Practice Success:

In December 1995, my husband wrote an article for Dental Economics titled "Exceed Your Patient`s Expec-tations; Have Your Lab Become Part of Your Dental Team." The only change I would make for this article would be to substitute the word "family" for the word "lab." I would make this substitution not because his word in his original article was wrong, but because it only describes half the story of exceeding your patients` expectations. The truth is, to truly gain dental excellence, a dentist m

It`s all in the family!

Susan Alex

In December 1995, my husband wrote an article for Dental Economics titled "Exceed Your Patient`s Expec-tations; Have Your Lab Become Part of Your Dental Team." The only change I would make for this article would be to substitute the word "family" for the word "lab." I would make this substitution not because his word in his original article was wrong, but because it only describes half the story of exceeding your patients` expectations. The truth is, to truly gain dental excellence, a dentist must enlist the support of all the key people in his or her life.

Yes, we do feel like our dental techs are a part of our family, but I also can tell you the dental techs don`t wash the dirty laundry at our house! If a dentist, wishing to exceed his patients` expectations, would consider sweeping his lab up on the excellence bandwagon, certainly the people who are closest to him also should be invited to participate.

When my husband, Glenn, graduated from dental school, he became the associate of a dentist who ran a very profitable dental practice. It seemed like a "golden opportunity" until he realized what he had gotten himself into. When I say profitable, I mean the practice earned a decent living. It offered very little to a person who was looking to provide the world with another master dentist, as my husband had in mind. Once Glenn finally purchased his own practice, he was so thankful to be out from under the binds that kept him from accomplishing his goals, that he hit the world of continuing education like gang busters. He purchased an old practice that needed a lot of attention, and it got the attention it deserved.

After learning from his previous associateship what he did not want to become, he developed a very clear vision of what his practice would be. Having a clear vision is a great thing. Having that vision for the wrong reasons and not sharing that vision is not such a great thing. Glenn poured his life into developing the dental practice of his dreams, and it rapidly became a beautiful dental practice. It was based on the concepts of complete dentistry. He was offering exceptional quality dentistry to his patients and they were accepting it. The numbers for the practice were jumping up monthly and yearly. And yet, it seemed the closer he came to realizing his dream, the more frustrated he became. He looked at himself and found a person completely out of balance. He had been focused on dental excellence for so long that he was completely unfulfilled in what he was accomplishing. He says that he felt alone and his work was unrewarding.

These feelings were beginning to affect the level of service he was offering his patients, which added to the frustration. He felt unappreciated by his staff, his patients, and by me. I didn`t appreciate him because I had no idea what he was doing. All I knew was that my husband worked all of the time. We who were dentists and none of them seemed to allow dentistry to consume their lives the way that it consumed my husband`s life. So, I also felt very frustrated. I dealt with my frustration by whining complaints or trying to stay just as "busy" as he was in my own direction.

The end result was two people, married, but working very hard going two totally different directions for no really good reason. We were people in a boat, rowing against each other, and getting nowhere. This is why I say yes, make that lab part of your team! However, a good team requires many squads. Here is how Glenn gave me a position on his squad.

Defining roles

The first thing we needed was a "play book." Glenn had a clear vision for his practice. That one vision was good, but not enough to make the whole world go `round. We realized we needed a high idea about ourselves regarding all aspects of our lives. He needed a high idea about himself as a father, a husband, a friend, a community member, etc. I needed a high idea about myself as a teacher (my chosen profession), as a wife, as a mother, etc. These high ideas are very personal ideas about how one sees oneself in all aspects of his/her life. Your highest idea about yourself is that idea that brings you joy and excitement. Once you have those ideas about yourself, you live your life according to the predetermined standards that you set for yourself. You simply "be" your highest idea.

The next thing that Glenn and I changed was the source that we perceived our happiness and fulfillment came from. We went from relying on outside people and outside circumstances for our happiness to realizing that we, individually, are the only ones responsible for our own happiness. For example, I went from thinking, "Gee, if I only had a husband who didn`t work so much, I could be happy," to thinking, "I have a husband who is happy working. What can I do to make me happy?" Some of Glenn`s thought-changes included this one: "I will stop performing excellent dentistry because I want everyone to appreciate me," to "I will perform excellent dentistry because that is my most exciting idea about myself. My life is its most rewarding when I am performing my best talents."

Why we do what we do

We all do things because we want to do them. Look at why you do what you do. I like to think about why we do what we do in terms of three groups of people. The first group is called the "I Will Sacrifice Myself and Make Others Love Me Group." The members of this group do good things because they believe other people will see their good works and appreciate them. These people are trying to win fulfillment through the positive feedback that they gain from others. They believe that if other people believe they are good, then they, too, will believe they are good and will be happy with themselves. The people who run off the "good works" theory eventually become tired and frustrated because they have lost themselves. They are so busy trying to be good for everyone else that they lose who they are. They are not living off their highest idea about themselves - their personal passion. They simply are doing what they believe others want. This also is frustrating because most people do not adequately express their gratitude. Living to impress everyone with all of the "good" that you do is a tough way to live.

