Your residency—and your formal education—are finally completed. Ever since your uncle inspired you to become an orthodontist by his good example, you have wanted to return to your hometown and open your own practice. As a long time “gadgeteer”—a true tinkerer—you thought it might be best to introduce yourself with a high-tech profile. You recall the multitude of presentations you received while in your orthodontic residency that espoused the benefits of technology. There were computer programs designed to enhance practice promotion. There were demonstrations of dazzling digital scanners, software that facilitates diagnostic procedures and treatment predictions, and intricate technologies that fabricate custom appliances. There were lectures on innovations to enhance the rate of tooth movement, gadgetry to aid in bracket positioning, and bracket systems that were reputed to almost think for themselves. There were more techie options for therapy—from diagnosis to retention—than brands of yogurt in your supermarket. And if these presentations were not enough, you continually fill your recycling basket with weekly e-mails and monthly flyers that herald the advantages of it all.
All are clever innovations, masterminded by brilliant inventors and publicized by skilled marketers. But as your educational loans loom, combined with all the other debt you have accrued during your education and outfitting your practice, you need to make ends meet. How will you do it—and what should be your priority?
There’s no debating the value of technology. Many of us would not be alive were it not for the technological advances that have evolved in medicine. These have prolonged health and life by both diagnosis and treatment. And dentistry’s technological developments have provided unfathomable esthetic and functional therapies.
But do these technological advances hold the key to success in our careers?
In the last few minutes of the 1960 NFL championship game, the Green Bay Packers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles because of a costly series of mistakes. The Packers’ distraction from football basics had cost them a valuable lead, and the Eagles were quick to capitalize on the Packers’ mistakes. Throughout the long off-season that followed, the Packers vowed to avenge their loss. On the first day of summer practice the next year, the players enthusiastically traded their visions of the intricate strategies they concocted to dominate the league. But their coach, Vince Lombardi, had a different plan. Entering the room with a football in one hand, he waited for complete silence. He then held up the ball. “Gentlemen,” he announced, “this—is a football.”
Basics. Starting from the bottom up. On our playing field, it’s not much different. The advancement of our specialty over the last century can be attributed to respect for biologic and therapeutic basics. But our patients don’t understand slot size or hyalinization of the periodontal ligament. Instead, they sense those human basics that have represented orthodontists as role models for decades. Basics such as honesty, compassion, and a genuine interest in each patient. These basics forge a unique loyalty—a connection, a friendship—that no technological advance can provide. And that connection often extends beyond the operatory. It might involve your extra effort to identify the right physician for your patient who has developed a rare blood disease. Or your genuine support of his daughter’s application to a particular college. Or your patience in nurturing a youngster who expresses an interest in a dental career—thanks to your own role modeling.
There is no technological advance, no widget, no gadget, or prop that will supersede quality of the dedicated relationships we must continue to cultivate between our patients and ourselves. Our formula for success lies no farther than in our own heads, minds, and hearts.
Your success in your new practice will not be established by bells and whistles. Your reputation will be built upon the basics you inherently possess: compassion, integrity, and a genuine connection with your patients. Technology is great, but the basics are greater. When it comes to priorities, basics trump it all.
“Back to basics?” Better yet: ahead to basics!