Dr Sarah Dan at face value

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Dr Sarah Dan

Running two orthodontic practices in different states is a challenge at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. But Dr Sarah Dan and her teams are navigating any hurdles thanks to a laser-like focus on values and an insistence on strong systems, protocols and relationships. By Cameron Cooper

Orthodontist Dr Sarah Dan relies on a simple but powerful philosophy that has been the key to her professional success. 

“If you create a beautiful garden, butterflies will come to it, and I’ve tried to do that with both of my practices,” says Dr Dan, founder of Specialty Orthodontics in Adelaide and partner of Menai Orthodontics in Sydney.

With this philosophy in mind, Dr Dan has set out a clear vision and values for her businesses. 

On a daily basis, this translates into providing the highest quality of care while creating meaningful connections with staff and patients, all the while providing supportive workplaces in which all employees know the practices’ values and help foster happy, positive and collaborative environments (see panel).

“I model our values and lead by example,” Dr Dan says. For instance, she expects her staff to take pride in their work and treat patients and each other just as they would like to be treated. “I am more than happy to help my team to be the best version of themselves, but they need to be open-minded, accept feedback and have a positive attitude to life and work.” 

Dr Dan has no doubt that such values and expectations have resulted in recruitment and retention benefits for the two practices, in addition to greater patient loyalty.  “I feel very strongly that a happy team will make the patient journey so much more enjoyable,” Dr Dan says.  

Forging relationships

A productive business partnership since 2011 with Menai Orthodontics founder Dr Michael Counsel, her former orthodontic tutor, typifies Dr Dan’s approach to life and work. 

Together, the pair have grown the Sydney practice on the back of Dr Counsel’s considerable experience and patient goodwill, in addition to Dr Dan’s clinical expertise and ability to implement robust business, treatment and patient protocols.

“For me, it’s all about the patients,” says Dr Dan, who describes herself as a “‘details girl, in a good way’. We want to provide not just up-to-date treatment options, but integrate measures that make the orthodontic experience better for the patients and allow the team to deliver  seamless customer service and care.”

I say to prospective staff that I can teach you the technical skills, but I can’t teach you your attitude. You can be the best dental therapist or the best dental assistant, but if your attitude is closed-minded and negative it won’t work.

Dr Sarah Dan, founder, Speciality Orthodonics

She praises Dr Counsel’s open-mindedness, lack of ego and a willingness to explore different business approaches. “I’m lucky in that sense because he’s willing to let go and be open to the innovations I bring to the business.”

While the Sydney and Adelaide practices have adopted relevant new digital and artificial intelligence trends such as remote monitoring and consultations, Dr Dan still believes one-on-one engagement with patients is at the heart of their success. 

Staff are also encouraged to grow through additional training, diplomas and courses so they can be at their best. 

Surviving COVID-19

Running two practices across two states happened over time. After studying general dentistry in Adelaide, Dr Dan moved to Sydney where she specialised in orthodontics, and along the way joined Dr Counsel as an orthodontist at the Menai practice.

However, after living in Sydney for 12 years and having two children, Dr Dan and her husband opted to relocate to Adelaide. At this point she opened the doors to Specialty Orthodontics and juggled her time between the two practices. With both businesses performing well, the road ahead looked smooth.

Then COVID-19 hit, leading to issues around lockdowns and travel restrictions between South Australia and NSW. Dr Dan’s response? To be agile and adaptive. To accept that plans change. To manage the practices and their teams differently, as required. 

While the unknowns around the pandemic have been disruptive, Dr Dan says the support of Dr Counsel—who has stepped in to treat her Sydney patients during border closures—has underlined the value of strong business relationships. “He just did that so willingly and I’ll be forever grateful for that,” she says.

Some other positives have also emerged from the pandemic, including being more flexible with administrative staff, embracing working from home and shifting away from a traditional 8am-5pm employment model. 

