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Statesville dentist bridges gap between family, work

Four weeks pregnant and overseeing a busy dental practice, Amanda Kotis knew she faced a tough decision.

She had just bought her first dental practice, once owned by a dentist who ran it for 47 years. She was in the midst of a $70,000 renovation that included swapping out typewriters for computers, and old chairs held together with duct tape for new office furniture.

But, she wanted a second child.

So Kotis, 35, made a risky choice: She hired someone else to run the dentistry during her maternity leave with her newborn, Layla Eve, now 7 months.

“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” Kotis said. “But it became really easy.”

Kotis’ struggle to decide how she would balance family and career reflects the type of challenges facing other female entrepreneurs.

From last year’s best-selling book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” to headlines such as “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” an article in The Atlantic in 2012 , the topic has inspired national conversations.

For Kotis, who owns Kotis Family Dentistry in Statesville, it became a matter of finding fulfillment on both personal and professional fronts. She and her husband, Ryan, were already parents to a son, 5-year-old “Touchdown” Tucker.

“I said, ‘What am I doing? I’m working all the time. I want to spend more time with my son and I want to have a baby.’ ”

She was also fully committed to her new practice – an $850,000 investment that needed serious attention. Employees still used typewriters to process paychecks. Patients weren’t always notified of upcoming appointments. People in the community who knew and loved the previous dentist there for 40-plus years were opening wide for a practitioner they didn’t know.

Kotis found Dr. Susan Olcott, a dentist who specialized in filling in for other practices.

Kotis shares what went into making a decision that she says benefited her personally and professionally. Her story has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Avoiding regrets: “I had to focus on … just getting the whole office completely up to par where I felt comfortable having someone come in. I felt that ... if I looked back and I didn’t (take leave), I knew I would regret it and I would resent the practice and I would resent everything about my career if I sacrificed having my family.”

The search: “I started looking and asked some of the companies that help you find people. They wanted so much money. (I decided) I’ll screen them. I’ll save myself gobs and gobs and gobs financially by screening them.

“I started looking on sites like DentalJobs.net and Craigslist and I sent out emails to different clubs and organizations in dentistry. I spent probably four months or five months looking for someone. I talked to some people over the phone. One person came in. She needed full time, all-the-time, just her. I needed someone who was not necessarily looking to stay full time ultimately, but would be willing to go full time while I was out.”

Paging Dr. Olcott: “I ran across a doctor who had forgotten to take her résumé down at DentalJobs.net. I found her number and called her, told her my situation.

“She had already run an office on her own. She understood all that’s associated with running your own practice. Clinically, I knew she was fully competent because of the types of cases she had done in the past.

“There are different ways to pay a doctor. You can set pay-per-day and then there’s the other option, percentage of production. (Olcott) had an enormous amount of experience and she was willing to start out with per-day.

“I worked with her for a month. When you have individual patients with individual treatment plans ... it’s important to have that time, to make sure you’re on the same page. ... Let a patient see you with (the new hire). I wanted my patients to know I am coming back.”

Olcott speaks: “I’m childless by choice. It is extraordinarily difficult to do: balancing a family and running a full-time practice.

“When I came on board with Dr. Kotis, we hired three new staff members within the first month I was there. I trained three people. After running my own practice for nine years ... you just do it from memory. It’s like riding a bike. I’m pretty grateful that I’m able to continue to help her out.”

Kotis returns unexpectedly: “Two weeks out, after my C-section, I ended up back in the office one day because (Olcott) was sick and we had a full-patient load. I went into the office and saw patients while the girls negotiated the baby in the back, and I breastfed in-between patients. I remember one time I was going up to help her, just trying to get out the door, and the baby kept having accidents all over me. It was really, really hard.

“I was still running the business the whole time. In the end, I can’t really disassociate myself from the practice, no matter what. I was on the phone, looking at cases, coming in ... solving problems all the time. That’s the way it is with working moms. We never stop. If you own your own business, you don’t get maternity leave.”

And, now? “I went back in more regularly about five months ago. I would come in for a week and she would come in for a week. I never was really completely out, but I wasn’t having to be there from 8 till 5 every day. I’m trying to get my practice to grow with new patients so I can keep Dr. Olcott with me. As of now, she’s not going to be there permanently.”

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