28 min readThe Jameson Files 112 – Pursuing Your Vision and Values in Dentistry with Dr. Ashly Cothern

Carrie Webber, Owner, The Jameson Group

Carrie Webber [00:00:10] Welcome back to the Jameson Files. I’m Carrie Webber and I’m your host and I’m so excited to be sitting here today with a dear friend—Jameson client—an amazing dentist. Dr. Ashly Cothern from Dallas, Texas. Dr. Cothern, thank you so much for being with us today. Great to be here. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:00:31] Dr. Cothern has practiced for 17 years and is considered year over year, one of the topmost respected dentists in the Dallas Fort Worth area and is recognized by her peers on a regular basis. And I’ve had the privilege of being in your practice before, so I see where the magic happens. And it’s an incredible environment, working environment, practice culture. It’s very special. And so I want to start first by asking you a little bit just to share your story, how you came to dentistry and how you find yourself where you are today as a practicing dentist and mom of an amazing family and ultimate servant leader in your practice. 

Carrie Webber [00:01:15] So what led you to dentistry? 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:01:17] Well, I always tease and say I’m not certain. I think God hit me with a lightning bolt and said, you’re going to be you know, I don’t have any family members that were in dentistry or physicians for that matter. But I think the story goes truly when I was seven or eight years old, I said to my parents, I want to be an orthodontist. I don’t think I really knew what that meant. But about the time I got braces, 13, 14 years old, I went and asked my orthodontist, may I work in your office? You don’t have to pay me. I just want to be here. And this is what I say I want to do. I want to see if this is what I want to do. And he said, no. 

Carrie Webber [00:01:50] Oh, wow. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:01:51] I said, OK, I’m going to go to my general dentist, my family dentist. And they said, yes. And so I worked there summers and through high school and into college come back for Christmas. I would pop in. And ultimately, they did hire me. They did pay me. So I got to see what that looks like. And I think if I go back to the roots of it, my family history, there’s a lot of divorces and oftentimes there wasn’t a lot of security. And I think in my little girl mind, I wanted to be able to provide for myself. And so I think that that was something to just say. Here’s a profession that’s always going to be needed and I can be in demand and simply be my own boss if I want to or be an employee if I want to. It can just look so many different ways. And so along the way, I had some wonderful male and female orthodontist, non-orthodontist, periodontist, you know, all the specialties- mentor me along the way. So I got to see what dentistry looked like. And again, I don’t know where it came from, but somehow, I got the wisdom to go jump inside several different offices before I even got to dental school. And I did. I went inside a different orthodontist office in college gives me and decided I did not want to be an orthodontist. That’s not something I wanted to do. I wanted to have more variety. His wife was a periodontist. I went and worked in a periodontist’s office and said, Yeah, I kind of like it. But again, I went a little bit more variety. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:03:15] So I went into dental school thinking general dentistry. And so that’s kind of where it came from. I have ever since a little girl that I was a little girl, that’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do. And I truly have a passion for dentistry. I very early on have been able to see how people walk in and pain or people walk in. I’m not pleased with their smile cosmetically or aesthetically. And they leave and they’re out of pain and they have a little pep in their step, and they have a sparkle in their eye for their new smile or whatever the case may be. And so just being able to have that impact on patients’ lives was so intriguing to me. And I think it’s ironic that one of the original reasons that I wanted to be a dentist was financial security. I do that as a little girl, but that’s I think that’s the reality. Coming from a lot of divorce, I’m just thinking, okay, I need to be able to stand on my own. I need to be able to provide for myself or God forbid, you know, if I do get divorced or if there’s a death or whatever the case may be, provide for my children as well. So I went into dentistry coming out of dental school thinking, all right, here we go. I’m about to make a whole lot of money. I’m going to prove that we want to be a successful doctor. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:04:29] And as time has passed, my husband and I have been married almost 20 years. And I think we define success so differently now than we did initially, where initially we thought success was financial success. 

Carrie Webber [00:04:44] Right.

