Are there “Before and After” pictures on your walls or website? There’s no doubt that orthodontics is a results driven profession. Yet it’s often the journey, and not the destination, that provides us with the deep sense of satisfaction. In our final interview for A Salute to the Women in Orthodontics, we have the privilege of speaking with Dr. Stephanie Rhoads, of Rhoads Orthodontic Specialist, who has discovered just how important the time between the before and the after image can be.
Thank you for taking the time to share with us today. You said that orthodontic treatment played a large role in your life. Did this experience play a role in you winding up in orthodontics?
I had a pretty sizable malocclusion and very crowded teeth as a kid. Even at a very early age I remember being self-conscious about it. The transformation I experienced from orthodontic treatment, the difference between before and after, had a huge impact on me. My confidence soared.
My orthodontist was fantastic and I always felt like he had my best interest at heart. That impacted me in terms of just knowing that I was in good hands. But there was something else. I really enjoyed going to the orthodontist, I really enjoyed my appointments.
So, there wasn’t an a-ha moment. I just always knew that I wanted to become an orthodontist. I still think a lot of that is because I had such a great experience with my orthodontist during my time in braces.
That’s interesting. Most people we’ve spoken to focus on the change that occurred after treatment transformation. I don’t know that anyone has zeroed in on the actual experience.
It’s something I’ve noticed. Rather than just focusing on the results of treatment, it seems that more practices are becoming more aware of how important the experience is. Obviously, you want to have great results with a perfect smile at the end. But I think the process has a huge impact on how people reflect on the entire experience.
In our practice, we go out of our way to make sure that our patients have a positive experience when they’re with us and always know how much we truly care about them. I make sure they’re having a good day, or if they’re not having a good day, maybe we get a laugh or a smile out of them.
It’s easy to forget how significant a role we are playing in other people’s lives. We have a special responsibility, and a special opportunity, to have a huge influence on our patients’ state of mind. It’s not only their overall confidence following treatment, but their day-to-day happiness. It’s all a part of who they will become after the braces come off.
Speaking of your practice, how did you come to own your own practice?
I started my practice from scratch. It was right out of residency. So, I graduated in May of 2013 from my residency program and we officially opened our doors in December of that year.
That’s an incredibly short turnaround! How did you even approach such a sizeable challenge right out of residency?
[LAUGH] It was a huge undertaking. I was fortunate in my residency program. I went to the University of North Carolina for my orthodontic training. They have a strong practice management program that was incredibly helpful. In the class, we took a trip to California for a week and visited multiple orthodontic practices. On the trip we could observe everything, take pictures and ask questions about how each practice does things. It was invaluable in figuring out what kind of practice I wanted. It was also great for picking up little tips and tricks that make things work. The faculty was just incredible in terms of helping me launch my practice; I cannot say enough good things about them.
There were also a lot of wonderful classmates and residents who graduated in the years before me, and I never missed an opportunity to talk to them. So, it was kind of a combination of all of that. It was still a very daunting process. But definitely well worth the stress and workload.
It’s worth noting that in 2013 the economy wasn’t in great shape. Even well-established practices found themselves having to really focus on the business side of things. Were you prepared coming out of orthodontic school and residency to take on all of the business aspects as well? Or is that something you learned on the fly?
A little bit of both. UNC did such a great job with their practice management prep. But you don’t know what you don’t know, until you realize you don’t know it! There was a lot of learning as things came up, investigating what I needed to do or how I needed to do it. But again, that’s where I was fortunate to have colleagues who were so open to helping and sharing. I was very lucky. Without them it would have been a lot harder.
Well, this is for our The Women in Orthodontics series. Can I ask what stood out to you as a woman who was creating her own small business?
You know, in a way, I feel like it (being a woman) has been an advantage for me. In the profession we work closely with a lot of mothers. I think it’s helpful to have a lot in common with the other moms. I also think younger kids sometimes like going to a female doctor. So, I haven’t really had a negative experience related to being a woman.
The hardest aspect of opening a small business as a woman isn’t really the business side. Since I’ve opened the practice, I’ve had three kids. That was the hardest part. Can you believe my maternity leave was about 10 days! The hardest parts were making sure that everything was set and would continue running smoothly prior to giving birth, and then getting back into the swing of things when I returned.
It’s obvious from what we’ve read on your website that you take your role as a woman orthodontist very seriously.
I take my position as a role model very seriously. I want to encourage all of our patients who may be trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives to come in and check out orthodontics. I love having teens and young adults, of both sexes , come in and shadow me for an afternoon. I always emphasize that it shouldn’t make a difference if you are a man or a woman; you can always achieve exactly the same things.
The biggest thing is figuring out how you want to balance your life—work and family and community. It’s deciding how you want that all structured and then going after it, because you can make it work however you want to. But it’s going to involve prioritizing and making choices.
How do you manage technology in your practice?
It’s important to me to stay up on the latest cutting-edge technology and what’s going on with the profession. But my rule is that I don’t jump on things that aren’t supported by research. I’m always looking to see if it provides an advantage to the patients, maybe to speed up treatment or make the treatment more comfortable.
We have a digital scanner. I use my soft tissue laser most every day. We use In-Ovation self-ligating brackets and Invisalign. I’ll admit that we are looking into 3D printing. But I don’t think the software is where I want it to be yet.
Thank you for a wonderful interview. Is there anything you’d like to end with?
For me, it comes down to balance. Being a business owner—and having three kids under the age of five—I work hard to find that balance. It’s a lot of work to be building a busy practice while also being there for your friends and family.
I have a lot of friends outside of orthodontics who work, and they work very hard. But unless you own a business I think it is hard to fully understand the balancing act. You’re never off work. You can also feel very isolated and by yourself with your own business. So, I think it’s important that we have the ability to share stories, support each other and help each other get over any problems we might encounter. I am very grateful for the digital age in which we live and the many forums available to help support our colleagues, both in challenges in practice and in life.