I am typing in the back of my Uber because as a writer, words are always dancing in my head, moving into sentences, forming ideas. This time I know it’s especially important to write because tears are gathering at the thought of committing to said words.
I know immediately that I will drain my laptop battery before I get home traveling from Dr. Paul Goodman’s “Super Dentist Boost Camp” for Dental Nachos. Leaving today, having met with, collaborated with, connected with real human beings is unlike any other time before; it’s a reminder of how much we’d all starved for face-to-face interactions.
There are so many lessons to tell you about from the last few days, so much energy brought about the indispensable need to, what Paul calls, “ABC: Always Be Connecting.” Allow me to commit my commute home to transforming these feelings into an article for my editor.
LEARN FROM THE YOUNG
It wasn’t that long ago that I was the youngest at dental conventions. Ok; in truth it has been almost two decades, but it seems like yesterday.
If you’re one of these hip young dentists who knows how to use Instagram and records TikTok videos for your practice, mark my words, your time will come too; but it’ll come in a different climate.
In the early days of my career, traveling to continuing education as a BAD (affectionately named as Baby Aged Dentist) meant no one was interested in my opinion. In fact, I was ushered to the opposite side of where the crowd was heading, often confused for either a dental hygienist or assistant. The culture previously established in my younger days was that new grads were like children, only to be seen and not heard.
The new-ish generation of dentists is different, they have found the confidence to speak up, and, at that, loud enough to be heard. This past week, I met the frequent speaker and contributor Dr. Lewis Chen who, only 5 years past graduation, is an owner of 12 practices. I look up to Lewis, to whom I am many years senior.
He inspires me to be better and to do better, a motto he uses for his own multi-practice philosophy. Dr. Tom Grass, one of this week’s campers, blew me away with a story of a first practice purchase while still in dental school.
Drs. Ben Baranes and Feras Ziadat did not lag behind. I’d met Ben and Feras a year earlier and this time around, the encounter felt like reconnecting with longtime friends. Having caught up on the genuine interest we had in each other’s lives, the two best friends, self-professed dental geeks, then taught me about dentistry.
Dr. Mark Costes, rightfully so, (a MAD – Middle Aged Dentist) headlined the event offering advice on potential pitfalls of working too hard and not too smart; a full-fledged example of what discipline and hard work could have in store for us all.
Outside of the stage, in the seats, those of us listening, even those of us who were MAD’s and GAD’s (Golden Aged Dentists), took moments in break and time over drinks to be learnings from the BAD’s.
As Seasoned dentists were not there just to dispense advise; we were there to absorb it also. The two days I’d sent in Philadelphia were simply not long enough to get to know the rest of the brave, open-wide, thirsty new generation of providers. I regret this only long enough to know, that every chance I get to speak with a new grad, I will spend as much time listening to them, as I do speaking.
Technology has made us dependent, addicted; social media has put us in a cycle of semi-narcissism and self-loathing, all at the same time. People have become brave in all the negative ways on account of hiding behind the keyboard.
Virtual bullying is prevalent among our kids, and is just as prevalent within adult online communities, neighborhood mommy groups, and yes, even our own professional Facebook hangouts. And yet, as much as technology has hindered our self-worth and maybe even our growth, technology has introduced me to some of the greatest people I’d ever met.
Email and phone call exchanges with my fellow Facebook dental buddies, a heartfelt response to a personal Facebook post, a like or friendly comment to a question on the professional page has built stronger relationships than one may consider. Lani Grass, my virtual life coach of almost 3 years, became three dimensional as I met her for the first time IRL (in real life).
Kara Kelly, my Human Resources guru, and I bit into our very first Philly Cheesesteak sandwich together. Hugs exchanged between myself and Mary Goodman, Dr. Stephanie Mapp, Jamie DiBease, Dr. Alan Stern, and Dr. Mitchell Rubinstein were tighter this time around, as it was our second time meeting following a conference event last summer.
The kind of encouragement, warmth, and support exchanged in our conversations during this meeting is not often found among adults, and certainly not ones who you have met only on two other occasions.