The second group of people is called the "I Will Gain Plenty of Great Stuff Group." These people believe that their fulfillment lies in the acquisition of material things. They believe that once they have all of the "toys," the world will respect them and they can respect themselves. Once again, the people in this group are trying to find fulfillment in the feedback that they receive from others. This, too, is a tough way to live.

The third group is called the "I Will Be the Best That I Possibly Can Dream Up Group." The members of this group know that the only way to truly be satisfied with life, the only way to your fulfillment, is to be responsible for it yourself. These are the L.D. Pankeys, the Pete Dawsons, and the Jack Turbyfills of the world. These people seem to have a supernatural power for getting great things accomplished.

However, any master would tell you that he/she is no different from you or me. We are all incredible creatures. The difference is that the people in this group are propelled by their "passion." They have created that high idea about themselves and they spend most of their time living their lives accordingly. More than likely, you know exactly what it feels like to be a member of this group. You probably can recall a time in your life when you rose to the occasion just because it felt right. The key here is to be conscious of those times and find ways to move more and more to that frame of mind.

I knew that I almost had my team jersey when Glenn and I learned to communicate. Everyone tells you to communicate; I wonder why so few of us do? Communi-cation is valuable because it shows others where you stand. Once I understood that Glenn did not want to be an average dentist - he wanted more for his patients - I knew that it was useless trying to compare him to other dentists. I stopped looking around at what other dentists were doing and concentrated more on what Glenn was doing.

Understanding the vision

When Glenn made me understand his vision of becoming a "master dentist," I saw this as an idea I could support. I stopped thinking he worked all the time to avoid me and started thinking of ways I could assist him in reaching his honorable goal. Through seeing the light of dental excellence, I understood the value of the nonclinical time required so I could be more accepting. I now know the reasoning behind the constant continuing education and I find it admirable instead of inconvenient. Now that I know that I am married to someone who is committed to dental excellence, I can represent Glenn with enthusiasm in our community. Chances are your spouse cares about you very much and would love to see you be your best. So, share your ideas. The road is not easy. You need all the help that you can get.

Enhancing communication also decreases misunderstandings. Glenn is a firm believer in regularly scheduled staff meetings. His office staff participates in clinical meetings, as well as "just glad to work with you" staff breakfasts. Have you ever considered holding family meetings? I have to admit that we`re really not that structured; besides, our two-year-old is far too busy to sit through any meeting. But Glenn and I do look at our weekly calendars together. We make sure there is time, written down in both our books, to be together as a couple and together as a whole family.

Communication allows others to see your wants, needs, and expectations. A sore subject at our home for a long time had to do with the time that Glenn returned home from work in the evening. It might be 7, 8, 10, or even midnight. Anyway, I started watching the clock at the time I wished he was he p.m.

The longer I watched the clock, the more irritated I became. When he finally did come through the door, he usually received a less than pleasant greeting. His side of the story was that he was focused on achieving excellence. Time could not be considered when traveling on the higher plane. He resented that unpleasant greeting after a long, hard day of trying to be excellent. Finally, this problem was communicated (and no one was seriously injured). We realized that the problem could be solved if we set a specific time for Glenn to be home every evening. Now, I don`t watch the clock and he uses his time effectively.

The family retreat

Another way that we have maximized communication is through an annual family goal-setting and revaluation retreat. I have to admit that this idea seemed ridiculous to me at first. Glenn suggested that we go away for a long weekend. I quickly agreed, imagining a restful vacation. What a surprise when Glenn walked through the door of the bed-and-breakfast with a schedule and a stack of books. He had composed a workbook for us to complete so that we might create a vision, individual and together, and share our goals. At first, I balked, but Glenn persevered. He insisted that this would be a useful experience. That was five years ago. Now, I honestly can say it is the most valuable time of our year. We return home fully aware of our highest thoughts, individually and as a couple. We have a plan to carry out those thoughts and we are each aware of what the other is trying to do. We have perfected our retreat workbook and would be happy to share it with all who write us.

I know if you are reading this article, you probably are much like my husband - always reading, always learning, always trying to perform more dental excellence. My challenge to you is this: On your quest for dental excellence, don`t forget to think high thoughts. Check the source of your happiness and communicate your ideas to make your family part of your dental team.

Susan Alex is the wife of Dr. Glenn Alex. She takes care of the family`s two children, and volunteers with the Junior League of Athens, her church, and the children`s school. She teaches after-school art in Athens, Ga., and works on her own artistic creations daily. She also spends a fair amount of time assisting her husband with the Concepts of Complete Dentistry. For more information, write Susan Alex, 107 Skyline Ridge, Athens, Ga. 30606.

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