Start building your brand as a dentist even before you open your office. Your dental persona travels with you regardless of where you practice and if it’s already established, patients will follow you both inside and outside of the operatory.
As a part of my interview series with prominent medical professionals about “How To Grow Your Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Brigitte White Zivkovic, D.M.D.
A native of Philadelphia, Dr. Brigitte White Zivkovic received her dental degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine after completing her undergraduate education at Princeton University, where she majored in public policy and international affairs.
Dr. White, as affectionately called by patients, has been in practice for over a decade and has experience in private practice, public health at Mary’s Center for Maternal Care, and also worked as a provider for the U.S. Army in Germany.
Always a student of science discovery, Dr. White published research on Olfaction and Gustatory Function in the Annals of Neurology and she speaks both English and Spanish. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her family and writing. She is the author of the young adult fiction novel All-American as well as a collection of Oral Care Children’s Books, which are available at Amazon.com, and she provides smile tips for all parts of life on her blog brightwhitesbydrwhite.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Dentistry is my third career. I wasn’t a science major in college and before venturing into the health sciences, I held positions as a newspaper columnist and as a contract coordinator at MTV Networks. Also, unlike many of my colleagues whose parents, siblings or spouses are also dentists, I am the first family member to go into dental medicine. It was the support of my family, however, that helped me to successfully transition into healthcare. My first step was obtaining a position as a medical research assistant, which gave me the opportunity to work alongside hospital dentists and oral surgeons, and introduced me to the wonders of providing care.
What made you want to start your own practice?
I have been so fortunate to have practiced dentistry in a variety of settings including private practice, public health at a maternal care center, and stationed abroad on a US military base in Germany. Those experiences helped me to develop and strengthen my clinical skills. However, ultimately my desire to be my own boss and have control over my business model inspired me to open a solo practice.
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage(d) both roles?
Business ownership is one of the cornerstones of the dental profession with solo practitioners traditionally being most popular but when you own the business you’re always working even when the last patient has left and the office is closed. Everything from scheduling, filing insurance claims, ordering supplies, and maintaining safety standards is your responsibility. Also, there are taxing challenges associated with running a business in a digital era with the high patient demands for availability, modern finishes, and swift transactions. Teaming up with my husband, Aleksandar, as a business partner has really been a great asset in my practice model. His affinity for management allows me to focus on clinical care while keeping our shared vision intact.
As a business owner, how do you know when to stop working IN your business (maybe see a full patient load) and shift to working ON your business?
Dental production is certainly the financial engine of the business but as I’ve learned through developing my dental persona via social media, branding and marketing are crucial gears in entrepreneurship. Dentistry is a physically demanding job and providing high volumes of patient care can indeed become challenging. Designing content for social media as a tool for patient education can dual as a lucrative marketing strategy, which allows me to step back from my role as a clinician while incorporating my creativity into the practice.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
Swimming competitively for 10 years helped prepare me for many of life’s challenges academic, social, and professional. In high school, I had to learn how to manage my time in order to complete academic assignments while meeting training requirements. Endurance in athletics definitely transferred into energy to help get through the exhausting nights of studying in dental school and is also essential for long days at the practice. Persistence is also a virtue that competing taught me. As the first of my family to attend dental school, I did not know what to expect and admittedly, I had to adjust my study habits to satisfy multiple-choice sequences, which was in great contrast to the long writing assignments that assessed my undergraduate studies of public policy and international affairs. I used to record lectures on my own, which gave me an added opportunity to review material as I typed up my notes at home, and also allowed me really absorb the instructors live remarks while in class.
What are your “5 Things You Need to Know to Grow Your Private Practice” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Start building your brand as a dentist even before you open your office. Your dental persona travels with you regardless of where you practice and if it’s already established, patients will follow you both inside and outside of the operatory.
2. Don’t be afraid to be innovative and authentic. There is more diversity in dentistry than ever. More women are practicing and the traditional image of the dentist has evolved. The oral care market is also catering ever more to the consumer patient. I have implemented a Smile Box checklist with my patients that really gives me the chance to talk about home care and offer product suggestions that can help them maintain their best smile.
3. Join dental study clubs and find ways to interact with other providers regularly. Dentistry is traditionally very isolating and it’s not only beneficial for your social well-being but also provides a setting for the sharing of ideas that you can take back to your practice.
4. Take mini-vacations. In the first few years of practice ownership, you may find it impossible to really take a proper break. Even one sick day translates to no production and quite possibly missed income for your team. My husband, son, and I recently took a long holiday weekend trip to Cancun that really helped us refuel our engines.
5. Shop around before you buy materials and equipment. The high cost of overhead often makes running an office a very expensive undertaking. However, there is a wide array of dental vendors and manufacturers. So, it pays to really take the time to read the scientific studies and product reviews, and shop around for good deals.
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
One of the best things about being a dental provider is the fact that every person you meet is a potential patient whether for a routine maintenance cleaning, pain and emergency, or comprehensive care. A patient who has arrived in my chair is seeking care and it is my duty and responsibility to offer the best treatment options for a healthy outcome. I educate and inform but ultimately the patient must make a decision that suits his or her lifestyle goals.
What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?
I commit to gym workouts in the mornings before work that include cardio and strength-building exercises. This is my time to invest in myself, my family, and my patients. It also gives me a chance to reflect. Even if I have a challenging patient visit or a long day up ahead, my daily workout is a great jump start.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career — None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
My late father was both a supportive and strategic mentor in every aspect of my life. He was always encouraging and helpful as I searched for the career that best suited my strengths and personality. He believed in me and advocated for strong resources to help me achieve my goals. His best piece of advice was to keep my nose to the grindstone even when the tides were rough. Even though he worked in accounting and not healthcare, he always pushed me to follow my dreams. This was true when I interviewed with MTV Networks as a graduating college senior, when I chose to leave the music industry and transition into healthcare, and most significantly when I decided to launch my Dr. Brigitte White brand with the publication of my Children’s Books. My father passed away earlier this year after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease but I can still feel him rooting for me to continue to follow my passions and assert my creative side into my professional role.
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
The Journal of the American Dental Association, Dentaltown.com, and Dental Economics magazine have been great resources for me as a practice owner. There are also countless Facebook groups and local study clubs that continue to help guide me as practitioner.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
Once I made the decision to apply to dental school, I faced the hurdle of accepting responsibility for the high cost of dental education. The numbers were indeed daunting and a few people, including an older sibling of a dear friend who was actually in medical school at the time, tried to discourage me from embarking on the journey. He argued that with the growing changes and stresses of the healthcare industry, practicing in this millennium wouldn’t likely yield a good return on the financial investment, explicitly the overwhelming amount of student loan debt. Now, as a seasoned provider, I can testify that the rewards of dentistry are far greater than the financial aspects and there is no numerical value that matches the ability to help patients everyday improve their quality of life.
Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you.
Michelle Obama’s latest memoir “Becoming” has greatly inspired me as a woman, mother, and professional. Mrs. Obama’s ability to defy expectations, challenge norms, and maintain grace and style, even in the face of adversity, is remarkably compelling.
Where can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow my blog www.drbrigittewhite.com for inspirational and educational smile tips on all parts of life from health and beauty to overall wellness. Connect with me @drbrigittewhite on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.