The Tangibles and Intangibles of a Successful Office Design

By Russ Cornelius
Photos by Roger Hein

Prosper Dental Office

Good dental practices should be designed and developed with both tangible and intangible qualities in mind. Certainly, the best equipment, merchandise and ambiance are critical in delivering the best clinical care. Nevertheless, a true desire to serve and care for both client and patient, an unrelenting pursuit of knowledge and experience and a determination to deliver the highest quality care are equally detrimental to a successful office design. Prosper Dental Health in Prosper, Texas, offers a perfect example.

For eight years, Dr. Marisol Trautman lived in Prosper and dreamed of opening her own dental practice there. After being introduced to Dr. Bill Gerlach, they soon realized they shared the same vision and became business partners. Dr. Gerlach already had plans in the works, and both doctors even had the same location in mind. They consulted with Burkhart Account Manager Karen Glessner, who brought in Equipment Specialist Stephan Nugent and together put into action the plans for Prosper Dental Health.

Dr. Gerlach: My background in dentistry actually started way back in high school. I knew little about it—I had always been blessed with good oral health—but one of my counselors asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t really know. Play baseball perhaps? He linked me up with an orthodontist, I spent the day with him, and that was it. From there I went on to Northwestern University where they have a program in the engineering department for biomedical engineering that is a seven-year B.S. DDS—three years in undergrad and then four years in the dental program. I did the three years in undergrad, but then went on to Baylor Dental School where I met my wife, who is also a dentist. I started as an associate in 1987 and had my first office as a solo practitioner in 1990. I’ve been in many locations as the practice has grown, and along the way I enjoyed dentistry more and more as it was delivered in a comprehensive manner. To me, doing all the aspects of dentistry myself, in my office, was a disservice to my patients. I felt the best thing I could do for my patients was to focus on preventative and restorative care and let the other talented specialists in the area do what they do. For the last 15 years, we’ve worked entirely in a comprehensive model.

Dr. Trautman: Unlike Dr. Gerlach, I had to go to the dentist a lot growing up. My first visit was at four years old, in Costa Rica where I was born and raised. My pediatric dentist was wonderful. So I decided at four that I was going to be a dentist. I saw him a lot and he started showing me his interesting cases through the years. When the time came to choose what to do, it was very easy for me. Costa Rica is very different from here, because even though it’s a seven- to eight-year program, you are attached to the dental school the whole time. You are taking dental anatomy in year one. I graduated in 1991 and in Costa Rica you have to work for the government for a year. You can either go to the hospital to see adults, or you go with the Ministry of Health and work on a mobile unit serving school-age children, which is what I did for a year. But, at the same time, we opened a dental office of our own—so we worked from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with the children and 4:30 to 9 p.m. in a private office. We did that because we wanted to come to the United States. At the same time, I wanted to learn more. So I sent off a bunch of applications and planned a trip. I went to the schools the day after the applications were received and met with them and was lucky enough to get in at Ohio State University. I had four cousins there at the time, and it was a lot of fun having family in town. I graduated from there in 1997, but I couldn’t work in the U.S. However, I could teach, so I applied for teaching jobs. I got into Baylor as a teacher in the AEGD program. The timing was great because they were going through accreditation, and having a specialist in prosthodontics was really great for them. I knocked on the door at the right time.

Prosper Dental Office Design

After that my family and I went back to Costa Rica so I could start a practice from scratch. I wanted to be a multi-specialty practice so we had a periodontist, an orthodontist, an endodontist, a general dentist, and me. But I missed the States. I had become an American in those six years, and my kids were born here, so we sold the Costa Rica practice after four years. That practice is now one of the biggest practices for dental tourism in Costa Rica. We came back to the U.S. in 2004 and I took a break from dentistry that was supposed to last two years, but it turned into four. During that time I had my third son, and I loved being a stay-at-home mom for a while. I got back into dentistry in 2008, and by 2014 I had decided I wanted my own practice again.

Before Dr. Trautman and Dr. Gerlach had even met, Dr. Gerlach was working on a business plan to replicate the success he had at another location. The key tenets were to have a high-quality practitioner and practice in an area with a high potential for quality referrals. The city of Prosper fit the bill for a location due to the high-quality specialists in the area and the potential for growth. Dr. Gerlach decided the area had room for high-quality restorative care that utilizes the highly trained specialists nearby. Those specialists agreed. The business plan was complete except for the dentist. That all changed when Dr. Gerlach was introduced to Dr. Trautman through a transition specialist.

Dr. Trautman had already lived in Prosper for eight years, and happened to be looking for a practice to buy into. It was a perfect fit for the plan Dr. Gerlach had put together. “From the initial meeting with Dr. Trautman, it has all been water flowing downhill. This was really meant to be.”

The fact that Dr. Trautman was from Prosper has been very important to their success. The connections she had made as a person, not a dentist, proved invaluable. Some advice they had been given was to “make sure you are in the parade.” So, they did just that. Literally. Before the practice was even open, they created a float and joined the homecoming parade.

Now that the final piece was in place, plans for the new practice were ready to move forward. Dr. Gerlach had a relationship with Burkhart account manager Karen Glessner for several years, so they turned to the Burkhart team for office design and equipment selection. Equipment Specialist Stephan Nugent guided Dr. Trautman through the selection process and consulted with her regarding her options. Together they spent time at the Burkhart office looking at chairs and cabinetry. Ultimately, they decided on A-dec for their core equipment. A team approach involving both doctors and the entire Burkhart team made for a smooth process.

Prosper Dental Staff

Once the practice was built, the perfect team was put together. The goal was to create a team that allows patients to become familiar with the staff and have a relationship with them as well. Isabelle moved over from another practice to become the dental assistant. The hygienist, Tammy, is the daughter of one of Dr. Trautman’s former patients. Tracey, the office manager, actually approached them about joining the team after working on their website for them. It is evident that the family approach has paid off. The team works in perfect harmony and the future looks bright for Prosper Dental Health. The relationship-building, family-style approach is a perfect fit for the local community— and for a prosperous future as well.

Click here to see the original article.

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