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:04:44] And we have four fabulous kiddos and now we define success as we make a nice living and we get to do some wonderful things. But there are still financial stresses we both paid for our own undergrad. We paid for my dental school. Life is expensive. Kids are very expensive. And so we are in no way financially free. But I work three days a week at the office. I get to be a mommy four days a week, so we have a very nice living. But we define success differently now and that we say the schedule that we keep, the flexibility that we have is how we define success. You know, being able to be at my kid’s games and pick them up from school or take them to school or really, truly whatever I define in that season. That to me is success, you know. Yeah. I mean, we still struggle with, OK, you know, is there money enough to do this? Right. We have to be mindful of personally and professionally where those moneys go. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:05:46] So what initially started me out as a seven-year-old little girl with financial freedom being the goal. I think God’s real sweet and just keeping us humble and blessing us with a whole lot of opportunities. But at the same time, being humble enough to know that we’re not financially free and I doubt we ever will be. 

Carrie Webber [00:06:08] Well, you have a lot of clarity on in a vision of what success means to you. Specifically to you and your husband, your family specifically. That may not be what it is for someone else. But there’s something really powerful when you can sit back and feel really centered. That is when I can easily identify, with great clarity, what’s most important to me and how I can define success. And it doesn’t mean this anymore. It means this. So in your practice, fast forward to today, what’s most important to you in terms of with your team, with how you grow your practice? How does your day-to-day look like when you’re there and with your patients as well, those relationships? What what’s your vision for your practice today? 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:06:59] So I think now really in the second half of my professional career, I’m truly the midpoint of our lives. My husband and I, again, both personally and professionally, are saying, OK, so here we are in the second half of our life. What do we want this to look like? What do we want it to feel like? What legacy do we want to leave behind? How do we want to do this? And my husband has just recently said we’re not going through a midlife crisis, that we’re going through a midlife realization. I’m just saying, OK, what do we want our bodies to physically feel like, you know, keeping up with four kids? We both are athletes and love triathlons and swimming and biking and running. We love doing all this stuff. There’s only so many hours in the day. You know, we both work and the kiddos and keeping up with date nights and being a good daughter and being a good friend and being a good mom a good dentist. 

Carrie Webber [00:07:46] All the hats! 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:07:47] Yeah. And so but just pausing for a minute and saying, OK. So what do we want this to look like? And so to your point or to your question, I’m doing the same thing. Gentilly and I look at my dental practice as a mission field. I look at it and I tell my team all the time, we’re not just folks in dentistry. We’re not just fixing teeth. We’re not just answering the phone. We’re not just. But every single opportunity, as you and Cathy say, every interaction with a patient is an opportunity to love on somebody, care for somebody. And I believe that we’re put on this planet to love God and love others. And that’s our vision. And that’s we want to care for people. We feel honored to have the profession that we have, the physical building that we get to come to get to go to work with these fabulous ladies who are some of my dearest friends. I mean, what a blessing. And I feel that word—a blessing—is really overused, but I feel like it’s a true honor to be able to do that.

And I feel like it’s a calling—that we’re not just in dentistry. We have the opportunity to sit down with people face to face. It’s in a very different atmosphere. As we all know. A lot of people don’t like going to the dentist. They’re fearful, whether it’s a past experience or finances or time or whatever the case may be when they sit down in our chair where we have a different interaction with them than we do, say, somebody at Starbucks or somebody, the same person, at the grocer or, you know, we flip them upside down and pour water down their throat.

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:09:15] And, you know, oftentimes there’s tears and it’s emotional and it’s personal. And so we take that very seriously. And so I feel like it’s a privilege to have a person one on one in today’s society that is so busy. Everybody’s in a hurry. Everybody’s stressed. But to sit down with them and have the opportunity to say, tell me about you. Let me get to know you. You know, and as I’ve taught by Jameson peeling back the layers of the onion and saying, you know, let’s get to the core of this. Why are you crying? Why are you fearful? Why aren’t you, you know, making the appointment? What is it about? Let me know you. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:09:49] And that’s what I always tell patients. I want to know you. I want to get to know that all of you, the comprehensive view, not just putting out fires and sluggin’ a filling in this tooth. Right. We want long term relationships. I have a fairly small practice in the big city of Dallas. I want it to feel – we pray in our morning huddles, “Lord, when people walk through these doors, allow them to know that they’re entering somewhere different, allow them to know that they have friends and that they’re loved and that they’re seen and that they’re heard and—” as opposed to I’m just going to get a filling, you know, and they’ll still be people that come in that way. And that’s OK. 

