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Does Your Study Club Feel Like a Waste of Time? – Episode 115


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How would you rate your study club experiences? Do they add real value or do they seem unproductive? In this episode of Dentist Money™, Reese welcomes Dr. Martin Mendelson, Executive Vice President of Client Services at Spear Education. In this interview, Dr. Mendelson shares the keys to cultivating a successful study group. He also explains the roles of coaches, consultants, and mentors in a dentist’s life and the mindset of practice owners who embrace continuous improvement.

Transcription:

Reese: Welcome to the Dentist Money™ Show, where we help dentists make smart financial decisions. I’m your host, Reese Harper. My guest today is a special one; he’s been a coach for study-club leaders and master’s program participants for a long time; he’s the host of the Spear Annual Summit, which many of you have probably attended. Last year in September in Scottsdale, it was an amazing event. He ran a private restorative GP practice for almost ten years before ceasing to practice due to some chronic pain issues in his hand. That’s an interesting side note to me, because he’s seen his fair share of challenges that he’s had to push through as well. He’s also an active contributor to industry publications; he’s lectured all over the country and internationally on color science and dentist-technician communications. I’d like to officially welcome Dr. Martin Mendelson, executive VP of client services from Spear.

Dr Mendelson: Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure and an honor to be here with you today.

Reese: Yeah, I’m excited about this! As you know, I’ve got a huge passion for continuing education, and I feel like a lot of people really miss out on that, or they don’t take advantage to all the resources available to them as dentists, and it’s kind of incredible– just go to Spear’s website and look at how many courses are being delivered in that state-of-the-art lecture facility all the time. I don’t know if people realize how big of a resource that it, but it’s just something for me that is kind of overwhelming every time I’m reminded of that new facility. How is it being involved in that?

Dr Mendelson: It’s a real honor; it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been with Spear for seven years this year. I was actually familiar with the facility in one of my previous roles within dentistry, if you will. So I actually attended the opening reception. It’s very ironic, and really full-circle that I get the pleasure to come to work here each and every day. We see about 10,000 dentists a year in person, and then 1000’s and 1000’s through our study clubs and through our online class forum. And you’re right, I think that many times the largesse of what we offer can be a little bit intimidating for individuals, but what I’ve seen over the years is those folk who sit down and think “what is it I’d like to get out of this? What would I like to learn? Where would I like to take my practice?” Those thoughts alone, those types of, for lack of a better term, goal-setting type thoughts really help guide people when they think about where they want to go in the next year, two years, three years, five years.

Reese: Yeah, so tell me a little bit about how you got involved initially with Spear education.

Dr Mendelson: Absolutely. I was working for a dental product company, and so I was very much engaged with Spear here for various programs. In fact, as you mentioned, I have the honor and am just so blessed to be the host of the Spear Annual Summit, so I’ve actually been to every Spear Annual Summit, first as a representative of the dental company and then as a member of the Spear team. So really, I became involved because I became known to the folk here at Spear, and vice versa. And it’s just like anything else in life– it was a right place, right time kind of thing. As one of my first mentors shared with me, there’s a magic three-letter word in the English language which is “ask.” And so it was an opportunity that I saw could possible be here, we had some discussions, and almost seven years later, here we are!

Reese: So tell me a little bit about this injury that you had that kind of brought you out of private practice, essentially. To me, that kind of stuck out when I was looking into your bio a little bit. Can you speak to that a little bit, and kind of the challenge that that must have been for you to go through?

Dr Mendelson: So, it started kind of innocently: after longer procedures, I’d be up at the front desk writing my chart notes, and my hand ended up feeling as I was writing my notes kind of like at the end of the day of first-year dental school when you’re taking note after note after note, and it just felt really really tired and crampy and sore and I thought, “well that’s weird…” So long story short, in essence, I was technically misdiagnosed for about seven years. First they thought it was carpal tunnel, and cubital tunnel in the elbow, I had the first round of surgeries for those, it didn’t help, and it was right after that first round of surgeries that I made the phone call that changed my life, which was “I don’t think I’m coming in today, and I don’t know if I’m coming back.” And so that led to thirteen months of unemployment, and so if I may digress just to give our colleagues just a bit of experiential advice, you know, making sure that you have adequate disability insurance, number one, and number two that you’re paying for it with out-of-pocket funds, not out of your practice, because you never know when you might need it, and the last thing you want to do is have to pay taxes on that because you didn’t pay taxes on it to begin with if it came out of your practice.

