The last couple of years were eye-opening and transformative for leaders in charge of businesses of every size all over the world. Safety protocols, shutdown procedures and restrictions meant that quick action had to be taken to ensure human – and business – survival. Pandemic-prompted changes hit nearly every industry, but particularly the healthcare field.
Dr. Vivek Cheba is a Calgary-based orthodontist who is also an entrepreneur and small business owner. The kindness and professionalism of his childhood orthodontist prompted his career and interest in having his own clinic. Now, nearly a decade into orthodontic practice, he has had to adapt his clinic, like all other small businesses out there. With that came a host of challenges and lessons learned – lessons that can be applied for business success further down the road.
We recently sat down with Dr. Vivek Cheba to discuss what it takes to be a small business owner, and particularly the owner of an orthodontics clinic, during a pandemic.
In Canada, dental and orthodontics clinics were shut down outside of emergencies, is that correct? How did you navigate this? What were the unique challenges?
Dr. Vivek Cheba: Yes, clinics were shut down. The government did mobilize to provide assistance to businesses and employees, which was tremendously helpful. At the end of the day, we still had bills to pay. Most companies that are fiscally responsible have, essentially, rainy day funds, but I don’t think anyone could have expected that we would be closed to regular patients for as long as we were. I would say that one of the unforeseen consequences to the extended closure of dental and orthodontics clinics is the overall oral health of Canadians. Still, we had a highly transmissible and dangerous virus to try to mitigate, collectively. It meant working together and making sacrifices for the greater health benefits of Canadians. Will dentists and orthodontists have our work cut out for us in the years to come since many people let their dental hygiene slip during the pandemic? Yes.
Safety protocols became paramount in navigating and mitigating the virus while also providing patient care. Have patients been understanding of requirements?
Dr. Vivek Cheba: Thus far we have received incredible support from patients with regard to safety procedures. Masking of myself and employees, patients required to wear masks in the waiting area, hand sanitizer in abundance. We have mostly heard only positive feedback regarding safety protocols. People often thank us as they leave the clinic. They say we make them feel safe.
The pandemic proved an isolating time for many people who were often interacting with others in offices around the globe. How did you support employees during that challenging time?
Dr. Vivek Cheba: To be cut-off from colleagues was challenging for all of us. We maintained an open dialogue during the pandemic shutdown and made a more conscious effort to inquire about each others’ well being. Mental health counseling is low cost or free to most people in Canada, and it is covered by the insurance we offer to employees at the clinic. We made sure to remind each other to seek help if we were struggling. That little reminder goes a long way when people are experiencing difficulties.
What is your big takeaway from the last couple of years; what wisdom would you like to pass on to other small business owners?
Dr. Vivek Cheba: What has struck me about the last couple of years is the resilience of the human spirit. Many of us have struggled in nearly indescribable ways: we have lost loved ones to a terrible, isolating disease; we have lost income to an economy that had to weather an unbelievable economic storm. The experiences of recent years have left an indelible mark on all of us personally and on humanity in general. It was not easy and the road to recovery probably will not be easy, either. But there is a sense of fortitude in humankind. We endure so that we can again prevail. Canadians, especially, have navigated this pandemic with kindness and understanding for one another. I’ve seen the kindness in my children, in my neighbors, in my colleagues and in my patients. It gives me hope for the future. Business is nothing without the people. Look out for your employees and patients/customers as much as possible.