57 – My Graduation Address

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Hi and welcome, or welcome back. You are listening to the Perio Hygienist Podcast, a podcast for my professional colleagues and anyone else who wants to listen. My name is Dr. Ben Young and I am a periodontist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. This is episode 57 and the title is My Graduation Address.

This is the big graduation time of year so I thought I would give dental school and dental hygiene school graduates a few thoughts on the subject of transitioning from school to the real world of private practice. Now for most of us, who are not graduating, please listen and write me any comments you think they should hear from you and I will read them out on the next podcast. Let me know if you think I am right or wrong. I really value your input.

I want to give you some tips that might help you keep your job if you want to keep it, find a better job if you want to go that direction, and generally, be able to do in the future whatever it is you decide to do, while not having to backtrack on a few fundamental principles we will talk about in my graduation address. Take heart, you can listen to this without having to put on cap and gown (unless this is your chosen bedroom attire).

To the graduating class of 2022.

Let me begin by acknowledging to you that you have arrived at an important achievement milestone. It may be the last academic endeavor you ever plan to do or it may be one of many you still have in mind. It is important that right now you stop and acknowledge this achievement.

So, Congratulations.

You worked hard and sacrificed to be where you are. You dreamed about this day and now here you are.

Now, more specifically, because this is your moment of transition from student to graduate, it is appropriate that someone older than you do a few things for you right now. So listen carefully.

To begin, I welcome you into the profession of dentistry as a colleague.

This means a change in your title or degree identifier, and it also means that you will learn to talk with colleagues in different ways. We all must become a little less intimidating to you. We are not your instructors or betters. That’s what the word “colleague” is all about.

The second appropriate thing at graduation ceremonies is to step away from the intensity of the struggle you have just experienced with all the worries you may even now, have about employment and possibly board examinations.

Just stop already.

Take a deep breath.

Put your planned moving on hold for just a moment.

If you don’t, then, again, this monumental moment in your life will just pass on by. Which will be unfortunate, because it has the potential of doing so much more for you professionally. But the squirrel in the cage that is your brain but be quiet for just the next few moments.

Are you aware that for everything you sacrifice in order to grow in skills, you risk losing something or many things you have already acquired?

This will possibly be the reason why when I give you the charge I give you in a moment that you might think to yourself, “I already know this.”

And you might…

but what you have yet to have tested is whether your new body of skills and knowledge, along with your new title or academic degree, will diminish the importance in your life of the things I am about to say to you. This is a perfect moment to ask you how you wish to live your future life.  

I wish I could tell you all of us in your chosen profession are good people, we are not.

This means, if you want to be a good person and a high moral and ethical professional, then you must find allies to support you and accept that there are many who will dismiss everything you believe in and stand for.

Fortunately, I still believe, after practicing over forty years, that most of us engaged in this profession strive daily to do the best we can and to operate at all times both morally and ethically.

But let’s be clear.

No one can claim to be doing the best they can AND have moral and ethical lapses.

The best I can do may not be very good clinically in a particular circumstance, but I must never lapse morally or ethically.

Here is what this means. When a procedure doesn’t go well, I must be honest about the outcome. Not everything is my fault but also not everything I do works well.

What will I do in these difficult moments?

That is the question.

Will I cover it over, or will I actually discuss it with others and ultimately with the patient?

I will tell you that this is not only doable, but it will actually grow you reputation.

How else can problems be addressed and hopefully fixed?

For many of the problems I have experienced, most of them were within a relationship with another dentist. This is because I am a specialist and work within a team context for every patient I treat. What I have discovered about these sorts of difficulties is that as we work them our bonds (patients, dentists and dental hygienists) often grow stronger.

It makes sense if you think it through – which is what I am asking you to do right now – because our difficult problems when appropriately addressed, not run from, show what we are really  made of – that we don’t run away – that we work to resolve things together.

Also, as an aside, let me tell you something that is often not clearly realized by new graduates.

