My practice began to remind me of the poem by William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality. I was building a prison for myself, like the one Richard Cabot wrote about in his description of drudgery. The practice wasn’t serving me. I was losing sight of my values. The values that I was more in touch with as a child watching Willie. Wordsworth was a master at describing life through natural metaphor. You can almost feel the cycle of life I was in when you read Wordsworth’s poetry:
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day
You see, the reason I became a dentist, at a very deep level, was to become the very best dentist I could become, and that meant to serve my patients and to make a good living. These two ideas seemed at odds. I was beginning to feel levels of frustration and loneliness, which I will discuss in a later chapter. For now let’s say that these feelings were the Wordsworth’s prison walls.
I believe we all became dentists to serve our fellow man. I believe what Albert Schweitzer said was true: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
In its early stages, my career could best be described by a descriptive phrase coined by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar – a wandering generality. I had no real direction. I was a victim of many poor habits, and I had never taken the time to clarify my philosophy of life or business. Those things are not taught in professional school, and although I took an abundance of continuing education, most people in these courses were overly concerned with making more and more money.
After fifteen years of wandering, I found myself at The Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, Florida. For the first time in my career, I was with dentists who seemed to know how to move past the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (survival) and on to the top of the pyramid (self-actualization). I met dentists, who became my mentors, who were very successful and happy in practice. Dentists who were interested in human potential rather than comfort, complacency and just surviving. Finally, I was on the road to real transformation. The transformation process is not an easy one, but if one has the desire, or is so frustrated from the same old unsatisfactory results, it can be accomplished. I am living proof. My first book, The Art of the Examination, discusses my transformation as well as a complete description of the Pankey Philosophy.
At the Pankey Institute I met dentists who had been down the same road I was on. My exposure to the philosophy lead me to a set of ideas and actions, that when followed, and consistently repeated, lead to an actual reframing of my world-view. I never looked at dentistry as drudgery again.
L.D. Pankey called success a “personal choice.” Transforming requires a lot of soul searching, introspection and decisiveness. First, you have to decide that you will embrace change, and then you have to struggle against habit and inertia. In the end, you will develop your own philosophy, your own vision of practice and your own sense of purpose, or mission. The book you have in your hands will guide you through a process. It will give you enough foundation to help you develop your own philosophy and give you practical applications in order to support your philosophy.
I cannot tell you what to believe in. I have developed my own philosophies about business and life. In so doing, I have developed an examination process that expresses that philosophy. The examination process starts with me. It starts with my own personal belief systems about people and dentistry. The examination process includes the vision of my practice, its mission, and the way people are treated in general. Through the examination, my patient will learn that I see myself as a fellow human being, no better or worse than the patient, simply in another role.
Creating your examination process will transform your practice. The examination process is the central nervous system of your practice. All businesses must have systems. Some systems are more important than others. In a dental practice, I can think of no other system that is more important than the exam. I will take you step-by-step through a process from the initial contact to commitment. In the end you will see that the results you get will be the products of a well thought out process. The examination process will focus on these critical forces that will help you self-actualize.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, private practice dentistry allows the dentist to create a business model that is mostly dependent on his own philosophy of life, than almost any other profession I can think of today. Private practice can be molded to give the dentist complete autonomy if he so chooses. Very few jobs offer that degree of freedom. You are in control.
One of the tenets of the Pankey philosophy is to “know your work.” Many dentists concentrate heavily on becoming technically competent. One of my favorite axioms is that competence leads to confidence. . One must learn to master the behavioral or psychological components of the work. The psychology of dentistry translates, in modern terminology, to human motivation…in other words, leadership, sales, marketing and management.