It’s the month we celebrate love, and just off the heels of Valentine’s Day, I thought I should think about the tendency of dentists to fall out of love with their profession. Being of the positive mindset, my thoughts kept trending towards wanting to answer the question: “How can dentists stay passionate about their work?”
I spent part of my day yesterday with a prosthodontist who has been in practice for nearly 30 years and is enthusiastic about the latest Sirona CEREC system with its integrated 3D imaging. When his eyes lit up and he started explaining how the system’s standards of excellence had met his own exceedingly high ones, I knew he was in love with his “work” all over again.
As we viewed several complex cases on his computer, I felt his joy for the life-changing contributions he has been able to make for the many people he has come to know well and care about deeply during the course of treatment. “How I think of my work,” he said, “is I am contributing my best to improve another’s quality of life. I have such a passion for this that I cannot conceive of stopping.”
In THE ART OF CASE PRESENTATION, dental author, Barry F. Polansky, DMD, wrote about studies that indicate career passions, such as the one described above, are rare,“Those who considered their job a calling were around long enough to become good at what they do and have consistent feelings of efficacy and the ability to create relationships.”
But, how does a younger professional who has not reached the level of mastery stay passionate about dentistry? In his book, Polansky also wrote about “relatedness” being an essential element to loving any profession. He wrote, “Taking the time, as part of your examination process, to get to know your patient may be the most important thing a dentist can do in practice. There is a phrase I use that describes this nutriment well: ‘It’s never about you; it’s always about them.’ It is ‘them’ that makes the dentistry worthwhile. In order to engage ourselves with our work, we must connect to others.”
The late positive psychologist and bestselling author Chris Peterson concluded in much of his research that happiness is other people. In the end, other people matter. My prosthodontist friend would agree.
One of my mentors, Richard A. Green, DDS, MBA, once wrote these words, “I consider it a gift of dentistry that the nature of our work is one-on-one. Quality relationship development can be greatly enhanced in an appropriate environment. Relationship-Based Dentistry can be intimacy magnified. Being with and for another person, even in the face of resistance occurs at the feeling level and, therefore, invites an integrity of connection through the deep sharing of feelings and a deep listening for feelings.”
Lately, I’ve been listening to the fears of young professionals, and I can tell you there are fears to overcome when starting out in any profession. Amol Nirgudkar, CPA, CGMA, wrote in his latest book, PROFITABLE NICHES IN GENERAL DENTISTRY, “As professionals, we devote a substantial portion of our life toward becoming skilled at the art that we chose as our career. We strive to become technical experts in our field of expertise and aim to serve our clients to the best of our abilities. Implicit in our hard work is the desire to be rewarded for our skills and dedication to our field.”
In his book, Nirgudkar addresses a basic fear that overwhelms most professionals — namely, “I can’t stay financially afloat by working so hard and not emotionally and physically burn out while doing it.” Fortunately, he offers some well thought out treatment plans for general dentists that will enable them to systematically build their personal brand of practice through special service and profitable services… while enjoying the journey of discovery and mastery along the way.
Falling in love with dentistry can happen over and over again… each time a relationship blossoms, each time another’s life is improved, each time a new level of mastery is achieved, and each time a fear is resolved. If you wonder whether you should stay in the profession, reach out to encouraging colleagues, life mentors, supportive learning experiences, appreciative patients, friends who listen, and published reflections that will give you energy for the road.
I am not a dentist, but I can give you encouragement from my heart, first-hand knowledge of and appreciation for the life-changing solutions and care you contribute to others, and some connected thoughts for your journey. Today, my thoughts close with: I’m falling in love, all over again, with you.
Join me on March 28-29, 2014 for the Florida Dental Association Mission of Mercy, at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Volunteer registration is now open to provide free dental services to the underserved.