The tipping point

Dr Satish Alavandar, MDS (Prosthodontics) shares his experiences from a roller-coaster career—including a failed clinic, a fruitless academic career, life-changing experiences while working in Abu Dhabi, and now a profitable, high-end dental clinic in Chennai.

Education and early career

After completing his BDS from Tamil Nadu Government Dental college in 2001, Dr Satish ran his own private clinic for 3 years. He then got admitted to the prestigious Annamalai University, Chidambaram (~215 kms south of Chennai) in 2003 for a postgraduate course in prosthodontics. He shut his clinic to concentrate on academics.

Double-hatting after MDS

After completing his MDS, he joined the same institution as a senior lecturer and worked for seven years (2007-2014). Meanwhile, he also resumed his private practice in Chennai, which was largely taken care of by his wife Dr Lavanya (General practitioner).

The job and a regular salary made Dr Satish financially stable, and even distanced him from the clinic. Due to the distance and lack of attention, the clinic could never become profitable, and would often be subsidized by his college salary. Dr Satish says that during his weekly visits from Chidambaram to Chennai, he treated only 1-2 patients of his specialty. He did not have any inclination in learning new skills of other specialties and only practiced his specialty, while relying on his wife for other patients.

As the clinic was set on their ancestral property, they did not have much financial obligations and could afford to turn a blind eye toward the clinic. He says “I lacked the passion and organizational skills to run a clinic then. This was the lowest phase in my life.” Eventually, the politics at the college became toxic for him, and he wished to quit soon. At the same time, his wife conceived and couldn’t continue with the clinic.

During all of this, he started preparing for the license exam (HAAD) for Abu Dhabi. In 2014, he cleared his written exam and interview in the first attempt and got hired as a specialist at a renowned hospital in Abu Dhabi. He soon quit his job, shut the clinic, and moved to Abu Dhabi.

“Looking back, I think joining a college was the biggest mistake of my life”

Life in Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi, Dr Satish was impressed by the quality of work and standards of dental care given to the patients. Dental insurance had just been introduced in most of the dental fields, except for prosthodontics. This meant that to survive in a reputed hospital, he had to recondition himself as a general practitioner and improve the standards of his treatment.

He started learning from scratch. “Back home in India, all seven years I never bothered to perform the simplest of procedures like scaling and filling. Here, I started working on my restorative and scaling skills. With the help of textbooks and online videos on YouTube and the University of Michigan channel, I started practicing root canal treatments (RCT) on extracted teeth,” he says. After practicing on almost 100 extracted teeth within a month, he started taking up patients.

Once while performing RCT in a patient using hand protapers, his file broke in the canal. He took it as a challenge and kept learning, gradually shifting to rotary endodontics. Some of the techniques he learnt during this period include proper double retraction, how to provide subgingival margins, radial shoulders during crown preparation, rubber dam application, smile designing, and implant-related procedures.

The stint in Abu Dhabi was the tipping point in Dr Satish’s career. He says that the three years he spent in Abu Dhabi were worth much more than the seven years in academics. The stint was also financially rewarding for him.

Life after Abu Dhabi

In 2017, he had to shift back to India to take care of his mother after his father passed away. Back in Chennai, he felt that though he had acquired clinical skills, he still lacked the knowledge of managing a clinic and soft skills to communicate with patients. He was sure that he did not want to get into academics. During this time, he received a job offer from Dentys (a corporate dental chain) and was appointed clinic in charge of a clinic in Chennai which was not making any profit. Due to his prior experience in Abu Dhabi, he was able to perform 70% of the procedures on his own. He was able to even convert patients for expensive full mouth implant therapy, leveraging the EMI facility of Bajaj finance. Over time, the clinic’s monthly revenue grew from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 5 lakhs. “Working in a corporate set up I learned how a quality clinic looks like, how to organize the resources and manage the manpower and inventory. Finally, I gained the confidence to start my practice,” he says. He also understood the value that patients place on the appearance of the clinic.

“People easily form opinions of your practice based on first impressions—the cleanliness and interiors. They also evaluate the cost of the procedure based on it”

In 2018, Dentys was acquired by Delhi-based Clove Dental, and he was asked to become the deputy zonal head in Chennai. But Dr Satish did not take up the offer and decided to set up his own practice. His wife, who was working in the different corporate clinic, joined him. Within 6-8 months, together they set up their clinic in October 2018.

Dr Satish’s new clinic

Dr Satish invested ~40 lakhs in his new clinic—a large, organized clinic which has the latest equipment and technology. He says that the book, ‘How to Build the Dental Practice of Your Dreams: (Without Killing Yourself!) In Less Than 60 Days’ by David Moffet was very helpful and sums up his learnings in a nutshell.

Dr Satish says, “my clinic has a monthly expense of ~1.6 lakhs, which it is easily able to make from the first month on. If the performance is not up to the mark in any given month, then it gets compensated with higher earning of the previous month. Until now I have not had to spend from my pocket to run the clinic.”

“Most of us not trained enough to run the practice from the eye of a layman. We lack the knowledge to run the practice as a business.”

Dr Satish spends ~Rs. 25,000 per month on digital marketing only in the form of Google Ads. He believes that offline marketing devalues the clinic’s profile. He also does not believe in attracting people through discounts. Instead, he highlights “dentistry without compromise” as the key message in Google Ads. He says, “My patients are the ambassadors of my practice, I want to deliver the best possible treatment to them. Giving discounts and resorting to cheap promotional tricks will perish my reputation in the market.” He says that the slogan “dentistry without compromise” has helped him attract patients who seek the best treatment, irrespective of the cost. Dr Satish has created his clinic’s website himself, and even manages Google Ads on his own. He says building the website was worth the time and effort put in. Dr Satish has set a target for himself to achieve 60 new walk-ins per month, and is well on his way to achieve that target.

Dr Satish measures the performance of his clinic using the Bestosys dental practice management software. The software provides information such as share of repeat vs. new patients, billing, collections, revenue generated per month and per patient, profit and loss statements. It can also help compare the performance of the clinic with a previous year or month using a graphical representation. With this, he not only measures the performance but tries to identify the reasons for poorer-than-average performance of the clinic in a given month.

Dr Satish’s advice to fellow dentists

  • Saturation in the dental field is evident. Young dentists are frustrated and trying to take decisions in haste. Remember, even dentists in developed countries such as the US and Australia undergo this phase. Don’t lose hope and focus on building a career by broadening your skills.
  • Even after completing an MDS in one specialty, try to learn the work of other specialties.
  • Learn and work under someone before setting up your practice. Keep your eyes and ears open to learn from others. It is important that we are willing to learn all the right things from others keeping our egos aside.
  • Develop a practice which you are proud of and would prefer visiting if you were a lay person.

About the author

Dr. Shilpy Bhandari is a Hyderabad-based Periodontist and the founder of Dentistry Insider. She has worked extensively across dental clinics of all sizes — from large corporate chains to small, independent setups.

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