During online discussions, we get swept up into the financial side of practice often discussing money, marketing and how to make our practices grow, sometimes forgetting that we (hopefully) went into this profession to help people. For younger clinicians, it’s easy to get drawn into the “focus on money and growth” angle, particularly when you’re in the early stages of your practice. I’m writing this particular post to remind myself that we need to focus on the people more than the profits and hopefully you’ll also find it helpful.
I recently received an email from a patient asking me if I could remove her braces. She had some issues occur in her financial life and simply couldn’t afford to make payments anymore. I corresponded with her and found out that this is only about money. She respects our relationship, can’t afford to keep the payments as she promised, so she felt that the right thing to do is to remove the braces because she can’t keep her end of the bargain. This is the kind of situation we see posted in online groups everyday by confused clinicians, followed by a “what should I do?”
We could sit here and debate all the ways the situation could be handled. How about new payment arrangements? Should we send her to collections? Should we charge her a debond fee? If she can’t afford to pay the debond fee, should we not do anything until she can? What should we do in the meantime? And on and on and on…..
For me, the answer is easy. If she wants to straighten her teeth, I’m going to do it for free and let her pay later, if ever she can. Why? Because it just feels like the right thing to do. She’s been honest, she’s a nice person, she hasn’t tried to manipulate me and most importantly, I want to help her. Sure, it simplifies my life, but more importantly, it makes me feel good to help others with no strings attached. I need to stress this last point because I see a lot of people attaching conditions to doing the right thing.
I don’t ask for a positive online review or tell her to give me a shoutout on social media. To me, that’s manipulation and taking advantage of someone in a situation using your leverage. I’d rather you never know her name and that the community never finds out. It’s between me, my Maker and her. It’s the same when we make free retainers and sports guards or write off a balance on a patient who’s fallen on hard times or going through personal issues like a divorce or medical treatments. If she wants to help us online, that’s fine but that’s her choice with no prodding from me.
The “Golden Rule” has been stated differently by many cultures and religions but summed up tells us to treat others as we would want to be treated. If YOU fell on hard times, how would you want to be treated? Would you want someone to do you a favor and then ask you for a positive review or to post to your timeline? I ask for those things when a patient compliments our practice and when we are on a level relationship, but not when I hold the cards.
There’s an old saying: “Karma’s a b*tch.” There’s no denying what goes around comes around and the good that you send out into the world will inevitably come back ten fold, and in my experience, that’s what happens. Not right away and not necessarily in a way that will help you pay your loans, but it will come back to you. Nobody ever went out of business doing the right thing for their fellow man.
I’m sure that I’ll get a lot of folks who think I’m crazy. I’m sure there will be people who tell me that I haven’t been an orthodontist long enough to understand the ramifications of what giving away free treatment means. That’s OK. I’m at peace with the decision and really couldn’t care about what others think of it, but I’m offering this to you as a lesson from my life experience. Not everyone is wired to do the right thing or help those in need. Sometimes it just takes time for you and your practice to develop this culture. Sometimes you work for someone who won’t let you do this. I get it. It can be difficult.
But do the right thing because it’s the right thing and keep in mind one of my favorite quotes from a famous 18th century Rabbi, Nachmon of Breslev:
“If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?”
All the best,
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