Doreen K. Naughton, RDH, BSDH, has been passionate about clinical practice since she started treating patients 34 years ago. Today, she is the proprietor, administrator, and clinician for Dental Hygiene Health Services, a practice that provides oral health care to patients with special needs and older adults in the greater Seattle area. Naughton began her practice in 1989, a year after she completed her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. A big believer in education, she also serves as an affiliate instructor in the Oral Health Sciences Department at UW, in addition to providing private consultation to other dental hygiene entrepreneurs who wish to start their own businesses.
A dedicated member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA), Naughton currently serves as chair of the Council on Regulation and Practice. She is a former trustee and delegate, as well as a previous president of the Washington State Dental Hygienists’ Association (WSDHA).
What motivated you to open an independent practice?
I was fortunate to have great mentors who encouraged me to make the most of my education and practice career. I also wanted to provide dental hygiene services to people with special needs who had little to no access to care via the traditional dental office. Lastly, I believed in the ability of dental hygienists to own and operate their own practices. Fate then smiled upon me, as I happened to be at the right place at the right time in dental hygiene history, when the state of Washington enacted the first legislation allowing dental hygienists to provide care without the supervision of a dentist in 1984.
How did you get your business started?
Although not a requirement of the legislation, I elected to enroll in the bachelor’s degree completion program at UW in 1985 while continuing to work in a private dental practice. I took courses that enhanced my experience in providing care for patients with special needs. I also completed the Integrative Program in Administration in UW’s Graduate School of Business Administration. After graduating in June of 1988, I enrolled in classes sponsored by the United States Small Business Administration, consulted with an attorney and an accountant, observed a dental hygienist who already owned a practice, and completed a business plan. Within weeks of observing this dental hygienist, she put her practice up for sale due to personal reasons, and I bought it. I started Dental Hygiene Health Services on January 2, 1989, and began providing care to residents in three nursing homes. Over the past 25 years, I have provided dental hygiene services to more than 4,500 patients.
What are the greatest benefits of owning your own practice?
One of the most coveted advantages of being my own boss is that I have complete control of my practice experience. I am able to interact with health care teams that focus on providing care that is coordinated, compassionate, and appropriate given the varying physical, mental, and emotional abilities of the individuals I serve.
I also enjoy the business management side of my practice. I have learned many new skills that have contributed to the growth and financial success of the practice. I decide what equipment and supplies to purchase. The ability to create a flexible schedule is one of the greatest benefits. It allows time for other professional endeavors such as consulting, writing, presenting, and professional association activities, as well as time off when I choose.
What type of dental hygienist is best suited for independent practice ownership?
There are a number of characteristics and skills that help define a successful practice owner. Personally, good health; physical, emotional, and spiritual strength; organizational skills; time management abilities; excellent verbal and written communication skills; and decisiveness are key. Supportive family and friends are invaluable. Dental hygienists must also have strong clinical skills, and the ability to confidently and compassionately manage patients. As a practice owner, I spend a lot of time researching and learning more about effectively treating patients with a variety of physical, mental, and emotional needs. Business skills, especially financial management expertise, are also necessary to successfully open and maintain a private practice.
You have been active with the ADHA since the start of your career. How has this affected the course of your professional path?
My participation in organized dental hygiene—first in my local component, then on the state level, and later with ADHA—has offered countless opportunities for networking and continued education. It’s also allowed me to keep up-to-date on important regulatory and legislative activities related to dental hygiene. The more I learned, the more I wanted to participate. Leaders of the WSDHA and ADHA have provided me with training, strategic planning assistance, mentoring, and public speaking opportunities. By acquiring and then incorporating these skills, I have developed the confidence and courage to achieve my personal, professional, and practice goals.