Reese: So you had a disability policy that helped you get through that period of time?

Dr Mendelson: Correct.

Reese: I’m just curious who that policy was with? Was that through the ADA, or was that a private policy?

Dr Mendelson: No, it was a private policy.

Reese: And did you find that it was difficult for you to explain the situation? What was the experience like getting a claim paid on your disability policy?

Dr Mendelson: I had some really good doctors that had some experience with this kind of thing, so they understood the level of documentation. However, like any type of insurance situation, they want documentation ad nauseum, so throughout the period of the first five years, it seemed like every quarter they wanted me to go back to the doctor to hear the same thing they heard the first twenty times.

Reese: Good for you for doing the tough steps of getting your house in order financially to protect yourself from that. That’s probably something you’re able to talk to people about with quite a bit of authority. Well tell me a little bit about how you went to work for a dental products company as kind of a second step instead of practicing dentistry, or what was next?

Dr Mendelson: Actually that was a third step. I became very fortunate that through a dental school professor and friend, I was connected with a large commercial dental laboratory, and I was hired on as the liaison between the dentists and the laboratory. So I was the guy who would give you a phone call when we had a question, or the guy who would call you back if you had a question, and so I began to learn a lot about communication, interaction, treatment planning, materials, and so forth. And so I did that for a period of a couple of years; I actually made about 16,000 outbound phone calls. And then, like anything else in the world, that laboratory was bought out by a larger commercial laboratory, and I had to look for what was next, which was again another jarring opportunity, but it was an opportunity.

Reese: Holy cow, yeah! A lot of dentists don’t ever get to have the experience you’ve had of feeling what it’s like to have to move on to the next phase of life, because there’s only one phase. You get into private practice, and you do that for 30 + years in some cases. It’s a different emotional experience to look inward and go, “am I more? Who else am I deep down in there? What else to I do? What other attributes, or interesting parts of my personality, or interests that I have?” I mean, it’s something that a lot of dentists never really have to go through, and I think you forget how scary that can be sometimes.

Dr Mendelson: Absolutely. And it all depends on your perspective– how you look at it. I mean, look: life throws you challenges. Kind of the end of my current journey is I’ve spent the last year becoming a certified executive coach, and one of the things that I learned most is very reflectant on my own personal journey, which is that life is going to throw things at you that are going to make you a victim of circumstance, but choosing to remain a victim is your choice. So how you look at things, how you look at a situation– is it a threat, or is it an opportunity?– will really open up your brain to the next possibility.

Reese: Yeah, I think that’s a great perspective. There’s a role at Spear called certified professional coach, and that’s something that you, from my understanding, you are a certified professional coach. Is that correct?

Dr Mendelson: That’s correct, yes.

Reese: How has that served you in your role with Spear? That’s not their designation, that’s a national designation if I’m understanding it correctly, right?

Dr Mendelson: Yeah, that’s a designation by the International Coach Federation, so basically I went through a program that took the better part of a year, it was about 300 + hours, that really helped me to communicate with others differently to help folk get from A to B, whatever B is for them, by helping them to remove blocks that are getting in their way, whatever that may be. The way I landed on that was really with my role with study club leader. I’m the guy, when a study club is launched, we have about a thirty to forty-five minute conversation about what are you looking to get out of the study club experience, what are you looking to accomplish, what are the folk in you study club, what are you looking to learn, those kind of things. And I realized that life is a learning journey, and if I wanted to be really really good at helping guide people, then I needed to further my education in helping guide people to where it is they’d like to go. So I hired a coach myself, which kind of then led to the conversation, you know, “it kind of sounds like that’s what you’re doing. Have you ever considered becoming a coach yourself?” And so that’s kind of how that all ended up occuring.

