St. Pete comes up to the first dentist and asks, “Doctor, how did you spend your life on earth?”
“Well,” the first doc answers, “In addition to my practice, I spent many years volunteering my time at inner city clinics serving the homeless.”
“Ah,” St. Peter replies, “that was a life well-lived. You may enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Next, St. Peter asks the second dentist how he spent his life. The dentist relays how he had spent years researching dental diseases and had made many discoveries and developed new treatment modalities for certain conditions.
St. Peter replies, “You have made many contributions to mankind. You may pass on into heaven.”
As St. Peter approaches the third doctor, the man volunteers, “St. Peter, I spent my life working hard in different managed-care settings as a dentist.”
“Hmm, I see,” answers St. Peter. “Yes, you too may enter the kingdom of heaven, but you will only get 60 percent of the customary food up to a maximum of 1,000 calories per day.”
So, is this another story about managed care? Is this about religion and the hereafter? No, this is about vision and philosophy. We all have heard how the starting point to any successful dental career is to formulate a mission and philosophy. We need to set 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals. Most of us were not taught during our formal educations how to write goals, so most of us find it difficult. Research tells us only 2 percent of the population actually writes down goals.
Oh sure, there are some areas for a dental practice that aren’t too hard because there are obvious measuring sticks such as production, new-patient flow, hours worked, vacation time, etc. Nevertheless, beyond this we need to have a vision of our ideal dental practice. This is difficult for many legitimate reasons. The constraints of daily life are so deeply ingrained in us - things such as overhead, staffing difficulties, time constraints, and managed care - that it’s difficult to focus on a clear vision. We are also challenged by the Yeah-But Committee in our brains. You know the gang - Mr. Not in My Small Town, Dr. Not with My Debt Load, and Ms. Insurance Companies. Here is a way to change your mindset and get beyond your own limiting factors.
You are at the pearly gates, facing St. Peter. He notes you spent your life as a dentist and immediately welcomes you to heaven and tells you to make yourself comfortable. After a few days of this, the Almighty stops by to welcome you and make sure everything is fine.
“Oh,” he mentions on the way out, “I know this is heaven and all, but we still need dentists. You need to know it is different up here. I want you to be a dentist, and you can set up your practice any way you want. No need to worry about any of the practical constraints you had to deal with on earth, just practice exactly how you want.”
Now we’re talking true vision. Isn’t it easier to imagine your perfect office, perfect staff, perfect patients, and yourself doing exactly what you like to do most? Let yourself dream. There will be plenty of time to modify your dream as needed to come back to earth.
We all know someone who has experienced a life-threatening illness and recovered. Because of that experience, he or she has a changed perspective on life. These folks savor each day. They realize the value of their time with those who are dear to them. It permeates every decision they make and every interaction they have. We can learn from them without having to have a near-death experience of our own.
Each day we write our own autobiographies and can determine the next chapter. I urge you to get to work on your own “Dentistry in Heaven” story.
Dr. Yvonne Hanley has been in private practice for 25 years in Fergus Falls, Minn. She lives on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes with her husband, Pat, and their pet fish. She is a member of the visiting faculty at The Pankey Institute after serving on its Board of Directors for more than 10 years. She is active in the Minnesota Dental Association. Reach her at email@example.com.