Last week I gave a full-day presentation to the ARKLATEX Academy in Shreveport, LA. I had wonderful hosts: Dr. Ronald Hermes, who invited me, and many of his colleagues including Clint Bruyere and Jim Iverson. I had a wonderful audience—what a great group of sharp practitioners! My host and audience could not have been nicer to me.
I have spoken at meetings all over the country and there is one trend that continues to disturb me. It seems to be the same story everywhere. The audience at live continuing education courses is almost entirely made up of older practitioners and my contemporaries. Where are the new dentists?
I understand what the problems are for young practitioners these days. They are heavily laden with student loan debts—and they have far more debt than anyone had in the older generations. This is NOT FAIR. Our Congress has betrayed us—spending the money that we work so hard to send them recklessly. Why can’t they support our profession so students don’t have to graduate with such burdensome debt? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how Congress launders our money so they can stuff their own pockets while their constituents suffer.
New dentists have big decisions to make when they graduate—are they going to do volume or quality? Are they going to concentrate on making money or concentrate on building their knowledge and skills? WHO do they want to be?
Sadly, new dentists feel that they are forced to concentrate immediately on making money to pay back loans. Many think that they will make money now and then do quality dentistry later. This is not possible! It is critically important to focus on quality and building knowledge and skills from Day One– BEFORE developing a mindset of bad habits and short cuts.
Where are the new dentists? While older dentists are sitting in live continuing education courses, they are likely churning out volumes of dentistry in insurance-driven dental mills. But in these places they will never develop excellence, enjoy the profession or give back to it. Who also suffers here? The patients! I wish the young practitioners could see what I see—how the practice of dentistry has gone backward; how the quality of care has suffered during the course of my career. The quality of care I am seeing today is truly horrifying! Patients are being pushed into invasive treatments and not given any choices.
Don’t get me wrong. Every business needs to make money or it will be out of business. But in health care, money can NEVER be the bottom line. The welfare of patients MUST come first. Kindness and compassion are essential ingredients for a true professional.
It’s not just dentists who seem to have forgotten this premise. Our partners–the dental companies–have slid into a mindset where the only thing that matters is their bottom line. They are not willing to work with any dentist who has something to offer outside of mainstream practice. I remember how closely my father worked with representatives of some forward-thinking companies. These companies were eager to help train dentists in little-known treatments that were clearly superior. No more. These same companies are under new management and their leaders could care less about what treatments have a REAL track record, what treatments provide real answers that most practitioners know nothing about. Dental companies are supposed to partner with dentists in striving to improve the practice of dentistry. Today, the only thing that counts is selling products and making money. Shame on them!
Now that I am on a roll, I have something to say about the Dental Schools. They also share this mindset that seems to be rampant throughout society. I have heard at least one dental education institution referred to as a “cash cow.” This is disgusting, considering the enormous burden of debt that is ruining the careers of the students they graduate.
Dental Schools are supposed to be centers of education. Instead, dental schools have become political institutions that refuse to embrace the ideas of outside clinicians. I think that many academics are small minded thinkers bent on “protecting their turf.” Dental schools have become–by and large–centers of “indoctrination” that brainwash students to accept dogma instead of asking questions. I do not fault the schools from teaching techniques that I do not agree with. They have to ensure that students have minimal competency in order to graduate. However, I DO fault them for making the students think that their methods are the only way and the best way to do things. This is NOT true!!! I have been out of dental school for many decades. The techniques I learned in dental school are for the most part obsolete. I’m not doing ANYTHING like what I did in dental school.
Dental school professors are supposed to be role models for their students so that students understand that their education really begins on the day they graduate; that students understand the importance of supporting and giving back to the profession. Students need to understand that it is their duty to make the practice of dentistry great and not just concentrate solely on becoming a successful dentist. All the skills and knowledge in the world will mean nothing if the ability to practice quality care is lost.
Where are the new dentists? Well, we know they are online. We see them buried in their cell phones. But all the skills and knowledge they need is NOT on the internet or on their cell phones. We must make them understand that technology by itself will NOT result in quality care. We must make them understand that they do NOT know everything. Many of them actually think they have all the answers and that older practitioners are dinosaurs who practice antiquated techniques! They will be forced to learn the hard way that this is not true. New dentists MUST learn from seasoned practitioners before the reins of the profession can be handed over to them. How do we reach them?
I wish I had easy answers. But one thing is certain: If we do not reach the new dentists and turn them around, we will surely lose our profession. I’m not willing to sit and watch from the sidelines, even if it means screaming into the wind. Are you?
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Dr. Feinberg is also available to give presentations. His CV and speaker packet is posted on the website. (https://theonwardprogram.com/about-dr-feinberg/) Dr. Feinberg can be reached at info@theONWARDprogram.com.