Fishing for patients

Once upon a time, there was a young dentist named Ray. He had done well in school and opened a practice in a busy suburban area. But the joy of dentistry was slowly drifting away for Ray - as if he was losing an old friend. He was unhappy, but he didn`t know why.

Paul Homoly, DDS

Once upon a time, there was a young dentist named Ray. He had done well in school and opened a practice in a busy suburban area. But the joy of dentistry was slowly drifting away for Ray - as if he was losing an old friend. He was unhappy, but he didn`t know why.

Then, one day, Carl, a patient in his practice, said, "Doc, you don`t look happy. I remember when I`d come in here and you were all smiles. Now it looks like you`re carrying a stove on your back."

"You`re right, Carl, there seems to be an ache in me I can`t get to," said Ray, surprised at his own frankness.

Carl was easy to talk to. He had a deep meaty voice, hands as big as catchers` mitts, and he looked more at home in a flannel shirt than anyone Ray knew.

"We ought to go fishing," said Carl. "You know, fishing is a great way to set your mind right. Heck, if it wasn`t for fishing, I`d quit my job, leave my wife, and start drinking."

All those things had crossed Ray`s mind many times. So, he thought, "Why not go?" Carl read Ray`s mind and said, "I`ll pick you up early Sunday morning."

Sunday came and, by sunrise, Carl and Ray were floating on a perfect meadow lake, watching their fishing lines relax on mirror-smooth water.

"Fishing is like life," Carl said. "You`ve got to know what you want to catch. Here we are tossing out bait, hoping some fish will come along and take what we`ve got to offer. Now, if we were fishing for trout, we`d use dry flies and fish on the surface. If we wanted catfish, we`d load up a treble hook with dough bait and bounce it on the bottom. In life, you`re going to catch what you`re fishing for, not much else. Ray, do you know what you are fishing for?"

Carl continued before Ray could start with his excuses.

"The most frustrated, unhappy fishermen I know are the ones who cry about the fish not biting. The fish are always biting; it`s just a matter of knowing what they`re biting on and where they are. I`d bet dentists are the same way. I`d bet there are dentists who blame the patients for not cooperating and not doing what they want. That`s like the guy who blames the fish for not biting and expects them to jump into the boat. Ray, you`re not going to change the fish; you`ve got to change the fisherman. It`s the same with dentists."

Ray started to talk, but at that instant, Carl got a huge strike on his line, whipped his fishing rod back, snapped the line, and started to laugh.

"You know, every fisherman has a story about the big one that got away. That`s what keeps us coming back - the dream of the big lunker! Every fisherman has that dream. It`s the same with people. Ray, do you have a dream? Is it a big one? You`d better, because that`s a big one you never want to get away!"

Ray smiled.

Twenty years later, Ray retired from dentistry. Members of the community gathered to celebrate his significant contributions and leadership. Ray sat next to his wife at a black-tie dinner, listening to the final accolades of his introduction.

"... and so, ladies and gentlemen, our honoree has earned the respect of business, political, and professional leaders nationwide. Like an artist who has mastered the use of bold and brilliant strokes, he has painted the portrait of his life masterfully and with love, touching and influencing each of us. Please help me welcome ..."

Ray didn`t hear the final words of his introduction as he climbed the steps to the stage. The standing ovation made him swallow back his tears.

"Tonight," Ray began, "I`d like to talk about how each of you can make a difference. To do that, you must know what you want, and not blame the obstacles in your path. Never let your big dream get away. You know, life is a lot like fishing ..."

The moral of the story: Is it time you went fishing?

Dr. Homoly coaches dental teams to implement reconstructive dentistry through his continuing-education workshops, private consulting, and seminars. This column is an excerpt from his new book, Isn`t It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes? - Case Acceptance for Complete Dentistry. Dr. Homoly can be reached at (704) 342-4900 or via e-mail at phomoly@mindspring.com. Visit his Web site at www.paulhomoly.com.

More in Patient Communication and Patient Financing