Most young dentists will reply to my question quickly with “at least 25 years or more.” When I ask the follow up question, “and how many years do you think it will take before you become disabled, injured, or unable to practice from your profession?” The answer is always “I don’t know…I feel good now….I guess it could happen….but…”
I retire dentists earlier and earlier every year it seems. Back injury, neck injury, wrist surgery, and sudden illness are the top motivating factors for getting out of dentistry completely or cutting back to part time. It would be nice if we had a crystal ball and could determine what our future looks like in 25 years, but the reality of the dental profession is you don’t plan as if you have 25+ years to work. You plan your career and your life as if you have 5 to 10 years.
Putting your financial house in order is the most important factor when planning your next 5 to 10 years. Once you have financial security then you can weather the physical, mental, and emotional storms that life will throw at you on regular basis. If you have a spouse and children, you should be cognizant of how you will provide if you are unable to continue practicing dentistry. Let me reiterate one more time: you plan for the worst case scenarios when deciding to become a dentist, not the best case scenarios.
Story: A former client of mine was playing summer league baseball and unbelievably broke his back sliding into second base. Being a dentist, his lower back was weak from his time hunched over the chair day in and day out and the result was catastrophic. Even worse, he was 44 years old and a father of two children when the accident happened.
This dentist was very fortunate in that he had invested wisely and purchased a practice with a significant patient base. There were, in fact, enough patients in the dental practice that within a couple of years he had brought in a female partner to take advantage of the growth potential. His partnership contract was worded such that if he became disabled or died that his partner would agree to purchase his part of the practice for an agreed-upon value. That clause was triggered and his part of the dental practice was bought out in less than 90 days.
Would you be this lucky? Are you planning your career to get out of dentistry if you have to? 9 out of 10 dentists do not even have a financial plan in place because, “I feel good now” and, “I’ve got 25+ years ahead of me.” You only have a limited number of years to practice. Make the most of them.