School for thought

Aug. 1, 2002
An interview with continuing education guru Dr. Jay Lerner.

An interview with continuing education guru Dr. Jay Lerner

Dr. Jay Lerner, a graduate of Columbia University's School of Dentistry, has maintained a private practice, Lerner & Lemongello Dentistry, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., since 1983, focusing on comprehensive restorative and aesthetic dentistry. He is co-founder of the Palm Beach Aesthetic Institute and is a clinical instructor with The Rosenthal Institute at New York University, Palm beach community college, and the Eastman Dental Clinic in London. Dr. Lerner has published numerous articles and is a renowned lecturer both nationally and internationally in the field of aesthetic dentistry. He completes more than 200 hours of continuing education annually, maintaining an exceptional expertise in the latest dental procedures and technology.

Dr. Jameson: We all know that dentists must attend continuing-education courses to keep up with the advances in dentistry. How can they decide which courses to take?

Dr. Lerner: Today that is a very difficult question to answer. Everybody and his brother are offering courses. There is not a weekend that you could not find at least 20 courses going on somewhere in North America. There are the major dental meetings like the ADA Annual Sessions meeting and there are regional meetings. Every state has a meeting. Dental dealers offer courses, dental manufacturers offer courses, and individuals and groups of dentists offer courses. The difficulty stems from the ability to know ahead of time which courses are worthwhile and which are a waste of time. This is a problem that does not have an easy solution.

Dr. Jameson: Can you give our readers some tips on getting the most for their continuing-education dollar?

Dr. Lerner: Probably the best recommendation is peer review. Talk to someone who has attended the course. When you call that 800 number, ask for names of dentists who have attended the course. Call them and ask about their experiences. Would they do it again? Perhaps someone in your study club has been to one of these courses. Attend an all-day or half-day course by the presenter you are interested in at a national or regional meeting. This is a good opportunity to see him or her present. Do you like the style and the information?

Dr. Jameson: I have heard horror stories about dentists who have attended programs but did not receive the skills they were promised. It seems that this is especially prevalent in the practice-management area.

Dr. Lerner: Yes, I have heard those stories as well. If the price is only good today, if you can only sign up tonight, if the sponsor resorts to pressure of any type, run - don't walk - to the nearest exit. You will save yourself a lot of money and grief. If it seems too good to be true, it is!

There are a lot of continuing-education programs out there, but hands-on programs are something I feel very strongly about. An environment where dentists can actually sit down and treat a patient one-on-one with the instructor is an unbeatable learning experience. The patient can either be a live one or a typodont; there are advantages to both modalities. The dentists who leave institutes that offer these types of programs go back to their offices with a new sense of confidence because they have actually done a complete case. If they transfer these skills to their own office, they will become much more competent. These courses help the dentist understand what needs to be done to make these procedures commonplace in the practice.

One of the important but often overlooked areas is the role of staff. The dentist who includes staff will gain the most from these types of courses. Most of these courses are not just teaching cosmetics, but comprehensive care of the mouth and its supporting structures. So you are not just taking one program, but different levels of programs, including hands-on programs that deal with occlusion.

Dr. Jameson: Your statement regarding doctors developing confidence is a good one. Often that confidence is destroyed in a formal, rigid academic environment.

Dr. Lerner: I think if you surveyed dentists across the board, most would state that the way they were taught in dental school was not a confidence-building experience. It's just a fact of the academic environment; dental schools have to give you the basics first. They insist that students strive for perfection so that they can achieve excellence in the real world. It's understandable, but in dental school, this practice stifles creativity.

Once doctors emerge from the tutelage of a dental school and are practicing on their own, they are free to take courses with other practitioners who will respect them as fellow dentists and encourage that creativity.

A dentist's education shouldn't stop after one or two courses. There are many instructors, each of whom has a different perspective on how to practice. I believe this variety of teaching styles is ultimately a good thing. There are so many things to learn in dentistry. Learning how to diagnose a case, treatment plan, talk to patients, and learning how to get the patient to say yes. What type of restorations will you do? Do you have a vision of what the practice will look like? Taking as many courses as possible with a variety of instructors will give practitioners more ammunition to take back to the practice, thereby assuring increased competence, and, of course, confidence.

Dr. Jameson: What seems to be the primary goal for practitioners who take continuing-education courses?

Dr. Lerner: I think most dentists would agree that the most gratifying experience as practitioners is treatment that gives the patient the best results possible. I think that is what we all would want for our family and ourselves. Treat your patients so that they can keep their teeth for the rest of their lives. Cosmetic dentistry is fun because you get immediate beautiful results and profuse customer appreciation. Dentists want to come to these courses so that they can deliver these amazing results and have a more meaningful practice and career.

Dr. Jameson: In what direction will dental continuing education move in the future?

Dr. Lerner: My feeling is that we need programs with a multidisciplinary approach that focus on comprehensive care. I would love to get people together - general dentists as well as specialists like periodontists and orthodontists - so that we can instigate a truly comprehensive approach.

Dr. Jameson: Would this approach encourage a "multi-layering" of the educational process, where there would be an entry level from which dentists could begin and then advance through different modules of therapy?

Dr. Lerner: Obviously, we need to start with the basics, and from there progress to things like restorative dentistry, treatment-planning, and other specialties.

We need to have an understanding of the numbers of ways we can treat these cases and not limit the treatment with an either/or approach. There are always options.

It is important to remember that dentistry is a profession that requires a lifelong commitment to continuing education. Enjoy the journey!

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