For me, the classic model of a successful professional study club is Rotary International ( www.rotary.org ). The Rotary Club of Chicago was formed in 1905 by Paul Harris, an attorney who wished to capture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. Today, 1.2 million Rotarians belong to over 32,000 Rotary Clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.
The Rotary name derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members’ offices, a feature shared by many orthodontic study clubs today. Successful orthodontic study clubs start with a committed group of orthodontists who agree to meet regularly with their peers, often with a specific goal in mind. For Dr Heather Woloshyn (Auburn, Wash), the goal was “to share the challenges of starting a practice—such as developing employee manuals, evaluating computer program vendors, and planning treatment for difficult cases.” Others will tell you that it goes even further than that. Talking with current members of successful study clubs, I found that they share many traits. Historically, most study clubs had rather modest beginnings, but, with strong leadership, they can evolve into large organizations with lofty goals. In 1946, the Charles H. Tweed Orthodontic Group of Texas (the “Texas Tweed”) had 7 members; today, the Texas Orthodontic Study Club ( txorthostudyclub.com ) has 147 members and 73 active associate guests. In Arizona, orthodontists met informally as early as 1943, often combined with hunting and camping trips but always with plaster study models present; their meetings became more formal when the Arizona Orthodontic Study Group ( www.azorthostudygroup.com ) was established.
When asked about reasons for their success, Bill Gaylord (Flagstaff, Ariz) noted, “In my mind, success was directly related to goals originally set up by the members. They were designed to help members prepare for board certification, which required potential members to show cases. A side effect was enhanced communication among orthodontists throughout the state. It has also evolved into a primary source of continuing education (CE) for the members. The bottom line [is that] we get to know our peers, can obtain great CE on a local basis, and get help with clinical questions while preparing for boards.”
Some study clubs thrive for years, whereas others last only a short time. Why? What type of structure or member participation leads to longevity for a typical study club? Most new clubs start with members at similar stages of practice or experience, or from the same school or local region, who agree to fulfill specific requirements based on regular participation. As clubs grow in size, they often develop additional membership requirements for those who wish to join. This might seem onerous, but the benefits of membership can grow along with the size of the group. Sessions for the presentation of practice pearls are popular, and members report that these meetings are heavily attended. Surrounding university orthodontic programs might be invited to attend the larger study club meetings, and the residents’ registration is often complimentary. Some have annual awards for the best case reports, and everyone benefits from the clinical advice of more senior mentors in the group.
Becoming a diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics is the ultimate goal for most new members, who can accumulate cases that have been reviewed by study club members. To facilitate this goal, some study clubs have adopted the American Board of Orthodontics standards for the presentation of case reports.
As clubs grow and mature, some decide to improve their long-term effectiveness by forming a foundation. The NewConn Orthodontic Study Club ( newconnortho.org ) is such a group; it has its own foundation dedicated to promoting the art and science of orthodontics and allied dental fields. It encourages and funds dental research, promotes among its members a profound knowledge of orthodontics, and provides support to postgraduate orthodontic training programs. In addition, NewConn members support the dissemination of information about advances in orthodontic care to the public and the specialty in a biennial seminar.
Some study clubs have become successful as political organizations with international ties. The establishment of the Orthodontic Study Club ( www.apo.com.ph/legacy ) in the Philippines in 1971 turned out to be an all-important first step in the emergence and continued development of orthodontics there. Its members conferred monthly to exchange ideas, discuss and consult on cases, and consider other matters relevant to orthodontic practice. This led to the founding in 1980 of the Association of Philippine Orthodontists as a specialty organization to promote and encourage a high standard of excellence in orthodontic treatment and education. It is now recognized internationally as an affiliate society of the World Federation of Orthodontists and a charter member of the Asian Pacific Orthodontic Society.
Other clubs include members who live far apart and meet only once a year to focus on a specific aspect of practice. Instead of study casts, they might scour year-end balance sheets. Bob Bray, current president of the AAO, stresses the value of meeting with a small but passionate group of practitioners from throughout the country: “Our purpose for meeting was to provide support in making business and management decisions in general. We have been together for over 25 years, and, over this time, we were each responsible for the expenses of the meeting whether attending or not.”
I’ve even heard of a club that never physically meets. The popular Electronic Study Club for Orthodontists is sponsored by the Department of Orthodontics, University of Illinois at Chicago, and meets on the Internet ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). It is intended for the free exchange of information and opinions by members of our specialty whose lives are busy.
Although this all sounds wholesome and productive, there is a downside, acknowledged by even the most optimistic members. Just as Rotary Clubs must work harder than ever to attract new members, Ron Gallerano (Houston, Tex) notes with a degree of sadness that active members of his study club have dwindled, and potential members who decide not to join often cite family commitments as the main reason. He is quick to add, “I continue to remain active in the Bayou City Study Club because the effort to put together a few cases to display is far outweighed by the inspiration and new ideas gleaned from being with other members.”
No matter the size or location, the secret of orthodontic study clubs is clear to me: you get out of them what you put in.