In fact, the depth of these specific friendships is difficult to find past college age, and in moments like these makes you believe that there is some sort of universal magnet connecting us all and keeping us within arm’s reach.
Studies have shown that being alone negatively impacts your immune system, and in the time of COVID, isolation from other people has skyrocketed depression and anxiety.
And yet, here and now, with virtual relationships turning three dimensional, the risk of feeling alone in what we do and who we are feels like it has been significantly diminished even for self-proclaimed introverts like Dr. Mitchell Rubinstein and me.
The three meals a day we shared for a few days makes eating without one another in Philadelphia seem foreign and unappealing.
Call it Beshert, call it Maktub, or call it a gift that brings together like minded people.
I think at the bottom of this is the fact that no matter how much we may have gotten used to seeing others online, on zoom, or communicating via text, coming together does more than just build relationships. Coming together is an opportunity for all of us to give.
Many of us have gotten into dentistry to ‘help people’; what if ‘people’ were not just the ones who are sitting in our dental chairs and waiting rooms, what if it was our colleagues, maybe even our senior colleagues.
What if networking with each other was more than just a way to better our practice, our dentistry, and the life of our patients; what if networking was to be redefined from a way of ‘doing business’ or learning to pad the bottom line to being there for one another, to openly and honestly carrying one another as we share our struggles, and, yes, our shortcomings?
How about we continue to encourage this new generation of dentists that they can depend on these new friendships, as they have been an opportunity to give, not just receive. With many years of life and dentistry under my belt, I have only recently somehow learned to separate and seek out like minded people. People who put me in awe of their generosity for the simple action of just ‘giving.’
Givers, the definition which I proudly bring to your attention based on one of my favorite books “Give and Take” by Adam Grant are: “the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.”
Much unlike ‘takers [who] strive to get as much as possible from others [or] matchers [who] aim to trade evenly.’
Have we, as dentists, created a new way of collaborating?
Have we gotten to the right side of fulfilling our self-assigned destiny of contributing, empowering, and serving?
WHY THE TEARS?
Several years ago, I saw an elderly man lose consciousness at the airport while traveling with my daughter. Along with several others on the scene, I performed CPR while waiting on paramedics. My daughter, who was less than 10 years old at the time, witnessed it all.
As she later proclaimed that the scene was scary for her to see, I felt proud and privileged to be a part of that moment; knowing especially that my daughter was watching me jump to give help when another needed it. After the gentleman was safely secured onto the gurney and wheeled towards the hospital, I checked on my daughter, hugged and kissed her, explained what had happened and slumped into the airport chair.
An unexpected announcement was made shortly thereafter thanking all involved for saving a life. I could no longer keep my composure and began to weep. I was confused and aggravated at my reaction. I could not understand the tears. Lucky enough to have my CPR instructor of 16 years on speed dial, I picked up the phone hoping he’d give an explanation.
He told me that my reaction was very common. When there’s such a high, when there is intensity, when there are so many endorphins released upon one action, at its conclusion, as the endorphins leave the body, there’s a crash.
The crash is not uncommonly accommodated by tears.
So, as I am here, in the air, fighting back tears, however annoyed I am at their coming, I understand where they’re coming from. My tears are proof of the honor and privilege to be a dentist.
The meeting was such a high, it released so much oxytocin and endorphins that I have no choice but experience a crash.
The ‘salty discharge running down my cheeks’ (homage to an episode of Seinfeld), however inappropriate I may want to find it, makes me real.
It makes me human.
It’s proof that this event and what lies ahead will be extraordinary.
- Brain Behav Immun 2019 Nov;82:298-301. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.08.196. Epub 2019 Aug 30.
- Med J Aust 2021 Jun;214(10):462-468. doi: 10.5694/mja2.51043. Epub 2021 Apr 26.
- Beshert means “inevitable” or “preordained.” It can apply to any happening which appears to bear the fingerprints of divine providence, such as bumping into an old friend you were just thinking about
- Maktub is an Arabic word that stands for, it is written
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Augustyn earned her DDS degree from the University of Illinois Chicago. She has completed the course sequence in the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. Dr. Augustyn is a general dentist and writer in Elmhurst, Ill, and lives near Chicago with her husband and daughter. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.