Fresh perspective for success in healthcare

Don’t Say No! Dentist Finds Great Value in Professional Service

Since I opened my dental practice in 2011, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on several professional boards and committees–both dental and non-dental related. For a few years, honestly, I don’t think I said “No” to a single person that asked, “Would you like to serve on the board for…?” If you’re just starting your dental career or you’re establishing yourself in a new city, I can’t recommend this “Don’t Say No” policy enough.

As a young dental professional, especially if you’re a business owner, there are so many benefits to serving your dental community, and your community at large, in this capacity. Did I have the time to do this? Of course not! Between owning a new business, eating and sleeping, there’s honestly not that much time left. I made the time, though, because I valued the benefits.

Leadership Skills and Teamwork. As a dentist, you’re expected to be a team leader in your office. Whether you are an owner dentist or not, you need to know how to be a good teammate and how to be a good leader. It is expected of you from Day One. If you’re fresh out of dental school and still adjusting to “life on the outside,” your leadership and teamwork skills might be rusty. If you can get involved in a dental board or committee, you’ll meet some great mentors that can serve as an example to you for how to be a leader that patients, staff and other dentists look up to. If you get involved in a non-dental board or committee, you can learn how people in other industries and professions serve as leaders in their own ways. A great bonus is that most non-dental boards and groups are very happy to have a dentist. We bring a lot of credibility to the table!

Become Well Known In Your Community. Fast (And For the Right Reasons). Dentistry is a service business and a people business. I don’t I think fully appreciated that before or during dental school. So much of my academic career was spent locked away in a library or study room! The training path to become a dentist is full of improving yourself, mostly in isolation. The career is the opposite. Your goal is to improve the lives of others, and you’re working with a team and constantly meeting new people. Improving your ability to meet people and connect with them fast can take practice if you aren’t a natural. As a board member for an organization, you can supercharge your people meeting opportunities in any community. If you didn’t grow up or live in the community in which you work, serving on a board isn’t even optional! If you did grow up in your community and feel like you already know everyone, you should still consider being involved. Why? Because people may know you and you may know them, but they don’t know the professional you, and the professional you is dedicated to service, even when you aren’t using it to pad a school application.

Expand Your Network in a Meaningful Way. There are all kinds of ways we can categorize people: rich and poor, flashy and not flashy, social and anti-social. Whatever. I don’t really care about any of that. When I look out there, I see two groups of people. There are people out there trying to make the world and their community a better place, trying to make a difference and trying to benefit others. The other group is primarily interested in benefiting themselves. Your life and your career are more fulfilling when you surround yourself with people in this first group. They are fun to be around and can inspire you. You can inspire them, too. Boards of organizations with a mission to serve are filled with people in that first group. If you aim to expand your network in a meaningful way and form meaningful relationships, surround yourself with others that are passionate about service. Surround yourself with the first group.

Have Something to Talk About. Draw People to You. If your chosen career (dentistry) requires that you talk to people all day, it helps get through the day if you’re interesting! Interesting people do things and interesting people have things to talk about. There are only so many cornball jokes you can tell or fluffy, meaningless conversations you can have with your staff and your patients. If your aim is to form long-term relationships of trust with your patients and your team, you have to give them something to connect to. You have to be someone they are proud to go see. If you serve on the board for an organization that is well respected in the community, your current patients might brag that their dentist is on the board when they are talking to friends. Prospective patients that support your organization might see that there’s a dentist on the board and that connection might be what motivates them to seek care.People are drawn to those that serve, to those who have a vision of the world beyond themselves. Tweet: As a professional giver of care, this is an essential element to your positive image.

Give Back. I firmly believe that dental professionals have a civic obligation to be community leaders. We are in the top one percent when it comes to education level in our communities. Sure, we as individuals did a lot of the heavy lifting to get there, but we all had support from our families and communities to get there, too. Others paved the way for our success, and we owe it to all of them to give back. I know what a lot of you new grads are thinking: “Give back? I do give back, every month, to the bank!” Education costs and student debt are at all time highs, and embracing the spirit of ‘giving back’ can be tough when you feel like that’s all you are doing is ‘giving back.’ It’s just not the kind of ‘giving back’ that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside! This high student debt issue is new to dentistry and, while it is daunting, we can’t let it crush the long-standing tradition of service that makes our profession one of the most respected. If you want to fully embrace the lifestyle of the career path you chose, you will give back. So when it comes time to serve your profession and to serve your community, don’t say no.

So Don’t Say No. Don’t get me wrong, the “Don’t Say No” policy can’t be your mantra forever. It shouldn’t be. If it is, you’re going to overextend yourself and burn yourself out! Once you’ve found your niche and your people and your calling in your community, give your all to those groups. You can’t do everything! For those first several years, though, cast that net as big as possible. If your intention is to rapidly accelerate your personal growth, your leadership skills and your social influence in the community, serve as a board member in a professional organization.

Larry Dougherty, DDS

Larry Dougherty DDS is a dentist in San Antonio, TX. He started a private practice from scratch, Rolling Oaks Dental, with his wife Ana Paula Ferraz-Dougherty in 2011. View full bio on authors page

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