I really find it rewarding when I see the change in confidence in both young and older patients. What a privilege it is to work with people on that level.

Dr Sarah Dan, founder, Speciality Orthodonics

On professional and personal levels, mother-of-two Dr Dan has never been more conscious of the loyalty of her patients, her staff and the love and support of her family.

Changing lives

Despite the challenges of the past few years, one thing has not changed for Dr Dan—her passion for orthodontics and the chance to change people’s lives through better smiles. “I couldn’t think of a better job. I really enjoy the human aspect of it and being able to see that transformation in patients.”

Whether the patient is eight or 80 years, a great smile can improve their confidence and opportunities. For Dr Dan, the aim is to get patients to realise their “smile goals and therefore help them achieve their life goals”.

She cites the case of one patient, a senior executive in a large firm, who had felt that his reluctance to smile had been alienating him from millennial workers. With orthodontic treatment, he went from looking unhappy and grumpy to appearing friendly and welcoming. “I really find it rewarding when I see the change in confidence in both young and older patients,” Dr Dan says. “What a privilege it is to work with people on that level.”

To showcase the power of orthodontics and debunk any myths, Dr Dan has also published a book, titled So Smile!, which addresses the “confusion, concern and catastrophes around orthodontic treatment”. It also underlines the importance of early interceptive treatment which is so important for children, in particular.  

In her typical fast-paced style, Dr Dan did not waste time with the book—setting aside a week in a hotel free of interruptions to deliver the original draft. “I’d stay there all day and do my writing and come home in the evening. I knew that if I didn’t do it in a week that it would never happen.” 

The rationale for the book stems from frustration at continually speaking with parents at school sports or around playgrounds and realising that most people were ill-informed when it comes to orthodontic treatments. They would inevitably ask the same questions about the orthodontic process based on outdated myths. “And I knew that if they had better knowledge through a book that they’d make better decisions for themselves and their children,” Dr Dan explains.

Balancing twin tasks

As 2022 unfolds and the pandemic drags on, Dr Dan plans to keep enjoying the dual rewards of business and family life.  

She knows one does not come without the other. “Success is not just having a great business. If my kids are not thriving and the family is falling apart, that’s not success,” she observes. “True success for me is a balance of all aspects of life.”

She also appreciates that strong relationships and connections will continue to be crucial in all aspects of her existence. As she says: “I run my own race, but I also enjoy seeing other people’s success. I am happy for people to be the best they can be whether it is one of my staff, my patients, a colleague, a friend, or a family member. This forms the basis of good relationships for me.” 


Vision and values

Clarity of purpose has been crucial to the running of Dr Sarah Dan’s two orthodontic practices. 

For instance, the Specialty Orthodontics practice in Adelaide has a clear vision: “To give every single patient the confidence to live their life to the fullest.” Likewise, staff know they have a mission “to provide the highest level of individualised orthodontic care in a genuinely caring environment for every patient, every day”. 

The glue for those vision and mission statements are the values that staff embrace at work. They call for: 

  • A happy, positive and energetic workplace,
  • A drive to be at the forefront of their profession,
  • A commitment to always do their best and be open to change and continual learning,
  • A collaborative, supportive and cohesive team environment,
  • Open and honest communication with each other and with patients,
  • Taking constructive feedback on board.

Dr Dan says she is willing to call out employees on the rare occasions that the values are being ignored. “I’m not one of those people who sweeps it under the carpet. If there’s something happening that could be improved, I will address it and it’s usually based on our values.”

Every month, a team member is given the task of bringing the values of the practice to the forefront. That could be in the form of an inspirational quote for the day, or a new idea that is adopted that showcases the values to live and work by. 

The approach has an impact on recruitment and the setting of work expectations. “I say to prospective staff that I can teach you the technical skills, but I can’t teach you your attitude,” Dr Dan says. “You can be the best dental therapist or the best dental assistant, but if your attitude is closed-minded and negative it won’t work.”

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