Carrie Webber [00:10:21] You know, we’re actually recording this podcast today at one of the Jameson leadership courses. One of our symposiums. And we at this course, we talk a lot about that clarity of vision and the who and the why who that you are in the way that you pursue in your career and that it’s important to align with people that are on board for the direction that you’re wanting to go, because, you know, conflicting purposes or values, while one is not bad. Another is good. If we’re not in alignment in our work together, especially in small businesses like a dental practice where you have four, five, six. You have other five, six of others. And so that’s a lot of time together. That’s a very maximized, minimal team that’s helping to try and get you where you want to go and what you want to accomplish in your practice for your patients. And your clarity is it’s something that’s always been very special about you, is because you attract a lot of people that want to work in that environment. The team members that are with you today, they love you and they think, “We work with the best dentist ever!” And I said, well, that’s true. Because they said, “She wants to serve, and she wants to serve our patients and she wants to serve us. And it’s never for her own self-benefit.” 

Carrie Webber [00:11:51] And that’s how they see it. That’s what they told me about you. And that’s pretty beautiful. So how did you… I think servant leadership is just the who that you are. But those communication skills to keep your team engaged with you. But also that conversation you say you have with your patients. You know, tell me, you know, prioritizing the time to build relationships that ultimately have resulted in loyalty with your team but also with your patients. How did you get there? What did you implement was difficult at first? Has it been something you’ve developed within yourself? 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:12:28] Well, I think starting back Cathy Jameson taught me a long time ago that being a true leader doesn’t simply mean doing it all yourself. And being a true leader means empowering others and equipping others and being surrounded by a team. I mean, that goes from the accountant to the attorney to the assistant to the front office, you know, everybody. And I believe that with my kids, too, you know, they’re growing them up and teaching them and equipping them that they, too, are leaders in their own realm with our family. And at the office, I think it’s the same thing. And I now know that being surrounded by other leaders is truly I mean, that’s the way. That’s the life. That’s the fun. That’s the decrease in stress that because you’re such a great leader over there and I trust you and you’re equipped. You got it. I can go do my job. I trust you and who you are and how you’re going to handle this. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:13:26] And so I know you’ve seen the movie La La Land. 

Carrie Webber [00:13:30] Yeah!

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:13:31] So I love- for your listeners who aren’t familiar-the main character is a musician and a true, true essence of he loves jazz music and so he loves the true essence of jazz and he wants to open a jazz bar. And the way life goes, it just the opportunity ever present itself is too expensive. Didn’t work out. Yada, yada. And so he gets a really well-paying job and another band, and he’s got all this fortune and fame and kind of going down a different path. And his girlfriend at the time says no. Now, why aren’t you opening the Jazz Bar? And he just came up with all the life excuses. Time and money and effort and energy and all that. And she says, but you’re passionate about it. And people want a part of what you’re passionate about. And I’ve always loved that. And it goes back to good to great. Yeah. I remember talking to a patient right after we had read that book. And I was telling this patient she’d ask me some questions. I don’t recall what? We started conversing about what I was telling her about this book. And this is who our practice is. And this is who we are. And this is what the bus looks like. And here’s who’s on it and here’s who’s off of it. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:14:33] And she just sat in that patient chair and she’s like, I went on that, you know, and it’s like, yes, ma’am! Way to go! You know? 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:14:40] And so it’s kind of that energy. And it’s that, as you guys say, I mean, it’s kind of like you build it and they will come, and you attract the people who are on a similar path or a vision or of the like. And so I think, you know, to your point, it’s just. And that’s what I have evolved into knowing. And one, I’ve been away from that. And I’ve spent time practicing where it hasn’t been that I wasn’t a great day or that I feel good or I’m really not enjoying working with her negativity. That is what has brought. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:15:10] It’s like you’ll also say it’s important to know what you don’t want when you don’t want around. And so to be able to extract that from your life as well. You know, that’s so important. And so I think just evolving into how all my days to be really good and I want it to be fun because I loved dentistry and I love people. And so to your point of the relationships, whether it’s team member to team member or myself or a team member to patients having that relationship, having that trust, having that communication of just being open, you know, Dr. John Jameson, who I try to channel as often as possible when I sit down at a new patient appointment. Yeah, I’m Ashley Cothern. And tell me about you. And they always are like, “Like, where was I born, or…?”

