Success: I know it when I see it

Dr. Woody Oakes suggested I stop criticizing and contribute what I think "it takes to be a success in dentistry." (Letters, April 1998). I offered five points in my letter responding to Dr. Oakes` original Viewpoint article (November 1997).

Jun 1st, 1998

Dr. Woody Oakes suggested I stop criticizing and contribute what I think "it takes to be a success in dentistry." (Letters, April 1998). I offered five points in my letter responding to Dr. Oakes` original Viewpoint article (November 1997).

I`m not a practice-management guru and I will not hurl numbers, such as cost of production per time unit, or question whether or not you can manage doing managed-care dentistry. Dr. Oakes asked me to "share my insights" on a mercurial concept, success in dentistry.

First, an example of what, in my opinion, constitutes failure will focus my idea of success.

My patient demands satisfaction from a partial denture I made three years ago because a clasp assembly breaks. She endured the inconvenience of not wearing the appliance while it was in the lab for soldering. She paid the repair fee.

After wearing it for three weeks, the repair failed. I could have told her, "Sorry, you will need a new partial. Pay the fee at the front desk and I will get started." I would get nothing but bad public relations from her whether I get paid for a new partial or she leaves in a huff. Bad news travels at the speed of light compared to good referrals. Failure!

Patients are the only reason we can make a living in dentistry. I gave her the broken partial as a spare and remade the partial at no cost to her. This satisfied patient will be a good referral source. She forget the broken clasp because she was satisfied. Success!

I cannot say success is easy. Achieving success may not always have a positive impact on the bottom line or improve your lab expense to overall expense ratio. The buck stops at my chair and my conscience is clear.

The notion that success in dentistry is indicated by production, collection, fewer hours, new office, the car you always wanted, country club membership, big residence and other status symbols is short-sighted.

A dentist who cannot or will not produce a million dollars in dentistry is not necessarily a failure and should not be made to feel so. What ethical lapses might occur in some of the million-dollar practices that are touted as being so darn successful? I suppose there are gifted operators who can ethically produce these large incomes due to their hard work, talents, location, fee structure, etc. More power to them.

Dentists are in the top five percent of income-earners in the United States. Why would dentists in the median dental income or higher think of themselves as failures? How much production is enough? Turn around and ask the other 95 percent who earn less if they would trade places with you.

Practicing dentistry is a privilege and a moral calling. Dentists are granted this privilege, which must be earned and can be taken away. A privilege, as opposed to a right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is a fragile thing. Dentists have a right to material success by ethically earning it.

If you truly are a success and not self-delusional, you know success in your soul. My definition of success is the same as that of the Supreme Court justice who struggled to define pornography - I know it when I see it.

L. Wayne Ross, DDS, FAGD

Bastrop, TX

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