An accountant recently wrote an article appearing in a dental magazine suggesting that all dentists plan to work at least five years beyond their planned retirement date. They were told that this would provide them with multiple benefits for their retirement.

This article prompted us to ask, "Benefits for who?" Do they mean five more years of accounting fees that will be paid to the accountant by the doctor? Do they mean five more years of salaries for the staff? More money to leave the children. Once again, doctors are viewed as income-producing machines, not as people. They are thought of as someone put on this earth to provide well for everyone else around them. The accountant did not consider that the doctor was a person with an indeterminable and limited number of healthy years remaining in his or her life. Instead of telling this doctor to retire earlier, they tell them to work an additional five years!

Marketing and management "efficiency" experts promote programs that result in the doctor working faster and harder. "Happiness is a multi-million-dollar practice," they say. "Build bigger offices and hire more staff. Extend your office hours." Dental suppliers reinforce that position, especially when it includes buying new and more expensive equipment. Gross income becomes the doctor's indicator of success but indeed not their happiness!

Accountants and attorneys will lose a client if the doctor retires, so they tell them that they can't afford to quit yet and plan to work longer still. Unfortunately, even family and close friends will say, "What else would they do? They love it!" and "They wouldn't know what they'd do with themselves if they weren't practicing dentistry." Can anyone blame the doctors when they forget that they are people, people with needs like anyone else? The problem is everyone thinks they should be happy after all, aren't all doctors rich?

Some people are cut out to be dentists, and others are not. Dentists cannot realize until they have invested a lot of time and money to become a dentist. If they find out they are not happy in their chosen profession, they wonder what's wrong with them. If everyone thinks being a dentist has to be better than being anything else, then the dentists have nothing else to turn to for a career change. After all, if they already have the best, what else is there!

Dentists should try to get control over their lives. Don't live to practice; practice for a living! Establish your personal needs, set business and personal goals, then look at your practice and see what role it should play in your future. Working and studying all those years to become a dentist should not dictate the remaining years of your life. If you want to try something else for a living, then arrange things to try it. If you want to eliminate management stress or lighten clinical responsibilities, then take appropriate action.

AFTCO is not suggesting that you compromise the future security of you and your family, but we are suggesting that there are ways to minimize the risk of change that can give you a new lease on life. If you can become a dentist, you could be assured that you can be successful in a new career. If you can and want to retire, retire. Travel and see the world. Try fishing and hunting or even sailing. Go to school, get an MBA, or become a financial planner, real estate mogul, or both! There is a big world out there, and the only limits are self-imposed. Do it while you still have your health and the energy needed to make a change.

AFTCO is a consulting firm that deals with people, people who happen to be doctors. It's time to call AFTCO!

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