Reese: Okay, interesting. So tell me a little bit about what you took away from that, I mean 300+ hours of training… a lot of dentists have to interact with a coach, or some kind of consultant or advisor… what did you take away from this curriculum that you felt like really was new information or knowledge to you as you went through that certified professional coach training?

Dr Mendelson: Well, what was fascinating about it, and I know that if you asked any coach that went through formal training they would tell you without reservation that the biggest thing they got out of the program was how they saw themselves differently.

Reese: What do you mean by that? How was that specifically for you– how did you see yourself differently when you got through it?

Dr Mendelson: Well, we see life through the filter of our own experience and our own existence, and we have ended up telling ourselves stories, which we call limiting beliefs, that literally guide our actions, because the reality is that thoughts lead to feelings and emotions that guide our actions. If you want proof of that, just think about Pavlov’s dog, just think about how your mouth waters when you smell one of your favorite foods… those are just very small examples that thoughts lead to feelings and emotions that actually lead to actions, whether they be physiologic or physical actions. So what it has really taught me, most of all, is that most of us have told ourselves stories that have guided our actions, and if we sat back and kind of looked at them, they may or may not be true, but the reality is that that is kind of what’s guiding us. So the role that I play as a coach in the study club world is really to talk about “what are you looking to get out of this? Where are you looking to go? What do you think is going to stand in your way?” And then help you teach and guide the leaders on engagement methodologies and best practices so that the members in the club can get the most out of the experience possible.

Reese: I’m a big believer in coaching. I have a personal coach; I have a business coach; I’ve got a lot of resources that I try to continue to invest in, because I believe that I have limiting beliefs, and I believe I’ve got things that I think are true that may not be true, and it’s really helped. My business has been more successful than I ever could have dreamed because of overcoming those limiting beliefs year after year, just small incremental improvements, and I’m really indebted to the good advice and coaches that really helped me to identify some of those. When you sit down and coach someone, is that part of what you’re trying to do, to listening and try to figure out– do you go in and assume that everyone has limiting beliefs to some degree, or are some people actually just entirely rational, and they’re doing great, and there’s just not as much value to add, or they don’t feel like they have limiting beliefs? Because it’s my kind of paradigm that I think that everyone has some of these issues, but that some people are more open-minded to discovering them than others, or they’re more open to finding out what their own misconceptions might be, or their own limiting beliefs might be, or their own inaccurate view of themselves or the world around them, but that some people don’t really want to embrace that, or they’re a little worried to embrace the fact that that might be true– as a financial advisor, I see that quite often. I’m just wondering: when you go and you approach a client– sometimes I think that knowing this as a customer, or as a patient of Martin’s, that if I know that you’re trying to identify these limiting beliefs with me, or I know that I may be being examined, sometimes it’s hard to be vulnerable, or sometimes it’s hard to be open to you figuring out what’s going on with me, and so I guess I just want to understand how you try to approach a relationship to make sure that it ends up being a win-win on the other side.

Dr Mendelson: The first thing I’ll say is that certainly, individuals that aren’t necessarily open to exploring what’s going on with them may not be sitting talking to a coach, whatever kind of coach that may be. The way I was trained and the way I approach is from a place of curiosity without any judgment whatsoever. And so the running joke is “every client has their own answers, so what do you need a coach for?” Well, I have all the questions. So the reality is that, you know, when I sit down with my dentist colleagues in my role here at Spear, it’s from a place of curiosity, from a lack of judgment; everybody has their own experiences in continuing education, so it’s my role to kind of figure out, “okay, where do you want to head? How can I help you get there?” How can I knock down– if there are misconceptions of how things are going to work, how can I help them see those differences based upon where it is they’d like to go, because if they’re looking at things as kind of a threat versus an opportunity as it relates to people’s engagement and participation, etc, then they can kind of look at things a little bit differently than if they were looking at things as an opportunity to grow and help people within the community.

Reese: Interesting. Just back to something you said at the beginning– you made some really good points there– you said that if someone’s not willing to be vulnerable or introspective, then they probably aren’t sitting in front of you as a coach. I know that this is really speculative, and I don’t know if Spear actually has data on this, or if they’ve researched this, but how many dentists throughout their career will actually, at least one time, seek out coaching? How much of the population actually engages in coaching? Would you have a guess at that if I said, “here’s ten dentists: throughout their career, how many do you think at some point will actually reach out?”

