Married to the job

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Married dentists at workWhen a married couple runs a practice together, they get to build the business as a team but do they have a life outside the office? Kerryn Ramsey reports.

Choosing to run a dental practice with your spouse has many advantages for the business and the relationship. Overall, both partners are on the same page—they are co-workers in the office and partners after work. They have a chance to utilise their managerial and entrepreneurial skills and after all, who cares more about the business than your spouse?

The married couple—which may be two principal dentists, a dentist and practice manager, or a dentist and hygienist—are the ultimate decision makers and share core values and visions. Principal dentist Dr Eric Asis and practice manager Rachel Asis, who run Lake Macquarie Dental Practice in New South Wales, first met when working at McDonald’s. “We were the bosses then and we are now!” says Rachel.

She explains that managing a fast-food restaurant taught them valuable skills, such as rostering, tracking margins, managing challenging customers, delegation and “most of all, how to enjoy your job.”

After opening the practice in 2009, the couple was unsurprised to discover they have a perfect synergy. “It’s really good to know that there’s someone who completely gets what you’re thinking and who’ll back you up every time,” says Rachel. “We can talk about complex issues after work, both positive and negative, and discussing things outside of the work environment helps put things into perspective.”

“It’s important to change your mental state, especially if things are stressful or you’ve had a demanding day. You have to learn to let things go and focus on home life.” – Rachel Asis, Lake Macquarie Dental Practice

Their partnership allows Eric to concentrate solely on the dentistry while Rachel manages the front office, which encompasses scheduling, employees, payroll, patients, repairs and equipment, as well as input into more efficient practice-management techniques.

“It can be challenging to be the employer when a staff member is going through a significant life event, but we try our best to treat our staff with the same respect and compassion we would want to receive,” says Rachel. “Our staff are loyal to us but confident enough to say what they think and offer their ideas to help our practice grow and improve.”

Foundation for the business

Running a successful dental practice requires outstanding dentistry, financial skills and an entrepreneurial approach. It can be lonely for an over-worked owner/principal dentist, particularly if your partner doesn’t understand what’s involved. When married dentists run a practice, however, the relationship is a big advantage for the business.

Drs Jelena Vlacic-Zischke and Andrew Zischke met when studying dentistry at University of Queensland in 1998, were married in 2008, and took ownership of Grange Road Dental Group in Ipswich, 40 kilometres west of Brisbane, in 2014. “Running your own practice consumes large amounts of your time so having a partner who’s supportive, understanding and able to share the workload is invaluable,” says Jelena. “Years of experience have given us the same vision and drive. Our strong personal relationship forms the foundation upon which our business relationship works. There’s unconditional trust.”

Utilising their individual strengths, the principal dentists have successfully implemented new business ideas with a minimum of fuss. “It’s imperative to have a very good level of communication as a couple,” she explains.

Interestingly, Jelena says she has found that patients feel more relaxed and confident when the practice is run by married dentists.

“Through our stories, they feel they know both of us equally well, even if they have only been seeing one of us for treatment,” she adds.

“It also means that if either one of us is away at any given time, our patients are extremely comfortable to see the other person.”

Sharing knowledge

Another Queensland couple, Drs Steven and Alice Liu, who run Birkdale Dental Practice in Brisbane’s outskirts, have found it inevitable that they share details of each other’s cases. “Since we run a small family practice, we often discuss cases, sharing dental knowledge and experiences,” says Steven. “As we share a philosophy, it’s easy to implement things of which we both approve.”

Steven graduated at University of Queensland in 2001, while Alice completed her Bachelor of Bio Technology two years later in Sydney. She then moved to Brisbane to complete her dental science degree at University of Queensland in 2010. After meeting at a group gathering then taking part in dental charity work for Tzu-Chi Buddhist Compassion Foundation, they married in 2007 and took ownership of Birkdale Dental Practice in 2009.

“It’s very easy for us to communicate,” says Steven who works full-time while Alice works part-time to be the main carer of their two children. The flexibility appeals to the principal dentists as it means that either—or both—of them can participate in kids’ events as well as taking part in continued education courses.

The downside

While running a business together has many positive aspects, it can be hard to separate the work relationship from personal dealings since it involves so much time together.

Steven admits that since they both run the practice, it’s difficult to have a family holiday. “We’ve found that two weeks is the maximum amount of time,” he says. “If we need to go away longer, then we’d have to employ a locum dentist.”

It can also be difficult to switch off after hours. Drs Jelena Vlacic-Zischke and Andrew Zischke make a conscious effort to put work matters aside and spend family time with their two sons, aged six and five. “We have many interests outside of dentistry which we enjoy with our boys, and that’s our most treasured time,” says Jelena. “We’ve found that working together as a team and supporting each other only strengthens you as a couple.”

Dr Eric Asis and his wife Rachel also make an effort to spend time together away from work, although she admits it’s hard to stop talking shop.

“It’s important to change your mental state, especially if things are stressful or you’ve had a demanding day. You have to learn to let things go and focus on home life. It’s also important to spend quality time with our children,” says Rachel who’s about to have their fifth child in November.

Eric has found that having his wife as practice manager means he’s been able to concentrate more on the dentistry. “She’s not affected by the emotional side of dealing with the clinical aspect of the practice,” he says. “But in saying that, she does support and re-enforce any clinical-related decision that we make. The patients also relate well to her and can confidently voice their concerns, knowing it will be handled well since she’s the owner/manager.

“To be honest, the whole business would suffer if Rachel was not here to support me and the staff members. I would not have it any other way.”

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