Growth amid the pandemic and beyond: 3 DSO leaders weigh in

Three leaders from large U.S. dental support organizations shared recruiting and growth strategies with Becker's as the pandemic continues to alter the dental industry.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Pat Bauer, president and CEO of Heartland Dental (Effingham, Ill.)

What growth and acquisition has occurred in 2020?
Heartland Dental has experienced record growth of newly supported practices despite the pandemic. We have welcomed more than 50 single practice affiliations this year to date with additional double-digit opportunities expected as we finish 2020. Having exceeded our 2020 pre-COVID earnings expectations by 30+ percent (excluding March and April), and because of the confidence of our stakeholders and investors, we were able to complete a large capital raise in recent months. As a result, Heartland Dental is well poised for future growth.

What growth plans are in place for 2021?
As we make our way through a constantly changing environment, we feel there is no limit to Heartland Dental's growth. In continuing our mission to support dentists and their teams as they deliver the highest-quality dental care and experiences to the communities they serve, we are experiencing an increased interest from doctors looking to grow their practice, gain management relief, transition into retirement, achieve healthier work-life balance or simply connect with a community of like-minded dentists.

Just as we have seen in other aspects of the healthcare industry — pharmacies, for example — the complexity and escalating expense of opening a solo dental practice means other options, including being supported by a DSO, are becoming increasingly attractive. And that’s where Heartland Dental steps in.

How has the pandemic changed the recruiting process?
Many solo practitioners are suddenly realizing the value of community and security during times of uncertainty. I believe these two needs are near the top of the list for dentists who are seeking more information about affiliating with a DSO this year. Dentists need to feel the support and encouragement of their colleagues. Within Heartland, our supported doctors are not in competition with each other; on the contrary, they help each other succeed. At the same time, doctors who are supported by Heartland Dental no longer have the risks and worries associated with owning their own practice. Because of this shift, we have an incredible pipeline of doctors looking to join Heartland Dental.

Jennifer Jensen, senior director of recruiting at Pacific Dental Services (Irvine, Calif.)

What's one staple of recruitment your DSO prides itself on?
Pacific Dental Services prides itself on being a leader in providing high-quality continued education content for students and residents. With the shutdowns that have occurred due to COVID-19, students have had limited access to CE opportunities and educational resources. Thousands of students registered for the PDS CE events, and we were able to provide increased access to learning about the PDS owner dentist model and life after dental school to students. Dental school graduates who join PDS-supported practices have the opportunity to work alongside supported dentists who own their own private practices. We've partnered with several dental schools throughout the U.S., providing us the opportunity to connect with the best and brightest students in the field.

Bob Fontana, chair and CEO of Aspen Dental Management (Chicago)

What growth has occurred in 2020?
The Aspen Dental network is set to open between 55 and 60 new offices and hire nearly 1,000 dental professionals in 2020. As one of the largest and fastest-growing healthcare support organizations in the U.S., Aspen Dental Management has helped reshape the dental landscape over the past 22 years, supporting the Aspen Dental brand as it has grown into the largest branded network of dental practices in the world. Today, Aspen Dental stands at more than 850 locations in 42 states, with a new office opening every four days.

ADMI recently announced an agreement with Sun Capital Partners to acquire ClearChoice Management Services, which provides comprehensive practice support services to the nationwide network of ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers. With a current footprint of more than 60 locations, ClearChoice offers fixed, full arch dental restorations for patients with missing or failing dentition.

What growth plans are in place for 2021?
Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, ADMI is positioned to lead our industry through one of the most challenging times in modern history. We've taken steps to protect the business so we can continue to grow now looking forward into 2021. As a support organization, ADMI continues to build and strengthen the infrastructure, expertise and core competencies to accelerate growth and success, while also giving providers the freedom to do what they do best: care for patients.

What lessons has your DSO learned from the pandemic?
The ADMI support model allowed Aspen Dental practice owners to reopen and care for patients during the pandemic.

How has the pandemic changed the recruiting process?
For the first time ever this year, Aspen Dental's signature VIBE Session went entirely virtual, with an interactive agenda designed to provide attendees a glimpse into what it's like to join the most committed community of support and collaboration in the industry. The virtual event held Nov. 7 was by far our biggest VIBE session yet, with close to 600 dentist candidates participating in the live session and more than 300 interviews conducted by Aspen Dental Practice Owners. Participants included fourth-year dental students; residents across general dentistry, oral surgery and endodontics; and some recent 2020 graduates who are currently practicing elsewhere. Events like these are a critical part of our recruitment strategy. We believe that working at Aspen Dental is about so much more than dentistry, and the VIBE sessions are an opportunity for candidates to hear directly from practice owners and members of the ADMI leadership team about what drives the organization forward, as well as the community of collaboration and support we've built.

What's one staple of recruitment your DSO prides itself on?
Dentists who join Aspen Nation are backed by an entire community of people who support and mentor new doctors every step of the way.

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