Do you have a mentor? Do you have someone you can call or meet with to help through the challenges of dentistry? For twenty-five years of my private practice life as a dentist, I had a challenges of dentistry? For twenty-five years of my private practice life as a dentist, I had a mentor. His name was Dr. Jack Reever. Jack helped me achieve more than I ever would have imagined. Jack provided a second set of eyes to help me provide the best treatment for my patients. Jack helped me laugh at myself and enjoy dentistry more.
Did you know that an ox by itself can pull one ton? When it’s yoked with another ox, together they can pull six tons. I’ve always been amazed by that statistic. I believe that with a mentor, you will be able to accomplish a ton more in your dental practice than if you tried to do it “all by yourself.”
In July 2000, my family and I vacationed in Breckenridge Colorado and went on a guided 5-mile white water rafting trip down the Colorado river, one that would take us on a journey through some Class III rapids (moderately difficult). I remember starting out feeling both scared and excited at the same time. I had the basic equipment: a helmet, a life jacket with a whistle, proper shoes, and a paddle. I had some paddling experience from living in the Lakes region of NH. My family and I would spend many of our summer weekends canoeing and kayaking on the ponds and rivers in our area, but always in calm water.
For this rafting trip, I was very grateful that we had someone to guide us through the turbulent rapids, someone who had experience, someone who knew the river, and someone who could help us avoid the rocks, giving us directions when we needed it. Our trip went without a hitch. We all had a lot of fun and everyone managed to stay in the boat. During my practice life, Jack was “my guide.” He was the one who helped me through some turbulent times. He was the one who helped me with some difficult cases. He was the one who helped me become a better dentist.
To be honest, the first few years of my private dental practice were a bit turbulent. Despite receiving a great education, along with eight years of experience (the basic rafting equipment), I was challenged by the complexity of the dental problems that were presented to me. My practice was located in Wolfeboro NH, a tourist town known as “The Oldest Summer Resort in America.” Basically, Wolfeboro was a retirement community were the average age of my patients seemed to be around 70 years old. We all know that as we get older, we tend to have more medical issues. Well, the same holds true for our teeth and I was challenged to the max.
At times, I felt like I was drowning. I knew I needed someone to help me navigate these complex cases and that’s when I sought the help of a mentor. Honestly, I should have done it a lot sooner than I did. For way too long, my ego got in the way. I was so ignorant thinking that I could do it on my own. I found Dr. Reever by asking some of the specialists I worked with who they thought would be the best general dentist to help me.
Jack was 20 years older than me and he had been in private practice for over 25 years. His practice was a model of excellence. Not only was Jack a great dentist, he managed his practice well, had wonderful patients, and a dedicated team. He really was the total package having what I call: the hands, the head, and the heart. He had great hands and did beautiful dentistry. He used his head and managed his team and the business-side of his practice well. And he had a heart, a great passion for his profession, a passion for people, and a passion to help me. He’d often say, “Robert, what challenge are you bringing me today. Let’s put our heads together and figure this one out.” We did that for many years. When we got together, we always had fun.
Over the years, we often traveled to dental meetings together. Jack was a great communicator. He always asked me thought-provoking questions rather than jumping in and telling me the answer. He’d say, “You really think that’s what you want to do?” He would then come back and ask, “Have you thought about this approach?” While at the same time challenging me, he also encouraged me. At times, he’d let me struggle a bit and then eventually, we’d work on the solution together. Like the guide on the rafting trip, he helped me through some turbulent water, some turbulent times, and some complex cases. I am forever grateful to my mentor Dr. Jack Reever.
Another thing about Jack was that he was generous with his time. I could call him on the phone anytime. Frequently, we’d get together at our local component dental meetings. Many times, Jack would drive to my office to help me. We lived about 40 miles apart. Not only was he my mentor, he was my colleague, and my friend.
The last thing that made are relationship special was that Jack treated me like an equal. Often, he would thank me for the teaching him a few things along the way. Ours was a very collegial, open and authentic relationship.
It takes courage and it takes guts to be open and authentic with another colleague, to open yourself up to feedback and criticism. However, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Sometimes, it meant sometimes having to admit, “I don’t know.” Or sometimes it meant confessing, “I messed this one up.” But truthfully, that was where the “laboratory of learning” took place; it was also the place where the fun began. It was similar to going through the rapids on the Colorado river frightened and scared, and coming out at the end invigorated, smiling, and saying, “Let’s do it again!”
If you don’t have a mentor, I encourage you to get one. Ask the specialists you work with who they would recommend. Or consider joining a local study club. Your practice life will be a lot more fun as you and your mentor learn from one another. You’ll develop close friendships, and like the yoked oxen, together, you’ll accomplish a ton more. And like the rafting trip down the Colorado river with a guide, you will, in the process, avoid a few rocks.