Dr Mendelson: Yeah, this is completely my subjective opinion, but I would probably say 8 out of 10 since you asked me the question “at some point in their career.”

Reese: Okay. How many people do you think would reach out more than once after they’ve had that first experience? Do you think it would be a similar number, or do you think less people will do it twice?

Dr Mendelson: You know, that’s a fascinating question. I’d say that they’d probably do it again because what I’ve heard is either that they’ve had a really positive experience and it’s spurring them forward to continue, or that they’ve had a really negative experience and they wanted to have something different.

Reese: (laughs) positive, yeah. I would agree. It seems like if they reach out once, they’ll at least try again, whether it was positive or negative. In my experience, and this is something I’ve actually tried tracking a little bit, I’ve been surprised at how few– my guess is that the number is a little bit lower than 8, and it’s just based on anecdotally. We probably don’t have 1000 sample size yet, but we’ve got hundreds and hundreds, and in my experience, I’ve been surprised to see how many people are resistant to reaching out for formal practice management consulting. I think it’s important to clarify one last question before we leave this topic: I don’t know that everyone realizes that there’s a difference between coaching and practice management consulting. I think sometimes that dentists will lump those two things together to some degree and kind of… I guess sometimes, in my experience, they don’t feel like they need to focus on both coaching and practice management consulting as separate disciplines, and sometimes they convolute the two and kind of mix them together in their day-to-day experience. Do you find you have to clarify the point of coaching sometimes?

Dr Mendelson: Yeah, I would say absolutely. The way I would define it is that there are three different roles that a consultant looks like: there’s coaching, which is bringing somebody from A to B based on where they want to go without any thoughts on the part of their coach who is just helping to guide them. Then there’s consulting, pure consulting, which is where there may be an end game in place where the consultant as an individual is helping to guide them to a given end point, you know, to utilizing the tools that are at their disposal, so to speak. And then there’s mentoring, which is guiding individuals based on previous experience. And they can kind of be different, because in the consulting and the mentoring realms, you’re not necessarily just asking questions and having them guide their own answers, you’re actually kind of sharing information based on experience, or an end game, or an agenda if you will.

Reese: You’ve got a lot of opinion about study clubs, and you’ve experienced a lot of interaction coaching study club leaders over the years, and I guess a lot of people struggle with how to run an effective study club, how to maintain a really successful experience for all the dentists that get involved in these groups… give me some ideas and observations that you’ve had interacting with these leaders of study clubs, and what tips and advice you might be giving them.

Dr Mendelson: Yeah you’re right, I do have some strong opinions, but it’s been such a wonderful journey; I’ve been so honored to be able to observe the platform and patterns and to see what makes small group learning tick. I’ve had north of a thousand study club leader coaching, onboarding phone calls as they start their clubs, so I’ve done it quite a number of times. And then I’m also called in to talk to leaders when things aren’t going well, and one pattern sticks out amongst everything else, which is that if you don’t sit down in the beginning and have an open conversation about what you expect to get out of this experience, and how you’re looking to grow clinically, you have an extremely difficult time to connect the dots between what you’re learning within the curriculum and what’s actually happening in your own practice. Because at the end of the day, it ends up having to do with accountability, because you’re sitting there as a study club leader… and you don’t know why people are there to begin with? How are you supposed to hold them accountable to, you know, even participation in meetings? The minute you know why they are there, you can have a really positive discussion with them about what’s going on.

Reese: When you said earlier that these study club leaders will call you and talk to you about things that are failing, do you feel like the lack of structure that is in a study club is one of the reasons why it is hard to get participation? Is that a challenge?

Dr Mendelson: Yes, I would absolutely say yes. So lack of following structure tends to lead to a challenge–

Reese: What are the biggest reasons that people don’t come to these study clubs, or that attendance falls off? Just generally– I know you’re program is slightly different than what a lot of locally-sponsored study clubs are involved in– what do you think the biggest reasons are that people don’t come, or stop getting involved?

