Th 140389

Office of the Month

Dec. 1, 2003
After running a sucessful urban practice for 26 years, as well as a 10-year stint as a Georgia state legislator, Dr. John Savage — dentist, philosopher, and writer — found the true meaning of success...

by John Savage, DDS

Dr. John Savage and his assistant, Pat Brookins, of Ebro, Fla.
Click here to enlarge image

Happiness: How and where do we find it? This is an excellent question. Certainly, this is the best of times to be a dentist. There are so many exciting and remarkable changes taking place in our profession. During this Christmas season, we have every reason to be thankful.

So again, I ask the question: How and where can we find happiness? There are no easy answers. Living the good life is hard work that requires much effort and discipline. If you ever find an easy road to excellence — please, call me collect at (850) 535-2257!

Before the stock market fell, I said I would give $250,000 to be as knowledgeable and talented as Gordon Christiansen. But you just can't buy that kind of ability; it requires great effort and time to acquire. Perhaps this is one insight into happiness in our profession. If you become truly interested and devoted to becoming an even better dentist, you will look forward to going to the office every day and never experience burnout.

This leads to another question for us to ponder: What is our purpose and why have we been blessed with these gifts in life? Certainly, we can agree that helping others is a worthy goal. Yet, how do we accomplish this? We admire universally those who have striven to help others. In the world, I think of Mother Teresa. In our profession, I think of Gordon Christiansen, Pete Dawson, Parker Mahan, Ronnie Goldstein, David Garber, Bill Strupp, Woody Oakes, Joe Blaes, and others who have contributed so much to our profession. With all of our knowledge and experience, the greatest benefit we can offer is to be good dentists.

I am 69, and I have been practicing for 44 years. The defining goals in my life are to learn as much as I can and to help others as much as possible before I die. I look forward to benefiting others in my office until my hands and eyes tell me to stop. There is no concept of retirement in my plans.

I want to thank Dr. Blaes and Dental Economics for allowing me to share the story of my office with you. It is located about 30 miles from the closest town, Panama City, on a river in the swamps of northwest Florida. The simple wood structure is built on stilts and overlooks the river. I have one chair, one employee, I'm not in the phone book, and I'm hard to find. Yet, in this isolated locale I have found much happiness and joy in my practice. Money, though not my ultimate goal, has been a wonderful byproduct. Money will follow excellence and compassion anywhere.

Before leaving my office of 26 years in Atlanta, I would visit these swamps and think, "Johnny, you must be crazy to think you could have an office in this location!" When I turned 50, I decided to follow this dream and started the process of leaving Atlanta. Was this a good decision? Yes! If you have ever been to one of my seminars, you know that I like to write poetry. I once wrote, "When you look in your soul and search your heart/You can find the answers that set you apart/Because you are unique, you are special, you can't be replaced/There is only one you in this whole human race/So if you don't follow your dreams, its essence will die/And your life would have been nothing but a pie in the sky."

Would this work for everyone? No, you may be the type of person who wants a million-dollar office on the busiest street in town. That is a wonderful dream. It's the essential lesson of my office — follow your dream. And I can tell you that many of my friends and colleagues have come here, spent the night and day with me, then returned home and changed their lives.

The greatest asset in my office is Pat Brookins. She is a person who deeply loves and cares for others, and I am blessed to have worked with her for 13 years. Pat creates a wonderful atmosphere of excellence, compassion, and happiness that we all enjoy.

How else can we find happiness and joy? Pat and I try to understand and practice the fundamental law of cause and effect — the most universal of our laws that govern human behavior. We have learned that there is a secondary effect to everything we think, do, or say. We try to anticipate that effect so that everything in our lives improves. We believe that we can never "get more" out of life until we become "more" and give more. We've changed our thinking from "What's in it for us?" to "How can we serve our patients better?" We never approach our patients with our needs, but rather, we try to understand them and help them to the best of our ability. Each day I attempt to do the best dentistry I can, and we put much energy and effort into being very thoughtful to everyone.

Relationships are so important — with families, our friends, employees, patients, and ourselves. Creating better and more loving relationships is one of my greatest goals. Personally, I can't imagine having a "money goal" for my office each day. It would hinder my relationships with my patients. Now, "a happiness goal" — yes! A "great dentistry" goal — absolutely! But a money goal? Never!

Let me make a few observations about money. We all need to be financially, emotionally, and spiritually secure, but I want to shout from these pages that more money and possessions will never make you happy! I speak from experience. You can't buy love, friendship, time, ethics, ability, or good relationships with your family, yourself, or God. Happiness and joy we all seek, but we can't buy them. The ego problem of "more" is never satisfied. There will always be someone with more money, a bigger house, a fancier car, or who is better looking.

Don't misinterpret my beliefs. I have been "without" and I have been materially blessed, and it is better to be wealthy. But the intangibles of love and happiness are far more valuable than the tangible of cash. At the last big seminar I gave in Las Vegas, I got up to the podium and said, "Read my lips: I have spent too much time making money!"

Yesterday was a typical day in our office. We saw one patient from 9:00 am till 2:00 pm, giving her five porcelain crowns. (Gosh! I admire and have learned much from people like Omer Reed and Gordon Perkins, but it still takes me about an hour per crown!) Then we took the patient and her husband to lunch at the Bruce Cafe. Over the years, I've taken more than 13,000 patients and friends to lunch at this gem of a dining establishment — it's one of our happiness rituals. We then returned to the office and worked until 5:30 pm. When patients come in from out of town, we invite them to stay overnight. Our goals: Learn to be a better dentist, be nicer to patients, and create more happiness in the office.

My office and home are very low-tech. We don't have a computer or a fax. And there is no call waiting or TV in my home. We have very low overhead, and I answer the same number both in my office and in my double-wide trailer that is about 30 yards from my office. I want patients to be able to contact me; it's good to be needed! As one of my heroes, Thoreau, said in Walden Pond, "Simplify, simplify." I have tried to heed that profound advice.

This brings me to another important question. For years, I've wondered why we never seemed to be content. And then the answer came to me that we are all manifestations of that divine creative energy we call God. It is creative energy that drives us. The sun shines, flowers bloom, and plants grow; thus, I believe that we are divinely created to want to do better. That's the reason Columbus came to America; why we went to the moon; and why we have X-rays, cell phones, TVs, and cars. We may never be content, but the good news is that we want to do better. Our choice, then, is to choose a goal that benefits us and everyone around us. And when we achieve it, it's time to move on to another goal.

I am an optimist. I hope and believe that we can and will create a better world. Have I made mistakes and done things I've regretted? Yes. I went through a divorce after 33 years of marriage, and I have experienced heartaches with alcohol, drugs, and cancer with beloved members of my family. Do I want to do better? Yes, and I believe that's true of everyone. We humans need each other and to share our experiences. We grow and learn from each other. I hope and pray that my sharing with you will benefit you as you travel on your own unique path.

On the back of my business card is my personal philosophy. It reads, "Welcome change, be a risk taker, be responsible and accountable, live with ethics and integrity, express appreciation and love for others, nurture our relationship with God, maintain a spirit of happiness and adventure throughout life and above all — start the process of turning your dreams into reality."

During this Christmas season, a time of giving, we as dentists can give deep thanks that we are members of a wonderful profession that does so much to benefit and help others.

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