Dr Monica O’Malley—the late bloomer

Dr Monica O’Malley
Dr Monica O’Malley took a while to open her first practice—but that meant she had a clear vision of what she wanted it to be. Photography: Eamon Gallagher

At an age when some of her colleagues were starting to plan for retirement, a Victorian dentist opened her first practice. Was it worth it? You bet! By Kerryn Ramsey

According to Dr Monica O’Malley, she’s an “accidental dentist”, thanks to her long and winding career in the profession. Now with two thriving practices in Victoria, she didn’t complete her dentistry degree until she was in her early thirties. And she was in her mid-forties when she opened her first practice. “I had a moment of clarity three years ago when I realised it was time to consolidate all of my experience and open my first practice,” explains Dr O’Malley. “I was determined to run a different business model than the typical dental or medical practice. 

“I wanted to create a business that was an authentic representation of my own values so I entered into a period of intense research, exploring alternative business models. Over time, I learnt that I wanted the business to be non-hierarchical and self-managed with minimal bureaucracy.”  

Dr O’Malley found inspiration from the conscious business movement. “Worldwide, there’s a huge range of businesses that operate with organisational structures based on trust rather than control, on freedom rather than bureaucracy. It enables a workforce to not only deliver excellent care but to enjoy levels of personal and professional satisfaction.”

Throughout 2019 and into 2020, Dr O’Malley’s aim is to transition the business into a model along these lines.

Time to expand

Dr O’Malley’s first practice, Your New Dentist, is located in Mooroolbark in the outer east of Melbourne, which is also on the fringe of the Yarra Valley. While the region is idyllic, she also realised the potential for economic growth. “Small villages are my thing, especially when working as a dentist,” she says. “And for purely selfish reasons, it’s a perfect location for me as I ride motorbikes for fun.”

The practice was an instant success, although she sees this is as “a blessing and a curse”. As she admits, “You sometimes get spread a bit thin.” 

After two years of building the business, she decided to expand by opening a second practice, this time in the country town of Yea, 100 kilometres north of Mooroolbark. It’s also an hour’s drive from Marysville—the epicentre of the tragic Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people. While Yea wasn’t affected, Dr O’Malley still recalls the tragedy that took place a decade ago.

“I lived in nearby Toolangi which was impacted. I managed to get out of Toolangi and made it to Yea. So I’ve had this strong connection with Yea ever since that night.”

After opening Your New Dentist in Yea in November 2018, she set up a roster of four dentists and a hygienist for the two practices. “I knew we’d be sailing very close to the wind to begin with but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained,” says
Dr O’Malley. 

Well and good

She has found that regular meditation is essential to maintain clarity and focus. Her interest in wellness, one especially that takes a holistic approach, was consolidated when she opened the Yea practice. The goal in Yea is to utilise the site to provide a range of services to the community. Currently, the site is home to a dental prosthetist, a massage therapist and a reiki healer. She also plans to bring visiting health specialists on a rotational basis. 

When analysing her business model, Dr O’Malley says that the key is the type of patients who are attracted to her practice. “My ideal client, to be perfectly honest, is a deeply disillusioned one. We have something really incredible to offer these patients. We spend a lot of time developing a depth of emotional intelligence around compassion.

“I was determined to run a different business model than the typical dental or medical practice. I wanted to create a business that was an authentic representation of my own values.” 

Dr Monica O’Malley, founder, Your New Dentist

“I think that’s what the public is crying out for these days. They want more connection, particularly in healthcare. They want more transparency, they want trust, and they want reliability. People want that human-to-human connection, and they want dentists they can relate to.”

Handy sources

With a big vision, Dr O’Malley needed advice from experts so she turned to other like-minded professionals. Dr O’Malley believes that maintaining independence is critical to success for small practices in the current marketplace. The Independent Dentist Network (IDN), run by Merv Saultry, provides business training for independent practice owners, guiding them on marketing, social media and advertising, and offering discounts for equipment and clinical tools.

“Monica is a perfect example of being an IDN member because she’s opened her second practice and is incredibly busy,” says Saultry, whose network currently has 66 practices on board. “She could also see that being on your own is a pretty lonely place, so having the resources of people who can help and guide you is worthwhile.”

Dr O’Malley agrees: “When you’re trying something new, it’s really good to have someone in your corner. There are so many different pressures on small businesses now. It’s important to be educated about the corporate culture and the kind of economic business pressures involved. That’s exactly what Merv does and I’m very happy to be part of the network.”

Dr O’Malley has found that IDN has been “invaluable in educating myself, but also for me to educate my team on how to field questions about health funds, how to educate clients and how to help them make different choices”.

The Mooroolbark dentist has also drawn inspiration from other innovators in the field, particularly Drs Jesse Green and Fern White. Dr Green’s podcasts have inspired Dr O’Malley, as has Dr White’s online course, Practice Your Passion, which covers techniques to deal with emptiness, expansion and communication. 

“A traditional view of work can sometimes have us feeling mundane and purposeless,” says Dr O’Malley. “But when we’re in complete alignment with our work, we touch people with our words, energy and actions each day. And that feels great!”

Head and heart

Dr O’Malley first dabbled in the dental field after finishing high school in 1990 and “fell into a job as a dental assistant. I had agonising shyness complete with a ’90s spiral perm,” she says laughing. Before too long, she graduated as a dental therapist in 1993, working at Community Health Services in NSW, followed by getting her dentistry degree—with honours—at the University of Sydney in 2003.

“I became a dentist because I really enjoy helping people,” says Dr O’Malley. “I find myself very privileged to do what I do. When a patient has deep distress, I can do something for them, which I find virtually effortless. It’s very satisfying to make a contribution.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide range of people in the industry and in some interesting locations. I’m really grateful for that because it’s given me a wide range of skills in the industry.”

Real satisfaction

After spending her career working as a dental nurse, therapist and dentist, Dr O’Malley has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to hiring, managing and motivating her staff. To utilise her knowledge, she runs continuing professional development courses for her team. This includes a two-day off-site course each year to “help them understand the importance of personal development in bringing the best version of themselves to work”. 

Her courses have been so visionary, she won the ADAVB BOQ Specialist CPD Practice Bursary in 2016. “I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to building a team that’s dedicated to the practice,” says Dr O’Malley. 

Dr Monica O’Malley (and staff) want to build a business based on trust and freedom rather than control and bureaucracy.

“There’s no 100 per cent utopian workplace, but I think I’ve got a pretty bloody good crew.”

Apart from managing two busy practices, she’s dedicated to building social consciousness—being aware of problems that affect many people in society. She’s found that community work has been rewarding for the whole team, which includes volunteer work and support for local organisations and community groups.

Next year marks Dr O’Malley’s 30th year in the dental industry. With two practices up and running, a dedicated team, an involvement with community work, and a bit of time to go motorcycling when she’s away from the office, she has come a long way since her early days as a young dental nurse. “Going forward, I’m determined that my legacy will be a ‘conscious’ business that not only delivers positive health outcomes but embodies nothing less than the timeless principles of positivity, collaboration, abundance, generosity and reciprocity.” 

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