Dr Mendelson: Yeah, the biggest reason is that they don’t necessarily see how it has an impact on their practice, i.e. they’re not valuing the experience for the time they’re spending, which again all goes back to thinking about “what do I want to get out of this experience?” I mean everybody can think of a time in their life when something happened, personally or professionally, that was very important to you, and all of the sudden your busy life got kind of upended and you found the time for that emergent situation. Now the study club is not an emergent situation, but the really is that it’s the same thing! If you feel that there is a significant clinical value to you and your practice, then you are going to spend the time, and you are going to be engaged. The question is, can we help you to connect the dots between what you’re looking to get out of the experience and what’s being provided.

Reese: Yeah… it seems to me, from my perspective– I have a lot of groups that I can participate in that are informal, some are formal, there are a ton of financial advisory groups that get together, and I get invited to participate in Mastermind sessions all the time– I’m hesitant to engage in things that I feel like don’t add value, and my gut feeling is that the reason sometimes people may not engage in a more structured, formal program is because of the cost of having someone like Spear actually help administer and provide the overall curriculum and training mechanism and coaching for some of these study club leaders and this annual session that you’re talking about. There’s a lot more structure here, but I think that sometimes people struggle to get involvement, and the cost of really getting involvement sometimes is providing people with more value, and I guess that I’ve always felt like study clubs have been hit and miss depending on how well it’s led, and the quality of the content that’s being delivered, and kind of the mix and the rotation of the content too. In general, if we talk about the attitudes that dentists have towards continuing ed, do you think they believe that there’s a meaningful return on CE or is it more of an obligation? How do they view it?

Dr Mendelson: I would say it depends. EADA did a study a number of years ago, and it said something like the average dentist spends something like $900-$1,200 on continuing education per year, but not everybody is necessarily average. Again, it all depends on the connectedness in their mind as it relates to what they value. What I can speak to is clubs that I’ve seen turn around. The good news here is that we enjoy well over 90% of our club leaders that stay with us here, and so that’s an amazing thing. So we’re talking about a minority here. But what’s fascinating to me is that I’ve had lots of experience talking to clubs that are a bit challenged, and what I’ve seen over and over and over again is that those clubs that are having a bit of a challenge with attendance, or engagement, etc.. they didn’t take the time to think about what it is they value and what they want to get out of the experience. Those clubs that are open-minded enough to kind of take a step back and to do what I call a reboot, to have those discussions and to tailor their thought processes and their mindfulness to their clinical goals and what’s going on in their practice to what they’re learning on the screen… all of the sudden, now everybody’s in it to win it. So it’s a fascinating thing to watch.

Reese: Yeah that’s cool! You talk about interdisciplinary learning– tell me a little bit about which disciplines you’re referring to– for example, what does a GP need to know about getting the most out of their relationships with specialists? Tell me a little bit about this concept of interdisciplinary learning.

Dr Mendelson: So across everything we do here at Spear, we are very much engaged in the concept of interdisciplinary care, and so within our study club motto, we actually require that every study club has at least one specialist; the majority of our clubs have a combination of a surgeon, whether that be oral maxillofacial or periodontal surgeon, an orthodontist, and in many cases a lab technician; we also have other specialties represented, of course, and very large numbers of prosthodontists and endodontists, etc. The reality is that we view the treatment planning process as an interdisciplinary activity, and the benefits that the surgeon, oral maxillofacial, periodontist, the orthodontist, the lab technician, the endodontist, the prosthodontist, can add to the conversation for a GP is very significant and very important, because as Dr. Spear always says, we can only treat what we see, and we can only see what we know, and a surgeon is going to see a lot of things that a GP may not, and vice versa. So the concept of sitting down and talking about cases as a team will open up options that they may never have even thought of, because it’s a matter of perspective and training. So that’s at the core of what we believe here at Spear and why we emphasis interdisciplinary care and treatment planning as a team so strongly.

Reese: So if you were to lay out the ideal rotation, the number of meetings in a year that you’d like to see happen with a study club, and the general best practice guideline for the types of content that should be covered– I know it’s really hard, because you try to customize this to each study club and to each leader, but what kind of guidelines would you give around that for best practices?

