Gerard LeDoux, DDS
As I begin to close in on my sixth decade of living, I realize that the problems of growing older are not so much the normal physical reductions we experience, but the loss of loved ones, mentors, and friends. The people who have preceded and helped me are beginning to move on.
As this process continues, I have become more spiritual in my thinking. I have realized that we evaluate the spiritual contribution and meaning of these people as they die or retire from their chosen endeavors more than we evaluate what they have accomplished.
Erik Erickson has done studies on how people at the end of their lives spend a large part of their time trying to place meaning and value into their past activities. He also points out that we cannot change the past and must deal with what we have done. This can be either gratifying or frustrating, but unchangeable.
This led me to evaluate my peers and classmates who are either currently in the process of retiring or have retired from dentistry. It alarms me that so many dentists leave dentistry with feelings of disgust toward their dental practices and the profession. What a great tragedy that anyone who has spent the better part of his/her waking hours in dentistry should find the end so alarmingly unhappy.
In view of this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how this happened and what can be done to keep it from happening again. I don`t want those of us still in practice to look back at our lives with unpleasant and frustrating feelings. As I analyze dentistry, I seem to find two elementary forces driving it.
One is an economical drive to earn money. It fosters in us the permission to play the money game. The result is to allow economics to drive our dental practices. The second elementary force that can drive a dental practice is listening to the call or the following of our spiritual desires. This often is like paddling upstream and places us in a position of not being understood by the public at large. It essentially alienates us from our fellow dentists, because we do not subscribe to the priority of economic drive over spiritual drive.
My unhappy peers generally looked at dentistry in terms of production, full schedules, high-tech ego, glorious traveling, cars, and other signs of economic fulfillment. Their pain usually is a result of the lack of cooperation from the public to help them achieve their goals.
As we know, great numbers of humans are in the game of more; therefore, they constantly are protecting their money to achieve more. This, of course, leads to placing dentistry in a low position on the value scale in lieu of something else. Most dentists wind up fighting this to the point of discontent and general unhappiness about goals left unfulfilled.
With the power of third-party insurance, HMOs, and PPOs, the economical drive has become even more pronounced. The displeasure and lack of meaning becomes almost impossible for many of us to deal with.
Dentists who are involved in placing economic drives ahead of what is best for their patients are slipping slowly from spiritual credibility, and certainly are separating themselves from the internal bliss of following their calling. In my opinion, there only is one way to follow our calling. That route is private care, where the economics are placed in a proper perspective relative to helping our Creator`s children.
If, at the end of our lives, we want to look back and see integrity, mission accomplished, personal growth, pride in service to others - and generally see that we have served our calling - we really have only the choice of complete dedication to private care of the individual.
I have a wonderful uncle who has been extremely successful in his economical life. He retired at age 53, and now is fighting liver cancer at 77. During one of our recent talks, he emphasized to me how he wished he had continued in his purpose. It truly is one of the disappointments in his life that he retired early and abandoned his purpose.
This, to me, is a powerful reason to continue to fight for private care. We must leave the legacy and the freedom to future dentists to serve others with the highest standards. In the process, we will save both our own and our patients` spirits. In doing so, we will leave our world at least as good as we found it ... and hopefully better.
Reprinted with permission from the June 1998 issue of "Dialogues on Private Care," a publication of The Center for Professional Development, Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz., phone (602) 941-9393. Dr. LeDoux practices in Troy, Missouri, and can be contacted at (315) 462-8599.