By Charles Friedman
As a National Geographic documentary producer, I have had the opportunity to see the world, weave between cultures, and meet many extraordinary individuals. Currently I am working on a documentary for the Florida Department of Education which will be shown to high school students throughout the state. This particular presentation is career oriented with a heavy focus on leadership skills and innovation. Eleven careers were chosen and Dentistry was one of them.
The essence of leadership, which is the core of the documentary, is the combination of personality, integrity, setting a consistent standard, and the ability to motivate and inspire your staff. Yet it is important to convey to these future leaders that an individual who exhibits these traits is still not guaranteed that the end results will be positive. We had to find a common thread among leaders that wasn’t just success.
The common thread between all eleven leaders chosen for the documentary was vision, which takes courage and there are still no guarantees. Vision means thinking outside the box, it means change, and it means taking chances and that’s why our dentist of choice was Dr. Vincent Dolce of Palm Beach County.
But beyond just a documentary, I thought that his own profession would be interested in knowing more about him. I found him to be exceptional. My first indication that Dr. Dolce was unique was when I learned he hosted a weekly radio show throughout southern Florida. He actually brings on other dentists to educate the public about the future of dentistry and the health risks if you do not take care of your oral health. He pays for the show out of his own pocket and he does not take any sponsorship, nor does he run any commercials. This humane gesture revealed to me the caliber of his character. It’s the manner in which he thinks, the manner in the way he acts, the manner in the way he talks, and the manner in which people respond to him. He is a man of dignity, and substance. But dignity and substance are still no guarantees of success.
As I was proceeding with my documentary I was also being introduced to the Dolce philosophy of Dentistry. It was most reassuring that Dr. Dolce turned out to be who I thought he was. When I asked him if I could write this article knowing that I would be giving away certain business techniques, I was fully expecting to receive his approval but not really sure. He was not protective of his techniques in the least and there was no hesitation, he wants every dentist to get the most joy, satisfaction, and financial gain out of the profession that can be achieved. A great deal of his personality is his passion for people to succeed, as well as his lightning quick sense of humor. What made a significant impact on me was his ability to captivate other dentists during a lecture. Although Dr. Dolce is only 51 years old, other dentists approach him with the awe of approaching an ancient Zen dentistry master. These other dentists are curious about his approach because Dr. Dolce has noticeably doubled his income and is expanding his business while many are trying to keep theirs alive. He developed training programs that improve the efficiency of the hygienist, treatment coordinator, dental assistant, and receptionist. After a few of his industry friends saw his numbers start to increase he developed a series of training modules so that dentists could be smarter and better business people.
Dr. Dolce’s business sense of dentistry can be broken down into roles which even include the environment. The roles are divided between the staff and the atmosphere.
When you walk into Dr. Dolce’s West Palm Beach, Fl office it appears like any other dental office. However, beyond the reception area, sequestered yet not obtrusive, is a room that felt more like an elegant showroom than a dental office. This room would make George Lucas envious, and it was done at very little expense.
That is another aspect of Dr. Dolce’s business sense. It is part photography gallery, part exhibit hall, part high technology – with all the elegance of a museum setting.
“This room has more than paid for itself,” Dr. Dolce explained. “As I’m explaining how each patient (whose before and after pictures appear) benefited from taking their oral health seriously, I’m also educating the patient on how their oral health is integrated into their overall health.”
When someone is in the consulting room, they can be taken on a pathway to possible consequences of neglecting their oral health. This one room opens up a whole new line of dialog with his patients. Instead of reacting to the dentist’s office in a negative way, they now begin to understand the dentist and his office as a proactive approach to their health.
“That is the beginning of a new form of relationship between a dentist and his patients.” Dr. Dolce told me.
How is that new relationship best defined? Dr. Dolce and his staff continually educate a patient of the correlation between their overall health and their oral health. This is accomplished in a genuine and sincere matter-of-fact nature that the patients are 100% attentive to. Dr. Dolce’s training initiates the patient to inquire and investigate what they need to be healthier and happier. Empowering the patient is a major first step; a dentist’s office has to make money to prosper.
