Jan Baxendale became a hygienist more than 30 years ago and has always considered herself a team player. She qualified with the Royal Navy in 1976 and married the following year.
When her husband, Rodney, left the navy one year later, the couple moved to Lincoln where Jan began working with the health authority in the community dental service. After her husband finished his studies in 1980, they moved again – to Maidstone in Kent – and Jan went into general practice.
‘The first day I started there I thought I was going to die! The sheer difference in pace was
terrifying,’ she recalls. ‘We then moved down to Plymouth in 1984, and our base has been around there ever since, with two years of it spent in the US.’
But, she explains: ‘As time went by, I felt I was becoming less of a team player and more of a machine player, especially when I moved into private practice. It seemed more and more like a treadmill, rather than doing work I was respected for.’
Eventually, she was made redundant ‘in very unfortunate circumstances’ in 2006. She began working in a variety of places, but was unhappy: ‘A day here, a day there – this is not so satisfying. I didn’t feel I was doing my best work. Then, it slowly dawned on me that I really needed to work for myself, and that there was a gap in the market where patients really wanted to have their teeth beautifully looked after, which they weren’t necessarily getting elsewhere.’
And that was what steered her towards Baxendental – her very own practice! The transition from peripatetic hygienist to practice owner has been seamless – ‘I suppose I was my own inspiration,’ Jan says – and the reaction from colleagues is encouraging.
‘The consensus from fellow hygienists has been very enthusiastic, but usually followed by a remark like “Aren’t you brave?” – calculated to strike fear into my heart, ‘ she muses. ‘As far as dentists are concerned, they’re generally more guarded. Some of them regard my breaking away as a little threatening, but others say: “Go for it!”’
The practice is on one of the main routes into Plymouth from the north, and handy for the university’s ‘student city’.
Jan explains: ‘I feel we have a generation of young people with beautiful teeth who, with a little encouragement and care, can keep their teeth that way until they die. I think they’re under-represented in dental circles because they have no dental disease, and so positioning myself handily to their homes and work may jog their memories.’
And with this patient base in mind, she plans to be flexible, appointments-wise. ‘As I’m targeting young people, I want to offer them time-slots that would suit them. In my experience, patients say they want late-evening slots, but very rarely actually pick them up when they’re offered. But there is good sense in working a long day: an earlier start, and an extra hour in the evening. Saturday mornings will be an early offering, and we’ll look at how that goes,’ she adds.
The surgery set-up is simple. Jan explains: ‘I’m renting part of the middle floor of an established dental practice, run by a young Polish dentist. Within the practice, I have my own surgery, completely separate, decorated and equipped by me, according to my ideas of “how it should be”: no compromises any more –: it’s mine!’
She adds: ‘We are separate businesses, but working to our mutual advantage: we share
reception, but that’s it.’
Her ‘host’ dentist refers patients but, as she’s been established in Plymouth for a long time, she’s developed a strong group of people who like to go to her for their hygiene work.
‘My hope is that they will ask their dentists to refer them to me for their hygiene care: patient-power should rule!’ she says. ‘I believe, in the long run, it will be patient-driven. As the NHS has evolved, the hygiene service they once expected as part of the basic service is now not being generally offered, and they’re being disenfranchised. They’re my next line of business revenue.’
So is there a huge risk involved? Her venture has long been in the pipeline and is, she admits, not without risk: ‘There’s always a risk in setting up a new business, especially one like this that, I think, is genuinely innovative,’ she accepts.
‘Potentially, I could lose my set-up costs (about £30,000), but I would still have my skills. I could get egg on my face, but the plan is to start with one day a week in Baxendental, working with very trusted and able dental nurses from my past, and maintaining my existing work with other practices the other weekdays.’
She does have some business acumen, however, which she feels has equipped her with some idea of project planning.
‘I spent two years in California, and there I became involved with the LD Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne. Their business model blends very closely with what I’m attempting in Baxendental, so I have a strong body of experience to draw on in case of need.
‘I reckon I’ve a fair business head on me; my husband has a common sense approach to business, my accountants are quite excited at this development, and my son is an expert at spending!
Jan is realistic about the development of the practice and is considering a steady growth plan.
‘The whole plan is driven by the appointments book,’ she says. ‘When it gets full to the point that a new patient would have to wait more than two weeks to see me, then we will take the decision on starting another day in Baxendental. That’s right where we are now – three months from opening! Each time we add another day there, it will replace an existing day elsewhere. In the end, I hope to work 32 to 35 hours in my practice, with the possibility of employing other local hygienists in my “down time.”’
Braemar Finance, the long-established direct lender and financier to the professions, is funding the project. Jan says: ‘They were very keen: we gave them various ways of launching the business, with varying degrees of cash-flow risk attached: the one I’ve described is “Plan B”, with middle risk, and they thoroughly approved of it.
‘Once my own book is firmly established, I intend to employ other colleagues, who will be invited to work under the Baxendental banner, with my house-style.’
And from where does she get her support? ‘From my husband, hugely, from my fellow hygienists and work-mates who were in this from the start, making the whole enterprise work without compromises,’ she says.
And finally, are there any difficulties she can foresee?
‘I wish Mr Brown had predicted the credit crunch a little earlier: it may be that this is the wrong time to launch Baxendental, but we’ll soon see – the book looks pretty solid so far!’
• Baxendental Limited is at 130 North Hill, Plymouth, PL4 8LA. For more details, ring 01752 663239 or email [email protected]