You finally arrive home after another hectic day at the office, late for dinner again. Just as you hang up your coat, your cell phone rings. It’s Jim, a classmate from your orthodontic residency. You haven’t heard from Jim for years, and your heartbeat increases as you conjecture that the reason for his call might be to bring bad news.
From his first few words, however, you can tell that his voice is buoyant, and all is okay. After a short exchange of greetings, Jim asks whether you’d join your class to donate the proceeds of 1 case for your alma mater’s new orthodontic clinic. You pause momentarily. Your case starts have been down this year, all 3 of your children are now in private schools, and you just started remodeling your kitchen. You politely ask Jim whether you can sleep on it. He says he’ll gladly call you back tomorrow.
Gratitude—to express appreciation for all one has received—is considered by some philosophers to be as essential as beneficence (duty to do good), nonmaleficence (duty to avoid harm), and fidelity (duty to maintain promises). Moral philosopher William David Moss (1877-1971) proposed that gratitude be considered as a “more weighty” ethical principle than beneficence. Cicero put it succinctly when he said “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
And what are more deserving of gratitude than the orthodontic programs that accepted us, educated us, and intellectually sustain us as professionals? These institutions and their faculty have given us an entrance into a life of multifaceted fulfillment.
The notion of gratitude toward our educators has endured for centuries. The Hippocratic oath (late 5th century BC) calls for the practitioner “to hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine.” One need not have enjoyed an extended teaching career to appreciate residents’ gratitude and respect for their mentors. A simple yet sincere “thank you” from a resident can be most gratifying, and deservedly so. Consider those full-time faculty who have dedicated so much of themselves to lecturing, demonstrating, guiding, encouraging—giving—to nurture the professional values and to catalyze the skills that only a select few possess.
Gratitude embraces a combination of beauty and humility. The display of gratitude can be easy for some but difficult for others. A genuine expression of gratitude requires sincerity and generosity, at least in spirit. Some of us display gratitude by offering financial support, others by volunteering their time to teach future professionals, others by acts of altruism. One of my close friends, a dentist, has devoted every Thanksgiving morning for decades to preparing and distributing dinners for the homeless of Philadelphia. He does so as a gesture of gratitude for all he has received. I also vividly recall the impressive story of Dr Jeremiah Lowney, the noble Connecticut orthodontist who received a humanitarian award at the 2011 AAO annual session in recognition of 3 decades of service in his treatment of the indigent of Haiti. These are constructive acts of gratitude that set the bar for us all.
We should all develop and sustain our own cherished method of expressing gratitude for that which we have received. In this era of depleted academic budgets and paucity of educators, one person cannot eliminate the great barriers that a career in academic dentistry can incur. But a generous form of gratitude to our educators and their programs should be as abundant as the knowledge and guidance they have given us.
By the way, when Jim calls back, he can count on me for sure!