Whenever I speak in public,I always tell the story of the day my dental career changed forever. It was a day like any other day when I was faced with the problem that poet Robert Frost eloquently expressed in his classic poem “The Road Not Taken:”Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both,
And be one traveller, long I stood,
And looked down one as far as I could,
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there,
Had worn them really about the same.My problems that morning were more about making a life in dentistry, so I chose the road that not many dentists choose. Completing the Continuum at the Pankey Institute would require a deep commitment to succeed, but I knew that morning that this road was accessible, and that others had successfully navigated it before me. This was Dr. Becker’s promise.And both that morning equally lay,
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.And so on that morning, with the promise of Dr. Becker, I left the other directionless road forever. They say once you make this kind of decision it’s impossible to turn back... I agree. Whether a dentist, or a patient, it is very difficult to step onto an unknown path. Leaders are important because they help us make those life-altering decisions. I am modest when it comes to my accomplishments, both personal and professional, but I shudder to think how life would have been if I had continued down the other road. Certainly, the road less traveled has made all the difference. The leader’s legacy, what he or she will be remembered for, is the ability to meet the deeper needs of his or her constituency and create a hopeful future.As Robert Frost writes, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” I, too, traveled down new roads where I met new friends and colleagues. I could never have imagined where that road would lead on that fateful morning in Key Biscayne.Somewhere down the road, I met other wonderful people who advised that I attend a meeting of The American Academy of Dental Practice Administration, or what we affectionately call AADPA. Going to AADPA was an amazing experience because this was another group, very similar to the Pankey Institute, of very committed and concerned professionals.Before that morning I felt very alone in dentistry, but these days I look forward to returning to The Pankey Institute and now to the annual AADPA meeting, because it’s just like coming home.To quote another great poet, T.S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” My journey has led me to the life I have created...a life I yearned for.This year, AADPA will hold its annual meeting, titled “Beyond Success,” from Feb. 28-March 4 at the Hyatt, Gainey Ranch in Phoenix, Ariz. This meeting will be special for me because three of the speakers are friends and fellow travelers - Dr. Sam Low, Dr. Henry Gremillion, and Dr. Irwin Becker. If you have never heard them speak, I promise you will be exposed to more than you bargained for...because as teachers from the Pankey Institute, they are not just about clinical dentistry. An invitation is required to go to AADPA, so if you are interested, send me an e-mail at [email protected]. I would love to meet future travelers. Who knows? Maybe your life could change, too!
Barry F. Polansky, DMD, practices in Cherry Hill, N.J. Author of the book, “The Art of the Examination,” and publisher of Dental Life, he is on the visiting faculty of the Pankey Institute. E-mail him at [email protected].