As a highly motivated manager of her husband’s successful practice, Nicki Rowland has the ideal credentials to replicate this model elsewhere. Here, she reveals to Julie Bissett how bespoke care can turn around a practice’s fortunes.
Dental consultancy – as a newbie to the business of it, you’d need a razor sharp unique selling point (USP) – and a whole load of faith in your own ability to coach practices to success if you are about to dip your toe into an already crowded market. Nicki Rowland may just fit this bill – perfectly. Married to Gary Rowland, principal of Perfect 32 in Beverley, East Yorkshire, Nicki helped build the practice on a foundation of clinical excellence and consummate patient care.
She said: ‘Gary and I opened the doors of Perfect 32 in February 2006, with a baby and toddler in tow. Practice management was alien to me at the time as my career had been in the world of physiotherapy. The learning curve was positively sheer, with the gradient only becoming steeper with the introduction of the new contract in April 2006. Over the years, legislation influencing the way dental teams work has been intense. HTM 01-05, clinical governance, information governance and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), in conjunction with a complete overhaul of NHS contracts, has taken its toll on practice owners by increasing the workload, stress levels and the number of patient complaints being generated.’
She added: ‘The past nine years has been a huge adventure filled with thrills and spills. Being at the helm, I have been directly responsible for decision making, picking up the pieces when things go wrong and motivating the team to achieve success, sometimes against the odds. I am now at a point in my career where I would love to share my knowledge and experiences in helping other practices to innovate and introduce initiatives into practice that not only optimise the working environment, but equally enhance the patient’s journey.’
And, in pursuing this dream, Nicki’s left nothing to chance: ‘I know Perfect 32 is in the safe hands of our new practice manager, Christine Ferguson, who has worked side by side with me since day dot!’
Nicki’s top tips for practice success:
- Have a solid brand that reflects the culture and ethos of your practice
- Communicate with transparency. I do not just mean just with patients but also with your dental team. Transparency nurtures trust that’s conducive to lasting relationships
- Have an open door policy for your staff. Everyone is human and it is not always that simple to ask someone to leave problems at home. A problem shared is a problem halved and, often, after a chat a team member can get on with their work and be more productive
- Forecast and business plan. You would not get in a car and just drive. You have a destination in mind and a route planned. It is just the same in business. Your practice is the vehicle, the business plan is the map and the destination is success. That is not to say you might not take the scenic route at times, but your business plan will keep you pointing in the right direction
- Ensure your website showcases your work. It is the window to your practice and potential patients need to get a clear picture of the good things to come.
Success, she believes, lies in innovation – accomplished through the introduction of not just new products and technologies, but better services, improved practice processes, and ‘exciting and inspirational’ initiatives, too. Nicki explained: ‘Practices need not reinvent the wheel. It is about assessing the here and now, deciding what you want to achieve and then finding innovative solutions to reach your ultimate goal. It’s not just improvement; innovation refers to the idea of doing something “different” rather than doing the same thing “better”.’ This may sound like jargon but Nicki is quick to illustrate her thinking. In Perfect 32’s first two years of trading, when running audits at the practice, she discovered a significant escalation in the number of patients they were referring to the local maxillofacial team for ‘ominous lesions of the mouth’. Further research revealed the trend reflected national oral cancer statistics. She said: ‘As a team, we wished to raise public awareness, screen more people in a systematic way and educate them as to the risk factors. We looked at what we were currently doing, decided what we wanted to do differently and then brainstormed how we were going to reach that goal. The innovation here was to optimise our oral cancer screening practices and procedures, tighten up our referral process and train our team to deliver their individual roles and responsibilities within the oral cancer system.’ Screening itself was nothing new – and was already an integral part of every clinician’s professional responsibility. However, the innovation was in the application of a different solution that optimised this part of Perfect 32’s service. As a result, the practice scooped the National Training Awards for the Small Employer in Yorkshire and Humber, achieving runner-up status in the national finals.
‘Three things I wish I’d known from the beginning’
- Legislation can interfere with and blur the best intentions of dental teams
- Financially, business is a game of swings and roundabouts. It is never plain sailing
- Dental bureaucracy has totally redefined the word ‘autonomy’ for practice owners.
Every practice is different
Nicki does recognise that every practice is different and so ‘individualises’ a concept or process to fit in with a practice’s culture, ethos and current working methods. ‘The industry is fast changing and, with a new contract looming my trialled and tested systems may not fit perfectly. Innovation is also about adapting to the changes, being industry aware and staying ahead of the game,’ she said.
She offers a free helpline for practice owners and practice managers, fully aware that the world of a practice manager can be a lonely one with ‘everyone expecting you to know the answers’.
‘For me, particularly in the early days, it would have been fantastic to pick up the phone and be able to ask someone for help. I also provide remote and/or in-house support if required and team training to ensure that recommendations are implemented effectively.’
With veritable experience as a practice manager and mother, her analogy of the dental team as a second family is one that’s evidently heartfelt and a reflection of her passion for these dual roles.
‘It is a lot of balls to juggle and, having experienced this complicated mix, I go into practices not only assessing the logistics of an issue but also the emotional and financial impact any change can – and will – generate.
‘Individuals in the team are motivated and give their very best if they feel valued within that team as they are within a family. Appropriate rewards are essential – but it’s not just about the financials. Great team spirit should always be at the heart of a practice. It works every time.’
Following a career as a chartered, state registered physiotherapist and with a baby and toddler in tow, Nicki Rowland (pictured left) took on the role of practice manager when her dentist husband opened Perfect 32 Dental Practice in Beverley, East Yorkshire, in 2006. Over the past eight years, Nicki has nurtured her team to achieve exemplary standards in both clinical and customer service based areas of work and as a result the practice has won many awards including The National Training Awards for Yorkshire and Humber in 2010, as well as being a national finalist in the Small Employer category that year. In 2011, Perfect 32 won The Training Business of the Year Award at the local Chambers of Commerce Awards and Nicki herself was awarded practice manager of the year by the UK’s association of dental administrators and managers in 2012. Contact Nicki on this free helpline number: 01482 872491.