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Put a Human Face on It

June 11, 2019

Filed under: Control,The Stoic Dentist — Barry Polansky @ 10:02 pm

During my forty six years of practicing dentistry I had, like so many dentists, a few pet peeves. One in particular really bothered me. Whenever I met a new patient I would always ask about their previous dentist. What bothered me was when the patient didn’t remember their old dentist’s name. Right then I made it my goal to make sure that this new patient would remember my name—in a good way.

Names are important. We are not nameless, faceless robots that wander around all day. We all have our stories, and the way we differentiate ourselves, identify ourselves is with our names. Names give us our presence and our sense of importance. We remember people by their names.

Recently I took a hot Yoga class in Santa Fe New Mexico. The first thing the teacher did was introduce himself. Dave looked at my form and said he had a dentist growing up in Boston with the same last name as mine. That started a whole conversation about other Yoga teachers we both knew. My mind drifted to the time when I was a young child growing up in the Bronx. In those days doctors made house calls.

I still remembered Dr. Weltman who would come to our house. He was beloved by everyone in the neighborhood, and I still remember his name. I am not naive to suggest that we return to those times. Health care has changed. My pet peeve focuses on one change that we can do something about. We need to get to know our patients better, and they need to get to know us better – if we are going to stop the commodification of health care.

Business and marketing author Theodore Levitt once said, “There is no such thing as a commodity; everything can be differentiated.” And it starts with naming it. When we attach a name to someone we put that person in the context of their story. We begin to care more. It is the start of the trusting relationship. Things change when we put a name to every human.

Yes, call me old fashioned, but I do long for the old neighborhoods of the Bronx and Boston when everyone knew your name. We live in a world that is becoming way too impersonal. I was proud of the practice I grew. It was a close knit family of patients and we all knew each other – by name. I felt bad for those patients who didn’t remember the name of their last dentist. It told me much more about them and what they would expect from my practice.

Predictability = Control = Tranquility

April 1, 2019

Filed under: Control,Epictetus,The Stoic Dentist — Tags: — Barry Polansky @ 9:57 pm

Back in the mid-eighties I attended my first Peter Dawson seminar. It was his Seminar I and my first serious introduction to occlusion. It changed my professional career as well as my life.

I was blindsided.

What I remember most from that day was Dr. Dawson telling the students that the reason why so many dentists were unhappy was because they weren’t practicing predictable dentistry. Occlusion was the pathway to more predictable dentistry. At the time I was practicing dentistry at a very superficial level. Dr. Dawson’s explanation compelled me to take the deep dive, and I never looked back.

At the time I was searching for better ways to do dentistry, and get better outcomes. Behind those goals was a bigger goal—part of my search for meaning. I never realized that doing meaningless dentistry was the source of my unhappiness…until I heard Pete Dawson speak. Although I had already taken numerous practice management courses that left me wanting for more, who knew that the key to my problems could be found in exploring technical dentistry at a deeper level.


I went along for the ride.

Slowly but surely I began to understand dentistry better…things really made sense. I couldn’t get enough of restorative dentistry…and I was happier. I thought I found the cure to burnout. But it was only part of the story. I began to study human behavior as well with cognitive behavioral therapy (using rational thought to explain behavior). That helped too, but unlike technical dentistry, human behavior was less predictable than the laws of occlusion.

“I entered the land of Epictetus.”

If that quote looks familiar to you it’s because Jim Collins made it famous when he wrote about Admiral James Stockdale in his leadership book, Good to Great. Stockdale’s plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1965, and he was held as a prisoner of war for seven and a half years. For years before the war he carried around a small handbook, The Enchiridion, the surviving writings of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. What Stockdale learned from Epictetus was that happiness demands that we differentiate between what is, and is not within our control. If we substitute the word control with predictable – Dr. Dawson’s philosophy made so much sense.The very first paragraph of the Enchiridion says, “Know what you can control and what you can’t.”

What we can control are our beliefs, opinions, aspirations, desires and our levels of understanding. These all fall within our circles of concern. We can influence the outcomes when we clarify our beliefs and increase our knowledge. That’s what happened the more I studied technical dentistry. What can’t we control? Plenty: Mostly the beliefs and opinions of other people.

Once we work on ourselves and what is under our control, the more influence we have with other people. We begin to realize that we can’t nor we shouldn’t manipulate other people. People become attracted to us because of who we have become internally. Our character.

I am not sure if Pete Dawson is a modern Stoic, but he certainly understood one of the key principles in achieving a fulfilling career in dentistry.

Check out the Enchiridion. Keep a copy in your pocket. Read it daily. Enter the world of Epictetus and comment below about how Stoicism helps you to achieve freedom and tranquility in dentistry.