Dr. Kimberly Kim of iSmile Dental Augments Top-Notch Education with Top-Notch Resources
One glance at Dr. Kimberly Kim’s bio tells you how highly she values education, and that she was driven to study hard and put in the work required by prestigious institutions. She admits she wasn’t especially drawn to the dental field initially, but as her studies progressed, she said, “The more I learned, and the longer I am in the field, I know I made the right decision for myself.”
Dr. Kim was born and raised in South Korea. She earned her DDS in 1998 from Seoul National University, and immediately began a three-year residency program in Prosthodontics. Afterwards, she began practicing as an associate doctor. Along the way, she managed “in her spare time” to earn both an MSD and a PhD.
As an outcome of her husband studying for his own PhD at Stanford University, they moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 2003. It didn’t take Dr. Kim long to obtain her California dental license, and then she was back to working as an associate doctor… fulfilling her goal of teaching... and starting a family. In lieu of ever becoming a business owner, she expected to spend her career working for someone else, and teaching as much as possible.
An Unexpected Turn
And yet, the year 2011 was an eventful one for Dr. Kim. She gave birth to her second child, then just two months later opened her brand new “from scratch” iSmile Dental practice in Mountain View. She explained, “The situation at that time made me go that route. I didn’t have a passion or a dream; I was just thinking maybe if I did that, I would enjoy life more, not be so busy, be able to control my life and my time better, and have more time with my babies.”
She went on to confess…
That was not the case at all! The idea of life balance, and that I would have more control of my time -- that was completely wrong!
She went so far as to say that her new baby – now eight years old – “… gave up on me. She knows Mom is always busy; I’m the person who always gets home late.”
This uncharted journey of practice ownership began with just one dentist (herself), two dental chairs, two office staff, and one restroom. Fortuitously, Dr. Kim’s first two employees were aspiring pre-dental students. They were highly motivated to learn about the field, and were also “very very smart” about helping her set up a brand new business. They were young and enthusiastic about trying creative ways of doing things and testing new ideas, and weren’t constrained by traditional norms.
Unfortunately, neither was accepted into dental school. So, while she is happy they were able to pursue new dreams – namely, Veterinary school and MBA school – Dr. Kim is disappointed they are not with her today to share in the success of a business they helped to build from the ground up.
Perhaps surprisingly, the fact that the office had only one restroom was an important factor in Dr. Kim realizing, at the end of the 5-year lease term, that they had completely outgrown the space. She laughed as she described the scene -- “Everybody was in line in front of one restroom, and we were having a really hard time! Now we’ve moved to this office in Sunnyvale with 16 dental chairs and four restrooms. When we designed the office with the architect, it was really important to me that we put enough restrooms in!”
With practice growth came the inevitable challenge of successfully growing the staff. As the saying goes, we learn more from our mistakes than our successes, and Dr. Kim admitted – “I’ve learned a lot; when I started, I made a lot of mistakes. When I hired people, I didn’t have the eye to discern who would be good for our team. So, now when I hire people, I take my time to choose the right team member. Someone might seem to be the best person, but may not be the best person for our practice.”
Having learned the importance of precise selection criteria in getting the right talent, Dr. Kim stays heavily involved in the hiring process of all team members. – “Whenever I interview doctors or hygienists or assistants or office staff, I take my time and listen to their needs, and then we can make a better team. In a dental office, the dental part is only 10%. The receptionist makes the biggest impression, and then people form their opinion about the office and the quality of treatment based on their experience with the assistants and the hygienists, not from the doctor.”
Especially when it comes to hiring doctors, she knows there’s a lot more to consider than impressive credentials. -- “Here in the Bay area, everybody is top-notch. I cannot judge people from their credentials only. We need to talk. It’s important that I have some sort of connection with the doctors. Because we are in the people business, if the people are not the right ones, then we cannot do the best job for our patients. I admit I have been lucky, but I spend a lot of time to hire the best people to work with me.”
Another big challenge that came with practice growth was the growing workload as a business owner. Ever-humble about her leadership skills, she lacked confidence in her ability to effectively communicate, delegate and motivate others to do something well.
I’m a person who works very hard at everything. I am a perfectionist; if I don’t
do it, I can’t be as relaxed. But I couldn’t do
Another Turning Point
This realization came by the time the practice had grown to five or six dentists. Not surprisingly (and not atypically), Dr. Kim had become frustrated by her inability to handle the escalating workload. And, needless to say, the concept of life balance was pure fiction.
Dr. Kim began working with ChrisAd – a respected marketing and practice management consulting company. In addition to easing her marketing-related workload, they helped her visualize a practice broader than just implant specialists, to include hygienists, for example.