Everyone sees your work. Well, actually all of them might not. The patient might not, but the patient will feel it. It’s easy to come under the spell that no one sees your work anymore because you don’t have to stop and get someone instructor to look at it. Now all of it takes place in a quiet little operatory with perhaps an assistant who doesn’t see what you see. But here is what should break this illusion, patients don’t stay in your chair. They leave and they go to other dental offices in the future.

I know you will feel rushed, especially at first, but work to document your cases well. This is your testimony going into the future. Again, the problem isn’t the problem, it is the cover-up.

Something else, we professionals easily forget, that is of fundamental importance. We lose our ability to be grateful. We get too busy to say thank you, to appreciate that the practice, even if we might be the owner, is not about us. If you are smart, it should be about caring for the patient – and patients are not well cared for if they are not first appreciated. Learn to find the compliment you can give, not the criticism.

People who think they got where they are by themselves are, to be kind, misguided. They also make miserable employers and employees.

Work daily to make gratitude a part of your personality if it isn’t already. If people don’t know you as a really grateful, happy person, work to change this.

Which brings me back to today. To this moment. I have purposefully, thus far, made this address, all about you, the new graduate. And this is important, but now, you need to know, this life is not about you or your happiness. This life doesn’t owe you anything. No one owes you a job. No one owes you financing. No one owes you subservience, to take your orders and just be happy about it. This is true at work and it is true at home.

Learn that grateful people are happy people not the other way around. Don’t be grateful only when you feel happy or when everything is going your way. Be grateful in the midst of your problems, only then will you not have an excuse for a bad attitude – one that will drive others away – like patients, employees, friends, and family members.

Be grateful for what you have learned and the skills you have developed. Thank your instructors, the administrators, the people who mopped the floor in you school’s clinic and who made sure your instruments came back cleaned, packaged, and sterile.

Also be grateful for the struggles themselves, for what they have done to strengthen and mature you to this point.

Forgive me for making so much of this, but if you lack the sincere ability to appreciate others it is probably the most ominous sign of tremendous disappointments that await you in the near future. The working world of commerce, the military world of command and control, the healthcare world filled with enigmatic patients who have more problems than anyone can fix, all have a way of balancing the scales with arrogant individuals who think they are God’s gift to the profession. You are God’s gift to your friends and loved ones. That will always be more important. And it is out of you love and gratitude for your family and friends, the ones who have supported and encouraged you to this point, along with those you make in the future, who will give you the love and encouragement you will need to do all the important and useful things you will do for your profession.

A few final tips.

Don’t try to prove yourself. Instead excel in being kind, humble and honest. This does not mean, be a doormat for the abuse of others, but learn not to return evil for evil, but return good for evil – and then move on, or away, whatever makes sense under your circumstances.

Avoid drama kings and queens. Avoid gossip.

Use your young age to your advantage. You might be reminding someone of their grandson or granddaughter. Trust me, you can wrap them around your finger – just don’t come off as a know-it-all nag. Teaching old dogs new tricks comes with a price – usually a bite in the behind. Instead, as I have already said, find the compliments and encourage sweetly. Be gentle in your technique. You are not treating toward a clinical perfection anymore. Do the clinically best you can, but don’t forget you are not working on a manikin.

Get to know people as people first.

Don’t fall on your sword over the latest method, research, or technique. Sure they might be great but keep this quiet at first and listen to others politely. This is the same advice I would give a CEO who is coming into a new company at the top. Listen and don’t give your opinion for at least ninety days. It takes awhile to understand the conditions of your new work environment.

I’ll stop here. This I believe is plenty to chew on (pun intended).

You have been listening to The Perio Hygienist Podcast and I am still Dr. Ben Young.

If you have found this podcast helpful, then consider sharing it with others. They can subscribe where every they get their podcasts.

Also if you want something daily to encourage you, check out my writing-side found at The Still Point Project on Substack.com. I will leave a link in the show notes, but it’s easy to find. Just go to thestillpoint.substack.com.

Thanks for listening.