they are fulfilled. You said something the other day about 70,000 hours that we spend practicing dentistry, that you’ve done the numbers over a 40 year career, 36 hours a week. That’s a lot of hours that we spend and it does need to be fulfilling at the end of the day. You want to know that you’ve contributed.
Allison: You also had asked me, well, what if somebody’s personality is different than mine or some of the other doctors you work with? And I think that’s the wonderful thing. There’s lots of different personalities and you do want to practice in that authentic world and the way that you want to practice and attract the patients that need you. I’m not the right fit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re not the right fit for a lot of people and that’s okay. That’s why there’s so many of us out there. But I think that’s the philosophy and the way that you want to practice to feel fulfilled.
Shawn: Absolutely. So we’re excited that we’re starting this podcast and we’re excited about just the upcoming weeks and months. Just sharing more about what that looks like to practice with authenticity, to practice that version of dentistry. That’s really true to who you are because we want every dentist to be connected to that. If they’re going to spend 70,000 hours in their profession, we want it to be something that is fulfilling, that is on mission, that’s on purpose. That is true to that vision of dentistry that they had maybe when they got into dental school and they were like, this is what I’m excited about and maybe there’s dentists out there that really aren’t in alignment with that right now and if there’s any way that we can encourage them or inspire them or just help provide, whether it’s a mindset change or tool sets to help them, I believe that’s what, that’s what we’re wanting to do.
Allison: That’s what we were wanting to do. And you haven’t said the money part, like yes, you can live a very fulfilled life giving dentistry and you can also make money. It all can go together. I think sometimes you hear that it can’t, and that’s an important piece that we’re going to talk about too.
Shawn: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you Allison. I’m excited for, again, the upcoming episodes. This is going to be fun.
Allison: Thank you. Shawn.