Typically, the plan for a recent dental school graduate is to practice in a suburban area around an urban city. A dental practice in a rural area is seen as less appealing. However, what young doctors are finding out is that these areas are already at or over capacity for dental practices and doctors. This means more competition for jobs and patients, lower salaries, and limited opportunity for growth. More often, practices are resorting to extended and weekend hours to try and capture more patients. Costs of living are higher. Participating in PPO plans may be necessary if the competition is doing it (especially when considering student loan debt, practice loan debt, and overhead and personal expenses). So while the urban area may appear to offer more in terms of lifestyle, dentists practicing in these areas may not be able to enjoy those supposed benefits as they imagined they would.
Below we discuss some of the advantages of dental practices in rural areas. But don’t just take our word for it, read what a recent satisfied DDSmatch Southwest client has to say about his career in a Texas small town.
Dental Practice in Rural Areas Provide More Economic Opportunities
While high-density areas leave dentists scrambling for jobs and patients, and established dentists may have deferred retirement due to economic conditions, dentists in small towns are experiencing the opposite. Most small town dentists are doing quite well because they don’t have the same kind of competition. In fact, many rural areas are underserved, making patient demand for dental services high in comparison to urban areas.
Dr. Bill Dean, recently used DDSmatch Southwest’s dental practice transition specialists to help him sell his practice. In a recent interview about his practice transition, he noted this benefit of small town dentistry,
“We’re a town of about 3,500 people, but we’re about 50 miles from Lubbock. It’s the nearest town, large town. And, I have a drawing area of probably 20,000 patients and coming from three or four different counties that don’t have dentists, and it’s hard for young dentists coming up to realize that they can come to a real community and have an instant practice when they start out.”
“Particularly if they’re buying a practice. There’s a ready-made client base that they can go to work from day one and be busy. They don’t have to try to develop a clientele, and they get to know their patients and the patients . . . Once they’ve won a patient over they will tell all their friends, and it just is an ongoing process of good people.”
Small Town Overhead with Urban-Level Fees
Fees charged by dental practices in rural areas are comparable to those charged in suburban and urban areas. But the overhead is much lower. A small town practice typically has its overhead expenses in the 50-55% range. Two major factors are lower wages and lower real estate or lease costs. Combined with less competition (meaning you save in your marketing costs as well), this means higher profits for your practice, and more money in your pocket. The faster you can accumulate wealth, the sooner you can retire, and the easier it will be to do on your own terms.
Dr. Dean also addresses the belief that being in a small town might make you feel isolated. To the contrary, given the realities of transit in sprawling urban areas, his access to larger city amenities wasn’t an issue, and the increased opportunities to earn and own a practice are accelerated by the built-in clientele and lower overhead:
“Lubbock is a town of about 200-and-something-thousand people, Texas Tech University is there, and they’ve got everything you could want. It’s 45 minutes away. If you’re living in Houston you may drive an hour to go eat somewhere and if you’re living in Floydada, you could be anywhere in Lubbock within an hour, and you’ve got anything you want. You got a major airport that’ll get you where you want to go, and, as I said, you’ve got an instant practice the day you open up your doors and in a large city you have to work to get people to come in. Or, go in as an associate and work for five years before you can actually become a partner.”
Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
Because many rural areas are underserved, some state agencies have established loan forgiveness programs based on the number of years a doctor practices in one of the underserved areas. So, in addition to earning more, you can also work to reduce your debt faster than otherwise, accelerating your savings. Some of the programs may require participating in Medicaid. Visit ADA.org for more information.
Small Town Life Style
Many dentists who do practice in more densely populated areas grow tired of the tough economics of urban life, the competition, and the stress. These are factors that are intrinsic to city life. We’ve discussed above how a dental practice in rural areas can increase your income. It can also greatly decrease your stress while increasing job satisfaction.
The slower pace of life allows to you both be more flexible in your schedule and to get to know your patients better. Creating a personal bond who those to whom you provide care adds an additional dynamic to your work day that can make it more enjoyable, and less of a chore. You also will have more time to enjoy the things that make life worth living, like friends and family, and hobbies and recreation. The ability for better life balance will reduce the likelihood of burnout.
Additionally, you can enjoy the esteem of your community. A dentist is a valued member of the community, providing a valuable service. You can be seen as a respected professional whose advice is valued. Diagnosis and treatment plans are more readily accepted by patients who know and trust you.
Dr. Dean confirms these benefits. Speaking of the doctor who bought his practice, Dr. Dean noted that he was looking specifically for
“[s]omeone that would be a part of the community, that was more than just drilling and filling and seeing patients. And, [Dr. Shively, the buyer, has] been with a corporate firm in Lubbock for the last six months and it wasn’t a matter of getting to know the patients, it was a matter of production, and Dr. Shively didn’t like that, didn’t want that. He wanted to be a part of the community. . . .
“He said when he came out there was little league baseball playing, and he said that’s what he’s looking for, and, you know, that’s what I’ve had for the last 27 years. We’ve known for two months . . . that Dr. Shively was taking over, and that I would be leaving. And, the last two months with patients have the most humbling and rewarding of my entire career. The patients just saying, ‘we appreciate you and love you,’ and that’s what dentistry’s all about. It’s getting to know people. . . .
“Probably half of my patients call me Dr. D., the other half call me Bill, because I go to church with them, or I’m on the school board. I’m just one of them. Particularly for these that, like the Davidsons, where I see their kids and grandkids and great grandkids, they’re really more family than they are patients. And that’s the beauty of working in a small town. When you leave the office you may see them at the grocery store, you’re going to see them at the football game, or the basketball game.”
DDSmatch Southwest Has Rural Practices Available Now
The dental practice transition specialists at DDSmatch Southwest have dental practices in rural areas in Texas and New Mexico ready for buyers. If you are looking to start your career, or are looking for a change of pace where you can own your own practice and enjoy the benefits of that ownership, take a look at our available practices.
If you are considering transitioning your practice in the next five years, we offer a free, no-obligation Practice Transition Assessment during which we’ll our experience to work for you, advising on how best to build value and get ready to transition on your terms. Contact us today.