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Examining the changes: A look at a groundbreaking time at Pankey

Feb. 1, 2008
An Interview with Dr. Steve Ratcliff, Chairman of Education, The Pankey Institute

An Interview with Dr. Steve Ratcliff, Chairman of Education, The Pankey Institute

Dr. Steve Ratcliff, DDS, MS

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Recently, Kevin Henry, managing editor of Dental Economics®, interviewed Steve Ratcliff, DDS, MS, chairman of education at The Pankey Institute, about his first year in his new position and the upcoming Gathering of Eagles symposium. We share that interview with our readers ...

Kevin Henry:Steve, the Pankey Institute appears to be reinventing itself. First, the new Essentials courses replacing the longstanding Continuum, and now, organizing and hosting your first world-class dental symposium. What inspired you to take on such big objectives in your first year as chairman of education?

Dr. Steve Ratcliff: Kevin, some time ago a very good friend told me, “If you continue doing all the things that made you successful, you will cease to exist!” He was telling me that we must remain on the leading edge of education, and that we must change and grow. We have been very successful for the past 35 years, and in order to continue that success, we must respond to the needs, challenges, and learning demands of today’s dentist. We want to continue to be the place where dentists can build a unique learning community that allows them to flourish technically, financially, and to feel fulfilled and happy in the process. When I get to go to work every day with my closest friends and work with participants who are the best and brightest in dentistry, inspiration is all around me. The truth is my teammates and our participants have as much to do with these large objectives as I do. My job is to try to keep up with them!

It is a basic tenet of adult education that we learn best when we can define for ourselves what it is we want to learn. So we have been listening very carefully for the past three years and asking hundreds of dentists how they would like us to adapt to their learning needs. At the same time, we asked just as many people what are the best parts of Pankey learning that should never change. The end result is the Essentials courses, a series of four courses whose objective is to prepare our participants to diagnose, treatment plan, help the patient understand and accept that treatment plan, and then execute 75 percent of the cases – and do so with confidence. Those courses are supported by many other offerings which have the potential to raise that percentage even higher.

The Gathering of Eagles symposium really was our Chairman Emeritus Irwin Becker’s idea more than 15 years ago. He always wanted a world-class meeting sponsored by the Institute which reflected the excellence we represent. Our team here took Irwin’s wish and turned it into reality. It is going to be a spectacular event with an international attendance.

The Pankey Institute is a place which inspires dentists in everyday practice to grow and develop and become more than they thought they could be. As the new chairman of education, I feel a responsibility to continue this legacy long into the future, and my colleagues all feel the same way. The Essentials and Eagles are a manifestation of that commitment.

Kevin Henry:What, in particular, will the Gathering of Eagles symposium focus on, and how will it be different than other conferences available to the profession?

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Steve: Gathering of Eagles has porcelain and titanium as its theme. With a world-class roster of speakers, participants will hear the most current thinking on creating beautiful esthetics on top of implants. Gerry Chiche, Avishai Sadan, Pascal and Michel Magne, and Urs Belser represent some of the boldest thinkers and innovators in dentistry today. They all continually push the envelope of what is possible and do it with grace and humility. Because the first two days of the meeting are organized into half-day blocks, the speakers will be able to develop their topics in much greater depth than traditional large meeting venues where each person gets 50 minutes. This format will allow a richness in the presentations, which gives our attendees much more to take home and put to use in their practices. We have posted in-depth descriptions of each of the presenters’ topics on the event Web site,

The final day of the meeting is a showcase of our own Pankey Scholars, a group of individuals who have fully integrated what they have learned at the Institute and have taken their work to very high levels. Six individuals will present for 25 minutes on a variety of topics related to our meeting theme, and Irwin Becker will close the meeting.

Kevin Henry: The Pankey Institute is a nonprofit organization that has always prided itself in education that is noncommercially biased. How are you handling commercial sponsorships for the Gathering of Eagles symposium?

Steve: In order to create a world-class event – and do it exceptionally well – we knew we needed a budget that would far outweigh what event tuition could support. We also knew that there are great companies out there who believe in what we do and have always wanted to support us. At the same time, we are committed to accepting commercial support for this event in the most ethical manner possible. Our speakers have all signed disclosure agreements which will be made public at the meeting. Our sponsors all understand our not-for-profit status and our longstanding belief that we must be free of commercial influence, and they are honoring that commitment. They will support the event financially, and in return they will have the opportunity to exhibit their products to 500 or more of the best dentists and dental educators in the world.

This is a change for the Institute and we are taking it very seriously, to the point that we are in the process of writing a position paper on the ethics of accepting commercial support. We believe that there is an achievable balance between accepting support and maintaining academic honesty, and that dentistry will benefit by actively seeking that balance.

Kevin Henry: What can we expect to happen in Miami Beach on November 5-8?

Steve: Our attendees can expect outstanding programming, great hospitality, and an enthusiastic welcome here in Miami. The venue is the Loews Miami Beach, right in the heart of South Beach where all the excitement of Miami is present. We encourage folks to come early and stay through the weekend so they can really enjoy the diversity and rhythm of the area. We will open the Institute for those who have never been here and would like to see our facility. We’ll have people available to help with local entertainment, restaurants, sightseeing, and activities, and, of course, you will be in the company of great dentists from around the world.

Kevin Henry: What has been the response to the Pankey Essentials course that began in November?

Steve: The response has far exceeded our expectations. Our visiting faculty have been wildly enthusiastic about how much better the new curriculum is and how much more quickly usable information is being presented for our participants. We have done a superior job of putting together workshops, lectures, and experiential exercises that are current, relevant, and fun. The response from our participants has been outstanding! In fact, the Essentials courses for the first quarter are completely full. We are confident that the new selection and arrangement of learning options will give dentists the tools they need to succeed in their practices.

Kevin Henry: What other new and different things can we anticipate from the Institute in the next year or so?

Steve: Right now, our developmental focus is on expanding our esthetics curriculum. Esthetics is a critically important piece of comprehensive care, and we will be adding two new courses in 2009. The faculty for these courses includes great people like Gerry Chiche, Tom Trinkner, Matt Roberts, Jim Fondriest, Susan Hollar, and J. A. Reynolds. Many of these excellent clinicians are also Accredited members of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry as well as being well versed in comprehensive care, occlusion, and function.

We will be looking at how to create a curriculum specific to implants and restorative dentistry for the general practitioner. Even though implants are an important part of complete care, there is still some mystery and uncertainty for many of us in general practice about how we can best serve our patients. My own experience of learning how to use implants was one of hit and miss, and I still find holes in my learning that I am trying to fill so that I can do my best for my patients. With the current trends in computerized diagnosis and treatment planning, there is a whole new arena to explore, and we plan to be on the cutting edge of helping dentists integrate into their practices. We hope to have those courses ready to go late in 2009.

We are continuing our Master’s series courses with Frank Spear and Pascal and Michel Magne, and they will be joined by others who are also incredibly gifted teachers and practitioners. As always, the Pankey Institute remains a place where dentists who wish to expand their knowledge in a safe, judgment-free, learning environment can come to rub shoulders with some of the best clinicians in the world. Perhaps the best part of Pankey learning is our visiting faculty, gifted practitioners who are in general practice and have the talent to help others achieve their own vision of excellence. Our learning community is truly wonderful and unique!

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