A place of my own

Aug. 7, 2013
Life comes with challenges, and we all are afforded the opportunity to deal with them at one time or another. I am no exception. A challenge I never anticipated presented itself to me several years ago.

Utah hygienist buys into practice

by Valerie Hebert, RDH

Life comes with challenges, and we all are afforded the opportunity to deal with them at one time or another. I am no exception. A challenge I never anticipated presented itself to me several years ago. The challenge resulted in the ending of a 26-year marriage. Suddenly I found myself alone with no husband and grown children. The events took some time to adjust to, but when everything shook out I realized I was free to do whatever my heart desired.
The dental clinic's building was formerly an office for electricians. It was converted to contain three operatories. Currently, the building houses five operatories, a lab, offices, and a staff lounge.

I was living and practicing dental hygiene in northern Utah. The laws regarding the practice of dental hygiene in Utah are very similar to the laws in most other states in regard to direct and indirect supervision and scope of practice. I had always been intrigued about practicing in less restrictive states, because I desired expanded functions or maybe even have my own practice. The idea of my own practice had actually been a dream of mine. Given my new reality I began looking for employment in Colorado due to less restrictive practice laws. Of course, I needed to obtain a license in Colorado before I could practice.

While going through the process of getting a Colorado license, I wanted to continue to practice in Utah. A former employer contacted me and told me about a dentist who had just opened an office in the valley where I lived, suggesting a potential employment opportunity. Reluctantly, I phoned the dentist to see if he needed some help. After all, I wasn't planning on staying in Utah.


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To my surprise, he was reluctant too, but he recommended coming to the office for a face-to-face interview. His reluctance was due to the size his office. He envisioned his office remaining small. For years he had operated multiple offices, and he was "finished with the rat race." Nothing ever transpired from the interview.

Two months later, I was still waiting to hear about my Colorado license, and I needed to get to work. My hope of going to Colorado to practice was diminishing. In a bit of a panic and desperation due to the fact I had bills to pay, I phoned the doctor I had interviewed with months before.

I visited with him a few times at his office in Smithfield. The town is located in northern Utah near the Idaho border. It is a rural town without much industry. The office accepts low-income clients and state funded insurance (Medicaid, CHIP). The office is "self-funded," meaning they do not receive state or federal financial help. The office is located off the main street in an industrial park, which keeps overhead down. Patients have no problem finding us.

A partnership is created

During our visits, we talked about many things about the dental practice. Finally, he made an offer. He said, "You know, Val, I do not want an employee. If you want to come on, it has to be as a partner."

I could not believe what I heard! A partner? Are you kidding me?

This was definitely a dream come true! I did not hesitate with my response. I simply said, "So tell me what I need to do!" He did not expect my response.

It all was very simple. The extra operatory in the office was vacant and had the appropriate plumbing. All I had to do was call a vendor and order equipment and supplies. I met with a rep from a supply company. She outlined everything for me and gave me a quote. I purchased the same equipment the other operatories had, so that they matched. The dentist offered to finance me, which was very helpful, and I paid him back within five years.

Regarding supplies, I knew what I liked and I bought everything I needed to run an efficient hygiene department. This experience was bit scary because I had never done anything like this before, but it was also exhilarating. Somehow, I found the strength to do this and moved forward.

I am happy to report our partnership is working out wonderfully!

Take a look at how wonderful this is:

  • I practice under the rules and regulations set forth by the dental board in Utah, much like any other hygienist in the state.
  • I am paid by what I produce
  • I make my own schedule based on the hours desired
  • I purchase the products and equipment I want to use
  • I have my own practice within a Practice
  • I am a financial partner in the business
  • I am included in discussions and decisions about the practice

Since the birth of this unique practice setting, another partner has joined in. There are three owners now — two dentists and one hygienist. I now own one third of the building. The shared office spaces and shared equipment is co-owned by all three partners. I pay for some of the wages for the front desk employee.

Expanding hygiene services

When the office was expanded, I added another operatory. The second experience in setting up a new operatory was much easier. I decided to research used equipment and found someone to work with during the process.

I could not manage two operatories alone, so I hired a dental assistant. I knew I wanted someone bilingual. There are several Spanish-speaking patients in the practice, and I do not speak Spanish well enough. I am also not from the United States, so I appreciated the challenge of not being able to communicate effectively when there is a language barrier. As a result, I am passionate about being able to communicate.

When I began to look for candidates to fill the position, I tried to go through the local dental assisting program and didn't have any luck. One of my patients, who I had been seeing for quite some time, came in and we spoke about my dilemma of trying to find a dental assistant.

A few days later he came back with his daughter in tow and introduced us. The rest is history.

Leilani had no dental experience but had gone to nursing school and did not like it. We have worked together now for almost two years. The great thing is that she is my employee. Until last year, I had never utilized an assistant. I am so appreciative of her help, and I wish I could have done it sooner.

Our team hosts meetings in order to discuss important issues such as new carpet and adding cabinets when we ran out of space for files. We primarily discuss shared items that affect all three owners. Our personal equipment is our own responsibility. While our meetings have been somewhat sporadic, I am planning on implementing regular meetings in order to introduce and educate all the staff on products, ideas, and changes that come along.

My practice setting is one example of how dental hygienists can work with dentists as colleagues, and become a great asset to a state-of-the-art, productive practice! What I really enjoy is the ability to implement ideas without needing to ask for permission. When I introduce a new product or concept, it seems to have a way to penetrate through the entire office and everyone benefits. In this way, we work together and keep life exciting. We market both the doctors and the dental hygienist by being transparent and being informational to patients and staff in the office.

I am so appreciative of the knowledge, advice, and guidance my partner has shared with me. He truly helped me make my dream become a reality! RDH

Valerie Hebert, RDH, can be contacted at [email protected].

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