As she approaches her 20-year anniversary of being with Practice Plan, Area Manager, Suki Singh spoke to Lisa Bainham, Practice Manager at the Old Surgery in Crewe and President of the Association of Dental Administrators and Managers (ADAM), about how we’ve maintained such a long relationship.
SS: You’re just coming up to the end of your second decade of being part of the Practice Plan family, Lisa. Please cast your mind back and tell us how you first got involved with us.
LB: Practice Owner, Steve Lomas, and I opened the practice in February 1998. At the time, there was quite a shortage of NHS practices taking on patients in the area. So, the Local Area Team were offering grants to people to open up squat practices. I was a dental nurse who had gone off to work in a GP practice to cover maternity leave while I was looking for another dental job. And that GP practice was here in this building. It then moved to a brand-new medical centre just around the corner and rented this building out.
My manager at the time had taken me under his wing and so I was doing the work of a practice manager at the GP practice. He told me a dentist was going to rent the old building and he needed a practice manager. So that was how I became involved. When we opened, we had a five-year commitment with the NHS. However, whilst we worked hard to provide a wonderful service, we were aware that it wasn’t the direction we wanted to go in.
So, in 2003, we contacted Practice Plan and started the discussion with Josie about converting to a private practice. And it was a no-brainer, to be honest. So, in the five years we’d been running, we’d amassed a lot of very loyal, happy NHS patients. So, when we converted to private practice, whilst there was the usual significant drop-off, it was a fairly easy process because we’d built that goodwill with our patients and had the relationships with them.
So, we converted in 2003 and just built it up from there. And then as time went on, we wanted our patients to have access to endo, perio, implants and so on. So, we started to expand and expand, and eventually took over the whole building. So, now from just three of us at the start, we’re a team of 42.
It’s been quite a journey to be honest. But from the very beginning, the relationship with Practice Plan has just been wonderful. It really has.
SS: Twenty years is a long association, in anyone’s book. What is it you value most about your relationship with Practice Plan?
LB: You’re just always there and you’ve given us enough resources for me not to be constantly having to ask, how do you do this? How do you do that?
A lot of practices I talk to have a moral compass. To them, it feels terrible to abandon the NHS. And recently at a show, I talked to a lovely dentist. He was in his 60s and his practice is fully NHS. However, there’s only him and he’s tired.
He was with a relative who is an accountant who was going to be his practice manager. And he told me he needed help. He was so tired, he didn’t feel he would be able sustain things without help. But he was bothered about leaving the NHS. So, I told him he can have both. His moral compass need not be shaken by converting to private.
In fact, I would say it’s the right thing to do. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s the right thing to do for your patients. And, from a very early stage with Josie, I was taught that it’s not about NHS or private, it’s about patient care. So, if you have that at the forefront of your mind, patients don’t then object to private care. They want the best care, which allows us to do it, really.
And the support Practice Plan gives shows you completely understand what challenges we are facing in practices as well as the morale side of things. The dentist was going to talk to you, and then probably to other plan providers. And I’m biased I suppose, but I was trying not to bias him, but I said, “Practice Plan every time.” And he said, “So Practice Plan are the gold standard?” And I had to agree.
SS: It’s great to hear that’s how you feel about Practice Plan, Lisa. And what sort of things have you benefited from, apart from the support? You are an integral part of some of the events, aren’t you?
LB: Well, a lot of the moulding of me has come from working with people like Practice Plan.
I was only 20 when I started as a Practice Manager and I had no idea what I was doing, really. So, I reached out to the Practice Managers Association at the time, who were lovely. But I turned up to events and they looked at me as if to say, “You can’t possibly do this. You’re far too young.”
So, I gave up on that in the end. And then I found lots of different courses that suited me to help me do my job. A lot of them were through Practice Plan, working with people like Chris Barrow, Sheila Scott, Simon Tucker, and all the greats who I really admire. They’ve just helped me in so many different ways.
I won some awards, including Practice Manager of the Year, numerous times. And then the Practice Manager’s Association contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in supporting them. So I agreed as I thought it’d be nice to give something back in a way that wasn’t available to me when I started out.
So, I got involved and unbeknown to me, they’d been grooming me to become president. And then through ADAM, I was hosting and helping to organise events. At this time, I was also starting to get into looking at the practice more as a business, which a lot of practice managers hadn’t done. I started measuring things, developing KPIs, and having a dashboard, and finding ways to analyse the business without just looking at the accounts. Software systems weren’t what they are now. There was no fancy reporting. It was a lot of paperwork!
So, I produced a dashboard and Nigel [Jones, Practice Plan Sales and Marketing Director] came in one day and saw it. So, we had some conversations about reporting and so on, then I was asked to do some presentations at shows. I did some through ADAM as well, as their president.
And then people started approaching me and asking if I visited practices to help them. I directed them to the Association initially. And then it started to dawn on me that I must know what I’m talking about. People seemed to want to listen to me. And I think it was because I was relatable, because I’m still doing the job. So, I went to a couple of practices, as a favour. And then people wanted to know how much I would charge. So, we developed Practice Management Matters and I take on a select number of clients and visit them. And I get booked by people like Practice Plan to do different events, too.
SS: So, what’s it like to work with Practice Plan as a consultant?
LB: It doesn’t feel like work. I’ve been brought up on Practice Plan’s sense of family, fun, learning, and continuous improvement. And they’ve weaned me to be like that. So now I’m passing that on to other people. Because it is all about the balance of the wellbeing and the fun and the professionalism but also the happy teams. And that’s kind of the Practice Plan way. Everyone recognises each other. The Regional Support Managers have built relationships with their practice managers and owners. It’s quite unusual. I can’t think of many, or any other people in the dental sector who have that same relationship. But that comes down to the people at Practice Plan. They’re not judgmental. They know the challenges that the owners and practice managers have; and they involve the whole team, too. They don’t just concentrate on managers and owners, there’s something for everyone. The nurses and the support staff, all get included as part of that family. It’s everyone in the practice. It’s up to everyone to make sure that the practice is a success and the plans work well.
SS: That’s a real compliment, Lisa. Thank you. Finally, how would you describe Practice Plan in five words?
LB: Supportive. Inspiring. Family. Professional. Awesome.
SS: Thanks, Lisa. We’re looking forward to working with you again soon.
Lisa has over 24 years’ experience in practice management. She is President of ADAM (The Association of Dental Administrators and Managers) and runs her own practice management training and support programmes through her business, Practice Management Matters.
Lisa totally ‘gets it’ and has an ocean of relatable and transferable experience. She not only empathises with the trials dental practices are facing daily, but also helps teams to go onwards and upwards.