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:15:55] And I’m like, “Yes!”. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:15:57] And they’re like, “My upper left hurts.” 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:16:00] And I’m, “Hey, wait a second. Like, tell me about you? Where do you come from?” You know, and I think people, as we talked before, have busy schedules and stress and, you know, customer service has gone out the window. Right. For somebody to sit down and get knee to knee and just say, I want some of you. Tell me about you. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:16:18] And so fairly recently in the practice, production is going up and up to where we’re being successful. But I’m also noticing some chaos creeping in and I’m noticing some laziness in our system and I’m noticing… And so I get Cathy Jameson on the phone and say, “I need some help. We need you again.” And so for a long time, I was a student of the Jameson way and I drank the Kool-Aid and bring it on. I got it. I know it works. And I mean, I was just like a well-oiled machine. “I” being the words I can articulate, and I can spit out, and my team members as well. Well, as time happens or goes along attrition happened. Right. And I would lose this team member and then a new team member would come in and I would try to teach the Jameson way. You know… “This is why we do it. Three by five. Check out. This is why we do…” And I just notice some watering-down of the system. And so, as we have some new team members now, it’s like, okay, I need this to feel good again. I want this to be fun again for everybody. I want everybody to leave at the end of the day with some energy. Spend time with their family or go exercise or just sleep well or you know, whatever the case may be. So I feel that that’s kind of where we are if I’m pulling back the curtain a little bit. We’re in a little spot of this can be better. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:17:34] I know that we can be better! Shame on us if we don’t want to be better, you know?

Carrie Webber [00:17:38] And time, transition, growth, those are all factors that can shift the tide a little bit of where you’re going for you. The beautiful thing is that that you experienced what the right version of your practice for you felt like. And we know and you’re aware enough to know what you need. And as a leader to recognize this is what we’re doing well. But here’s where we could be doing better to always be on that continuous path of improvement. And I love, you know, I think from the prioritization of time to get to know your patients and build that relationship really from the ground up. I think you’re right. When you grow and as practices get busier, that customer service, the communication time, that relationship building time often gets. That’s what gets cut out to fit something else in. And you don’t feel what that results in at first. It’s not until you’re down the road a little bit and you realize what happened to get here. Yeah. How do we get to this? How are we now feeling like we’re spinning our wheels and just churning and churning and churning? And there’s no real there’s no practice building and there’s certainly no relationship building happening. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:18:59] Well, and that’s the people that you guys are in contact with, that Jameson gets to touch. That’s the small percentage of dentists who want to do greater things, who want to challenge themselves both personally and professionally. And so you’re dealing with those people who are hungry and eager and wanting to do that. And I feel that shame on us if we’re not that way, because that’s where richness is, is just challenging ourselves and growing and questioning. And we can do this better. And I even had one of my dear friends who’s an employee say something to the effect of, you know, doctor, we’re making more money than we’ve ever made, where there’s more money in the bank, there’s more new patients. What, like what’s the problem? What do we need Jameson for? 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:19:39] I mean, that was kind of the attitude. It’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. This is not about, yeah, I’m in debt. I need to pay my bills. Money is important. Don’t get me wrong. But I want to feel good. I want energy. I want to love it. I want it still to continue to be passionate about people and dentistry and the process of it all. And so. But that’s society, right? Yeah. You got money in the bank. All is good. And the facade that you talk about of, you know, it may look this way on paper, but let’s talk about how it feels and let’s talk about there’s lack of trust because. I just heard you say something crazy about you saying to a patient because that doesn’t go back to our vision or our mission or philosophy. And so what a great opportunity that people have to come to you guys and just say, I’m kind of holding up the white flag a little bit. You know, we’re told we need total rehab, or we just need to be tweaked a little bit and polished a little bit. And so I’m so grateful for you guys because it works. It absolutely works. As long as you can be vulnerable enough to say, hey, we can do better. Help us be better here. 

Carrie Webber [00:20:42] I’m stuck here. Yeah, I’m stuck here. So for the people that are listening, they may be hearing this and saying, well, I’m a working mom or I really want to get more to the heart of the matter. I want a purpose-driven practice, or I want to feel like I’m building stronger relationships with my team or with my patients. I want to do that. What would you say to them if they don’t even know where to begin? Well, what would be one piece of advice that you could give in terms of establishing that clarity of what success looks like for you or even improving the culture, your practice or the relationships with your patients? 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:21:21] Well, I think we make time for what we value. Right. And so even being here this week, I left for kids behind the spreadsheet that is on my refrigerator right now, the four grandmothers that are helping my firefighter police husband who has a funky schedule. So he’s there half the time. He’s out there half the time. Our precious nanny, who is my children’s second mom, is traveling in Europe this week. So she’s not home, but the spreadsheet is bayoneted here. Who’s got all the moving parts that I had to get in order to be here, you know, at eleven thirty at night, the night before I came. 

