Career Path Interview: Nicole Furuta, DDS
Nicole Furuta, DDS
Private Practice Owner
On the surface, the dental profession does not seem like it would offer a variety of career paths but in reality, there’s much more than just what’s on the surface. Recently the team at the Articulator sat down and discussed the diversity the profession has to offer. From private practice and DSO to academics and public health, even entrepreneurship and innovation, there are countless options for dental school graduates or career dentists looking to make a change and find their passion within the industry. But don’t just take our word, we sat down with seven dentists from different journeys in the industry to learn about how they found their way within the profession. Despite their differences, at the heart of the interviews were two common denominators: the importance of not settling until you find a position that truly makes you happy and taking time away to reset whether through education, family, exercise or a hobby. Hear more from Dr. Amisha Singh, Dr. Geebellue Mensah, Dr. Nicole Furuta, Dr. Arthur Yagudayev, Dr. Amy Rosinsky, Dr. Jack Nguyen and Dr. Brett Kessler in the pages to come.
What influenced you to become a dentist?
My high school in Honolulu had a program that encouraged students to shadow different occupations before college. Everything from attorneys, doctors and architects to successful businessmen and entrepreneurs. A friend and I shadowed a pediatric dentist, Dr. Bert Sumikawa, and we connected right away. He offered me a summer job as a dental assistant and would ultimately become my mentor. He took time to slow down, show me and discuss procedures in detail. These discussions fostered a curiosity in both the art and science of dentistry. I did not have any family working in the dental field (and both my parents each had seven siblings, so that is saying a lot), so working in dentistry was very different and exciting. I worked for him over the summers through college and Dr. Sumikawa encouraged me and helped me find my path to becoming a dentist.
Can you share about your path to private practice ownership?
I graduated from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry planning on being an associate until after I had finished having kids. I moved home to Hawaii before my boards and practiced at a public health clinic before moving to La Jolla, CA to complete a GPR at the Veterans Administration. It was at the VA that I was introduced to both occlusion and some more advanced techniques that continue to capture my interest to this day. My time there also confirmed my desire to work in private practice.
I moved to Colorado with a plan to work at corporate dental practices while I figured out the dental market in the Metro Denver Area. The goal was to use the information I learned to determine where I would ideally like to practice and then look for a practice to join in that area. I wasn’t “entrepreneurial” and knew my business skills were limited. So, I knew it would be helpful if a prospective partner was both. Before long I found myself lucky to be surrounded by friends
and mentors who helped me to become a better businesswoman, leader and employer.
Working as an associate in a corporate office helped me to grow my clinical and verbal skills, and it also taught me how to lead a practice’s clinical and front office teams while learning the balance of entrusting key team members to manage the aspects I didn’t have time to do myself. This helped me determine how I wanted to run my own practice in the future.
About nine months after moving to Colorado, I was accidentally forwarded an email from a dentist who was thinking about looking for an associate. I asked if I could meet her and we really hit it off. She was the entrepreneurial/marketing savvy personality I was looking for and we complimented each other nicely. So, I accepted a position as an associate at Lodo Dental and was a partial-then-sole owner of the practice until 2019 when my current partner joined the practice.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your career?
Transitioning to private practice was new and challenging and involved a lot of trial and error. But that trial-and-error would have been a lot more “error” if it weren’t for some great mentors and consultants. That isn’t just limited to one-on-one consultants but thinking about your continuing education as a balance between clinical and business classes which introduce you to your weaknesses before they can sneak up on and hurt you.
Today, I think I do a much better job of not alienating my team because I learned to admit my mistakes, be open to suggestions and ask some very wise people for their help. There is wisdom in everyone. Do your best to draw it out and you’ll always be on track for great success. And I do my best to apologize and try not to repeat mistakes—especially if they negatively impact others.
It’s important to be open to calculated risks, so long as they are in line with healthy goals and have everyone’s best interests at heart. If you are not constantly willing and open to improving and changing, dentistry/business/life will leave you frustrated and burnt out. Why? Because change is inevitable. You either do it incrementally while balancing your focus on change or you’ll get it all at once like a firehose that will knock you end-over-end.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a private practice owner?
I have two big challenges: leadership and communication. I want to be the best leader possible for my team instead of being the best manager. Leaders can leave their teammates to do their jobs—managers cannot. Dentists whose style is more manager than leader pay a heavy price in their professional and personal lives. I am far from a perfect leader and it is one of the greatest challenges I struggle with daily. But I have learned, that good leaders know where their team members are and want to see them fail a little and learn. I have learned letting team members make small mistakes before they make big mistakes and asking questions I hope they will remember before they would have otherwise made their next big mistake are keys to building a team you can trust and who will value your trust.
Take time to figure out everyone’s communication styles and communicate with them on their level. Have your team take a DISC, Insights or another personality test. Then always do your best to keep this in mind whenever working with them. It won’t come naturally until you practice it constantly. If it becomes easy and natural to you with little work, please teach me your secret(s)!
Can you share resources that have helped you as an owner or in clinical dentistry?
Always be learning! Great continuing education will change how you practice and improve the ways you can help patients so it is worth a significant investment. And don’t forget to take good care of your body—you’re going to need it for the rest of your life!