Many people believe that clinicians don’t make good business people. This statement has always bothered us — we believe operating a dental practice is about teamwork, making quality decisions, knowing when to lead and understanding when to follow.  
Some people think operating a dental department within a federally qualified health center (FQHC) is easier than within a private practice. In reality, it depends on the FQHC and the private practice being compared. 
In our work, there are five areas we focus on that can help to develop your business skills in a FQHC setting: 
  1. Budget: We work closely with our CEO and CFO in developing our departmental budget. An accurate budget for the upcoming fiscal year is critical to the success of the department. If your budget is not accurate, it’s less likely you will meet budgeted expectations, leading to insufficient revenue. If you overachieve what was budgeted, that could be seen as a positive — but if this is significant, you missed the opportunity to budget for critical spending. 
  2. Support Staff: Is your current staffing at the appropriate levels? Too many or too few could be equally devastating. Too many will drain the budget and cause a level of unproductivity because the staff will be continuously idle and more difficult to supervise. Too few staff will leave the department drained and exhausted because of the workload. Understanding the appropriate staffing is a result of understanding the tasks that you are expecting your staff to achieve.
  3. Busy vs. Productive: Understand the difference, because they are not the same. Being busy but not productive is a recipe for disaster. In our world, busy means viewing the practice in terms of visits, with a disconnect as to much how much dentistry is produced. Productive is when your patients are seen, their needs are met and quality dentistry is produced.
  4. Provider Buy-in: Are your providers on board with the budget for the upcoming year? Do they understand what it will take for the year to be a financial success? Provider buy-in will improve the culture of your department while improving their dedication to their work and to your department’s mission and goals.
  5. Revenue: Understanding what and who generates revenue in your practice will help you to invest in areas where you will see the greatest return on investment.


This list could be tripled and still not take into account half of the decisions that are juggled by most dental directors. However, using this as a starting point can definitely give a solid foundation for quality decision-making. If you approach your CEO and CFO and let them know you want to better develop these business skills, they will eagerly help. They will see that you have the desire to learn their language.
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