2020 was a year that changed the lives of almost every person in the world. The COVID pandemic forced us all to "shelter in place" and put our lives on hold. But for me, the pandemic was not the only thing that turned my life around.
I am from the Philippines and grew up there and in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Singapore. I earned my undergraduate Bachelor's degree in Biology and a Minor in Commerce from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. In 2016, I came to the US to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a dentist, and I attended the University of Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.
As I started practicing dentistry as an associate in a practice, I learned that to provide the best care to my patients, I had to own my own practice. As a practice owner, I could control how the practice ran, the level of individualized care provided to patients and the quality of my dental team.
In 2020, not only did the world shut down, but I found out that I did not get my H1B Visa. The H1B visa is a work visa that is granted to qualified individuals seeking to work in the U.S. It is a lottery system and so no matter how qualified I am or the fact that I went to graduate dental school in the U.S, it is all based on luck. I remember crying when I found out I was not chosen. But after much reflection and the support of my family, I realized that as the H1B visa door closes, the practice ownership door opens. It was at that moment that I realized that it was time to pursue my goal and make the leap to buying a practice at the age of 25- I can stay in the country and I can pursue my goal of being a business owner. Starting a dental practice is no easy feat, and starting a dental practice during a worldwide pandemic in San Francisco is even harder. I am writing this blog to share my story about how passionate I am about dentistry and my practice, and I hope it inspires you that, with the right mindset and work ethic, you can achieve anything.
Buying a practice is like buying a house. You need to do your due diligence and inspect everything. Unfortunately, I was naïve and desperate to lock down the price and close the sale. All I knew was that it was the only dental practice available for sale in downtown San Francisco and the dental equipment was fairly new. After buying the practice, I was faced with poorly maintained equipment, unstocked supplies, and issues with software and technology. Additionally, after going through the previous practice's patient base, I realized that there were much less active than what was disclosed to me. A lot of patients in the system were inactive or hadn't been in for a very long time. How was I going to get patients in the middle of a pandemic when half of the San Francisco workforce left the city? On top of that, I had to deal with staffing issues, having inherited most of the staff from the previous owner. Eventually, I would have to find and rebuild a team that I trusted, had a great work ethic, were willing to work for someone who so young, and made up of good, morally kind people. I also had to learn how dental insurance and dental billing worked, which they do not teach you in dental school. So I had to read books and take online classes on it. These challenges were just a few that I experienced and had to overcome, all while practicing dentistry and experiencing the clinical challenges dentistry entails.
It took late nights, lost weekends, no days off, a strong mind and faith to overcome those challenges and obstacles to build my practice to what it is today.
I knew that fixing and upgrading the equipment and technology were extremely important as these are what helps us provide top service. I used up my working capital to fix everything as fast as I could, working with dental equipment companies and sales reps. I would go into the office on the weekends and evenings to organize the office, throw out old supplies, and do what I could to make the office “me”. I would research into how dental insurance works in my “free time” and hired a dental billing company to do all my dental billing to ensure that my practice stays on top of our dental insurance billing. By doing this, I could ensure that we are helping our patients bill their claims for them and avoid any patient miscommunication related to billing. I made my own website using Wix and used my own photos to make it as aesthetic and user friendly as possible. I even hired my cousin in the Philippines to do the graphic design on it! I did my research on how to make the website search work well and how to run google ads. I scoured job applications, going through so many interviews to find my perfect team. I knew that if I continued to be myself and to show who I am and how passionate I am about dentistry, I could find the right people who shared the same values as me. Once I addressed these main issues, I knew that my dentistry and the care I provide to patients would attract more patients and that my team would continue to work better together to provide the best dental care.
The biggest challenge a dental practice faces is getting patients. I address this by always treating every patient like they are my family member. That means providing them with the best customer service and recommending them and providing the best and comprehensive treatment to ensure they have the best oral health and ALWAYS doing the right thing. I also know that patients appreciate dentists who listen to them, explain treatment options, and provide compassionate care. I am so passionate about wanting everyone to care about their teeth and have the best teeth and gum health; that passion translates to my work and to my team. And by taking this approach with each patient, most new patients come from referrals of my existing patients.
Just like any successful business or startup, having a great product or service is one of the main keys to success. In my dental practice, the product is the quality of dentistry that I provide and the service is the care and experience my team and I provide to our patients. I know that if I continue to perfect my craft and lead my team, I can continue to grow my practice and be able to serve and help more and more people.
At the end of the day, there have been so many challenges along the way and mistakes that I have made. I continue to face challenges daily, whether it is staff moving on to a new career, patients moving away from San Francisco, or just the general stress of dentistry. However, with the right mindset, I am able to persevere. The mindset that with every mistake, I have to always be aware of how I made the mistake and how I can learn from it. The mindset that no matter how hard or stressful it gets, that I have the strength and faith in myself to find a way to overcome. The mindset to always show the people who support me, like my family and my ME Dental team, love, appreciation, and kindness. And the mindset that as long as I continue to the right thing and always do my best, as a dentist, as an employer, and as a person, that everything will always work out.
I want to encourage anyone who may be facing a daunting challenge to never give up on their dreams. It may not be easy, but with determination, hard work, and a positive attitude, anything is possible. If you're interested in dental care or have been putting off going to the dentist, I urge you to prioritize your oral health and make an appointment with a trusted dentist in your area. And if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, I would be honored to have you as a patient at my practice. Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and I hope it has inspired you to pursue your own passions and goals.