Carrie Webber [00:21:58] Divide. And conquer is a very real thing when it comes to work and parenting.

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:22:02] Take it absolutely takes a village. But I look to my husband, I was like, I really got to want to be, you know, going on this trip like this is a beating, you know, setting all this up and getting everything now that all the things and places in place. But in my children, I’m gone enough. I go to work enough. There are other people in their lives, their grandparents are nanny, you know, etc. at that. And they’re not on their knees crying, Mommy, why are you leaving? But they’re like, now, what are you doing? Why are you going? And do you have to go? And you know. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:22:32] So I had one baby that lost a tooth this morning. I had one baby to his first baseball game of the season last night that I met. I have one that has her first high school pep rally in the morning, one that’s cheering at her first games. You know, it’s that there’s tons of things that I’m missing that my mama heart is gone. Oh, my sakes. I want to be there. Yeah. But at the same time, I’m teaching my kids. Let me tell you where I’m going, kids. I’m going to better myself. I’m going to become a better wife, a better mommy, a better lover of Jesus, a better friend, a better leader, you know, in all of that. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:23:04] And so to answer your question, I think we have to make time and we have to. I mean, when it’s 330 and my dental day is done, I have a seven-minute commute to get to my house and I put my mom hat on and the day begins, you know, there. But we have to make the time because I have several things on my desk, dental that I need that need my time. And I have to carve out that time. I have to make that time. I have two team members with me this week. The reason they’re here is because I think the time in the car, the time in the hotel room, the time sitting with you guys learning and being sponges is going to pay off exponentially. Right. When we eat, when we head back. And so I think making the time for what’s important to us. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:23:45] And so if that’s somebody saying, I don’t know what my vision is, carve, carve out a little bit of time, that could be an hour. That can be a full day. But as you guys encourage us, write down your goals, write down your vision, write down your mission, know what your philosophy is, wherever you come from, where you now, where do you want to go and how are you gonna get there and have those action steps? And so it can be overwhelming. But I think if we just carve out time for what’s important, if that is, man, this team member is no good, I really need to get her out of here. But that’s going to be a pain. I have to look for her. I have to pay for her. I have to train her. I have to, you know, a lot of time. But we all know how freeing getting right that negative ninny out of the mix is and bringing in somebody who can be productive and right like that make the time to do that if it is. Wow. I just don’t really like where my practice is right now or I’m not producing what I want. I am not in a practice. And that’s the type of dentistry that I want. Make the time to go to the CEO. I have a dear girlfriend of mine who is in all that. We shut down the office at noon every four to six weeks for a staff meeting. It’s very basic, but she’s like, I can’t afford to shut down half a day. Well, you can’t afford not to because there’s so many things that we talk about and then we process and you know, I’ll go a full day without seeing my office manager, except for the huddle. And then we walk out the door, because we’re all going in different directions. 

Dr. Ashly Cothern [00:25:06] So as you guys have encouraged us, start the day with the huddle set. Your day and then every few weeks, you know, stop and pause when Jameson comes in and we shut down for two days. Other dentists will say, “I don’t have, I can afford that. I can’t do that,” you know, but you can’t afford not to. And so I think the small percentage that you guys get to work with, the small percentage of excellent Dennis who are listening to this podcast, that means they want more. They want to be challenged. And so to make the time, to take the time, and you will go from good to great by simply doing that. 

Carrie Webber [00:25:38] I love that you make the time for what you value, but that was really powerful and to as you said, to really start writing down, giving yourself permission if you’re looking for where to begin for yourself, giving yourself permission to have time to write down the things that you’re wanting, that maybe that you want to have different or that you recognize. You don’t want them to be that way anymore. And prioritizing that list and getting to work on it and making the time for what you value. You know, Dr. Cothern, you are so passionate and for people and for the work that you do. 

Carrie Webber [00:26:17] And one of my favorite quotes, I don’t even know who says it, but they say, light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn. And you are on fire with passion. And I think your team recognizes that and they love you for it. And so do your patients. 

Carrie Webber [00:26:35] And so do we. Thank you so much for being with us today. And thanks to all of you for joining us. We’ll see you next time. 

Carrie Webber [00:26:43] Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Jameson Files. Visit us online at J M S N dot com. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunesGoogle Play Music, or Spotify. Do you have questions or topics you’d like us to answer or cover on the next podcast? Email us at [email protected].

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