Mark T. Murphy, DDS, FAGD
In mathematics, height, width, and depth are normally placed on the x, y, and z axis to represent the 3D world in which we live. But it is the fourth dimension of time which gives substance and character to our experience. I run, bike, and swim to weave those activities into a unified athletic event. Triathletes need to develop skills which support all three of the race’s disciplines. It would be impossible to succeed without all three strengths. There is, however, a fourth dimension to this: time! If you don’t show up for the race or demonstrate your skills as the race passes - or if you aren’t expedient during the transitions - you fail to reach your potential. You must invest time in training to succeed.
In coaching high school track and cross-country runners for years, I have reminded my teams at the start of the season (and several times during the season, when the going gets rough) that the will to win on game day is nothing without the will to train. Dentistry presents a similar construct. Years ago, Dr. L.D. Pankey observed that 2 percent of dentists were true masters, eight percent were adept, 36 percent were students working on improving, and 54 percent were indifferent. I doubt this has changed. To really succeed and become adept or masterful, a dentist needs to develop high competency in three skill areas: 1) clinical, 2) behavioral, and 3) business-managerial. Clinical skills, behavioral sensitivity, and business acumen are all important - but meaningless -if not acquired, applied, and developed over time.
Like the triathalete, we have to show up on time, give ourselves the luxury of years of growth and development while training for mastery, and flawlessly execute the skills acquired. The will to succeed and be masterful on “game day” is meaningless without the will to train, learn, grow, and prepare over time.
At the Pankey Institute, we discuss practice philosophy in every course. It’s not our philosophy, but rather your philosophy. You come to different “places” over time because of your circumstances, temperament, and objectives. We celebrate the diversity of philosophies, and the unique practices these philosophies yield that are both spiritual and financial. Clinical, behavioral and business skills not withstanding, it is the fourth dimension of commitment over time which really sets apart the developing dentist.
We live in a cynical time. It rewards quick results. Drive-through fast food, ATMs, off-the-rack clothes, and “instant everything” drown us in the now and disguise the benefits of long-term thinking. Quick-fix, bottom-line mentality doesn’t work well in the long run. We are tempted to veer from our paths and make choices carelessly - even unconsciously - as we are seduced by the siren song of our results-driven society. None of the qualities of truly successful dentists come to us overnight or in an instant. They are progressive over time.
In the coming few months, I will have the opportunity to share with you my observations regarding the four- dimensional dentist. We will explore:
Clinical skills common to the masters of dentistry,
Behavioral skills to help you excel in understanding, communicating with, and helping others,
Business skills to put you back in control of your practice and free you from inappropriate influences, and
The constant march of time which makes life a journey, not a destination.
Time is as important as substance. Relationships and helping our friends are more important and fulfilling than how much we made last year or what car we drive. Time stands still for no one. The choices we have made, make now, and will make in the future are the sum total of who we are and what we will become. A successful life involves making preferred choices over time.
If we embrace the four dimensions of dentistry, we will have a clearer vision of where we are going, not where someone else wants us to go. Your circumstances, objectives, and temperament set the stage for individualizing your vision and purpose in dentistry and life. The clearer the vision is, the more equipped you become to choose well when confronted with all that life and dentistry throw your way.
When Alice in Wonderland came upon the fork in the road and did not know which path to choose, she saw a Cheshire cat in a tree and asked him which path she should take. The cat asked her where she was headed, and Alice responded that she didn’t know. “Then it does not matter,” the cat responded. If we explore the four dimensions of dentistry, we will be qualified to make better choices when confronted with the forks in the road in our lives. We’ll choose in congruence with our values and purpose ... and that will make all the difference!
Mark T. Murphy, DDS, FAGD, practices restorative dentistry in Rochester Hills, Mich., and is Director of Continuing Education at Dental Technologies Inc. (DTI). He is on the Board and Visiting Faculty of The Pankey Institute. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.