Kay and James Hallows are joint Principals of Hallows Dental in Hanham, Bristol. The success of their practice, opened only last September, vindicates the tough decisions they have had to make over the last three years.
When you hear views that strongly differ from your own, the temptation is to dismiss them without a second thought.
A few years ago that may have been the way we both would have reacted to events that have since proved to have significantly changed our lives. But the bottom line is that we have gained a great deal from having to ask ourselves how strongly we were committed to our values and how much effort we were prepared to make to put in them into practice.
The first test.
For more than 13 years we worked together in an independent practice in Longwell Green (Bristol). Essentially it was a family practice and, in turn, it attracted families. Patients were treated with respect and care and many became our friends. In short it was a happy environment in which to be a dentist and a patient. And crucially it was consistently profitable.
Profitability inevitably attracted suitors and in 2015 it was purchased by a Corporate and the goal posts moved. It is not for us to judge the way the new owners wanted to run the practice, but it was for us to determine if we wanted to be part of it. Bluntly neither of us could live with the idea of spending the rest of our lives doing dentistry simply to earn money. We both think that many dentists will know what we mean and how we felt.
So we parted company with the Longwell Green Practice with some fair degree of sorrow but with heads held high.
The second test.
We took some time off to consider carefully the next move. We wanted our own private practice and we had a fairly clear vision of how it should be. And we had a budget rather than a bottomless pit. To give ourselves some thinking time we worked with the homeless in Malaysia during 2016 and this proved to be a positive way to exorcise any latent frustration after the Longwell Green experience.
On our return we put in an offer for a dental practice that had ceased trading some considerable time back. The location, in nearby Hanham, met our criteria, but it needed a lot of work to bring it up to the standard we wanted. Once again we had a bit of a battle on our hands and moving things forward and the sale itself were protracted affairs. The possibility (and ultimately the reality) of some hefty legal bills tested our resolve but we eventually took possession on January 24th 2017.
And the fun started.
What a difference the years make.
The property we purchased was built in 1920. It had operated as a dental practice for many years but had been dormant for a considerable time. It ticked the boxes in terms of location with easy parking and a dental laboratory next door. The downside was that the place needed gutting, the old dental equipment removing (along with a load of asbestos!) and some inspirational thinking about how to use the space to best advantage.
Luckily we knew Gavin Willis of Paradigm Design Solutions. Quite truthfully Gavin’s knowledge of dentistry shone through from the start. It’s one thing to design a practice and we know quite a number of people who can do that. What is so very different about Gavin is that he understands how dentistry works. This is a vital skill. But perhaps what really sets him apart from his competitors is that he invests the time to become acquainted with the way you like doing dentistry. You can talk to him about the market you are targeting and his thinking and his designs will reflect the needs of that market sector. A case in point was the very specific and entirely correct advice about the positioning and layout of our reception and waiting room areas. It was invaluable guidance that has benefited staff and patients alike.
It’s been an interesting journey involving some difficult decisions. If we were asked to give advice to a colleague finding himself or herself in the position we found ourselves in three years ago we would say stick to your guns. We enjoyed being family dentists then and we continue to enjoy it. Judging by the number of patients who have followed us we must be doing something right (1300 patients since we opened last September).
Just two little tales to end which touched our hearts. When we opened in Hanham one long standing patient took the time to paint a beautiful picture of our practice whilst another, whose wife recently and sadly died, had a garden bench installed outside the practice in her memory. With all it’s up and downs, dentistry can be a wonderful profession......