Dr. Dolce reminded me of a typical visit to the dentist – put the patient in the chair, take x-rays, and diagnose what they need. What they don’t do is energize and inspire the patient to be proactive in taking care of their oral health. “That’s not what they teach you in college. They don’t teach you the psychology of dentistry, they teach you the mechanics. There is a psychology of dentistry, there is a philosophy of dentistry, and there is a business of dentistry,” he said.
The next phase is the human element phase. This is where teamwork and training comes into play. Dr. Dolce assembled a team of training specialists which included curriculum developers from the United States Navy, Harvard University, and the Department of Justice. He wanted to develop interactive training modules that challenged and educated every one of his employees to meet the individual needs of every patient. These interactive training modules are the basis for his expansion initiative. His goal was to increase his gross amount considerably without depending on new patients as his only source of growth. To Dr. Dolce’s satisfaction, the training method worked.
An x-ray machine is an x-ray machine is an x-ray machine, but the dialog between the person taking the x-rays and the patient does not have to be the typical conversation. Dr. Dolce’s training teaches his staff a new way to communicate with the patients. Basically Dr. Dolce believes that the lifeline of successful dentistry is education in communication with the patients. Dr. Dolce also believes that every patient should be secure in the fact that his staff has listened to them.
Since I was producing a documentary, his patients that participated had all agreed to be on camera. My original thoughts were to observe the doctor and his leadership skills and the patients were just props. However, as I was seeing and experiencing his philosophy I really became curious about what the patients thought of their interaction with him. So before he even started working with them I started asking patients what they thought about their introduction to the doctor.
Everyone felt that this was a person who could be trusted. I did not know exactly what that meant until the next phase. The next phase as you probably know is the reviewing of the treatment plan. I did not even really realize what was happening or the impact that the doctor training modules had had. I learned through a conversation at lunch with his treatment coordinator.
The treatment coordinator said, “I have worked for three other dentists before Dr. Dolce. I have never experienced patients so willing to pay for their dental health and so willing to be proactive about their dental health as here in Dr. Dolce’s office. Usually there is a wall of resistance as soon as you explain the costs of dental work. People are not usually proactive about oral health, but the way Dr. Dolce has trained us in explaining their dental needs has them lower their resistance.”
Dr. Dolce invited me to attend a lecture that was being given for dentists in his region. It focused on the restorative phase of implants. I went because I wanted to talk to other dentists and see how they interacted with their patients. What I learned and overheard was that most of these dentists were there to learn how to make more money.
I asked him about this as we were heading back to his office. He said, “Most dentists don’t look at their office or their office procedures as a combination of trained staff and bedside manner. They expect their staff to bill properly and know the techniques as well as the sterile parts of dentistry, but really they expect their staff to be already trained to be business oriented.” The most unique difference being that Dr. Dolce inadvertently reaps the rewards of a high volume of the most expensive and most productive dental procedures such as veneers, implants, and total reconstruction through a highly trained staff, an aesthetic environment, and personal attitude.
I would like to leave you with an excerpt from one of Dr. Dolce’s speaking engagements to a local group of high school students:
“The future of dentistry could never be brighter. With the aging of the baby boomers, and the population in general, plus the cosmetic revolution, not to mention the direct health connection between the mouth and the body, the business of dentistry is perfectly positioned to make any dentist a millionaire. However, if you do not have passion, if you do not consider the patient an individual and a treasure, and you only enter the field of dentistry to make money you will be disappointed. Dentistry is a competitive field. The business sense of dentistry is not a course that is offered in college. The business sense of dentistry is developing a highly trained staff, providing an education and vision to the patient, and nourishing and maintaining the patients trust.”
Chuck Friedman is a former executive producer for National Geographic Television. Mr. Friedman has worked as a video producer/director for a long list of companies and government agencies that include the United States Army and Navy, State of Florida, U.S.D.A., St. John’s University, Michelin, Minolta, Pony Shoes, United Way, the Air Force, Drug Free America, Major League Baseball, DuPont and many others. Mr. Friedman is also well known for developing effective multimedia training programs, and for providing marketing and strategy consultation for a wide variety of clients.