Dr Mendelson: That’s a great question, and we’ve certainly learned through experience over the years. The number of meetings within the Spear platform is up to 8 meetings, and so we’ve found that to be kind of the sweet spot, because there are times in the year based on, believe it or not, some elements of geography where people don’t want to necessarily meet. So the up to eight times a year is kind of the sweet spot, and what we’ve also discovered is that people are looking for guidance for a curriculum, which is why we developed a curriculum for the first year and the second year, and what that ends up doing is it gives exposure to all elements of the treatment planning process and to many of the elements of interdisciplinary care through the examination of comprehensive cases so that everybody can learn and grow, whatever it is that their clinical goals may be for their practice. So we really thought long and hard about this, and we’ve really developed this over the year to find that sweet spot of up to eight meetings, and then a curriculum of learning to help guide people along through the examination of comprehensive cases.

Reese: Interesting. So, in your study club curriculum, your up to eight meetings… we talked a little bit earlier about practice management topics… did those come up? Do you recommend including those outside of your curriculum? What do you see as best practices for practice management topics as it relates to study club, if at all?

Dr Mendelson: That’s a great question, I mean we certainly have quite a bit of practice management within Spear Online; the Spear Online integration into the pathway of the study clubs is all part of the curriculum itself, so that is absolutely represented, and as clubs get on later in years, we absolutely have modules where we sit down and we discuss optimizing the acceptance of the interdisciplinary case, or optimizing the referral process through records and referrals, or figuring out fees of the interdisciplinary case. That’s part of the curriculum as they go through over the years, so yes, it is definitely represented as both part of the pathway and curriculum of Spear Online that’s integrated into the modules, as well as other opportunities on Spear Online.

Reese: That’s great insight. I think it’s kind of a big deal to be able to just see how much work has gone in from the first days in Seattle until building a new facility in Scottsdale, and just seeing all of the growth of Spear, and being able to see the breadth of what you guys are trying to do for the industry, and I think that you can tell that the people that are involved really have a passion for the people in dentistry, they have a passion for helping dentists make progress and continue to support the industry in a way that I think is really meaningful. I always get the sense that you’re approaching things from a real academic perspective as opposed to a sales perspective, and I think it’s refreshing and comforting for a lot of people to feel like even in a world where people come out of school with different levels of competency and differing levels of experience, they’ve got a partner that can engage with them at every step of the way… to me, there’s a lot of peace of mind it that. I don’t have that in my industry, and it’s cool to see that in dentistry. Is there anything else you’d like to leave with everybody before we go today? Any parting thoughts?

Dr Mendelson: I would first of all thank you once again for you time. It’s just such an honor and a privilege to do what I do every day. Being one of the disabled dentists in the world, I pinch myself every day for having the ability to help my colleagues, which then of course ends up reflecting in their ability to help their patients, so it’s such an honor to still be able to affect patient care through everything we do hear at Spear, and my small part in it, so it’s really and honor and a pleasure. I appreciate your time, and the time of the listeners.

Reese: Well Martin, this has been a great interview, I really appreciate you taking the time, and I can definitely feel your thirst for knowledge and your thirst for continuing to develop both as a coach and as an advisor to dentists all over. It’s been a pleasure to interview you; I really appreciate your time, and look forward to having you on the show again.

Dr Mendelson: Great! Thanks so much for your time. Take care.

Reese: My thanks go out again to Martin Mendelson from Spear. Hopefully he inspired a lot of you to be more proactive about continuing education so that it’s not just about getting credits, but that it actually serves a purpose in helping you become a better practice owner. For those of you who are in charge of a study group, or if you’re thinking about putting one together, Dr. Mendelson would be a great resource for you if you want to reach out. I’ve put his contact information in the show notes. As I mentioned at the beginning, make sure to check out our new website at dentistadvisors.com where you can explore our financial education library, and submit questions for the podcast, as well as learn more about our financial planning and investment services. You can also book a free consultation on our website when you’re ready, or just give us a call at 833-DDSPLAN . Thanks for listening, and carry on.

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