Based on ChrisAd’s glowing recommendation, it wasn’t long before she contacted eAssist Dental Solutions to take over insurance billing and collections, medical billing (considerable in this type of practice), and even patient statement services. Insurance verifications are also outsourced. She remembers, “It was the marketing company that introduced me to eAssist. That was a really good contribution from ChrisAd! Because without eAssist, I’m not sure how I would handle this business. I don’t have an office manager; I could not have handled it.”
Meet Dr. Kimberly Kim
- DDS (summa cum laude, 1998),
PhD (Dental Materials, Prosthodontics),
Seoul National University
- Prosthodontic Specialty Program, Seoul National University Hospital
- Research Assoc, King’s Dental College, London University, UK
- Chief Clinical Professor, Dentistry Dept, SCH University Hospital
- Asst Clinical Professor (volunteer), Dental Science Dept, University of CA-SF
By now, iSmile’s eAssist team consists of six eAssisters. Dr. Kim lauds the expediency of communication (seemingly 24/7 as far as she’s concerned!) – answers to questions, resolution of issues, customization of services to meet specific needs of the practice and Dr. Kim personally, and working through all the logistics of a second office about to open.
Right from the beginning, we couldn’t believe what they could do. And the longer we’ve had them on board, the more we rely on them. Definitely, without eAssist I could not do the business.
Dr. Kim said she didn’t need to lead the staff to embrace eAssist because from the get-go it was apparent to everyone “they were doing such an excellent job. And once they saw the work being done, the staff respected their professionalism.”
That said, one long-time staff member experienced a somewhat common concern that because part of her job was being outsourced, she felt less “useful.” But before long, she too, came to appreciate how valuable eAssist was to the practice. And more importantly to her, she came to realize how much more quality time and attention and energy she had available to put toward treating patients better.
As Dr. Kim explained, “The price of an implant is very high. You can’t just say, ‘Mr. Smith, here is how much it will cost. Do you want to do it or not?’ Of course, they’re going to say no! So you may need to start with their life story, and listen to all their concerns; to create a relationship. Only then can you get a patient’s acceptance.”
If the internal staff is too busy with an insurance claim, or trying to catch up, they are already too tired to take care of a patient’s request or answer questions.
Coping With COVID-19
During the industry shutdown, like so many doctors, Dr. Kim was pushed out of her comfort zone to have to offer teledentistry (due to the ongoing process of implant treatments), and also handled emergencies in the office.
She greatly appreciated the additional help during this period from eAssist’s above-and-beyond efforts to help all dentists (not just clients) stay informed about developments, and understand the financial resources available – “I definitely took advantage of the resources offered! On the webinars and live Q&A sessions, Dr. (James V.) Anderson was amazing! I had no idea eAssist was owned by a practicing dentist. I got so much advice… I got a PPP loan… an EIDL loan… really good pieces of information.”
In addition, Dr. Kim is proud to have earned the eAssist COVID-19 Cleanliness Certification – a 36-question exam that helped her ensure iSmile Dental met all cleanliness and sanitation guidelines and recommendations by the CDC, ADA, practicing dentists, and other reputable resources as the office reopened.
As of 2020, the iSmile Team consists of 63 people: 8 general dentists, another 6 specialists (e.g., orthodontists, pediatric dentist, endodontist), 30 assistants, 4 hygienists, and 15 office staff.
In March they were honored to be named by eAssist as one of this year’s Top Practice Award winners – given to a select few eAssist clients each quarter who embody the values of community involvement, exemplary dental services, and quality patient care. Given to the practice as a whole, the award recognizes the need for a cohesive unit to run a high-level practice… which is especially impressive considering these 63 people are not just playing well together, but knocking it out of the park as a team!
As for the next big step in her vision for the practice, Dr. Kim reported it will be achieved just two days after this interview! Remodeling of a second office got underway last year and was able to proceed, albeit with greater difficulty, throughout the COVID shutdown period. – “I wanted to pull my hair out! I had to keep telling myself, I can do this!”
And indeed she did, as the soft opening of the San Jose location began July 17th. This of course means she has been spending a lot of time hiring for that office, with one doctor already on board, and more to come. And, there are still many logistics to be arranged, but she is appreciative of the help she has been getting from her eAssist team:
I’ve been talking to my Account Manager for a long time about how we will do the second office. She has been catering to my needs every single step of the way!
When asked what advice or “pearl of wisdom” she most likes to share with others, Dr. Kim proved she is not only learned, but a lifelong learner. – “I don’t believe I’m a good one to give advice. I still need to learn a lot of things, so whenever I go to industry meetings or events, I’m always listening to other people’s explanations and experiences.” That said, she admitted that encouraging others to strive for life balance is a really good piece of advice… but as yet she has no idea how to accomplish that, particularly with the second office just now opening!