With this article, we renew the Northwest Dentistry connection with the Minnesota Dental Association’s Committee on Ethics, Constitution and Bylaws.* And who better to help us during this time of transition than long-time NWD ethics reporter Dr. Jack Churchill, whose “What’s a Dentist to Do?” articles appeared regularly for ten years from 2001 to 2011. Jack put down his pen in 2011, and in recognition of his contribution was awarded the MDA President’s Award in 2012 “for outstanding service to the Minnesota Dental Association”. It is an adaptation of his speech accepting the award that appears here to continue the ethics conversation into coming issues. Readers please note that this speech is a very personal expression of one individual’s philosophy. It invites each of us to create one of our own based on whatever qualities we may choose to build upon. Readers are again invited to submit topics or questions on ethics, professional and personal.**
To quote Jack (we do that a lot): “What dentistry should be remains unchanged: compassion, kindness, service, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
I served 10 years as Chair of the Ethics, Constitution and By-Laws Committee and 10 years writing a column in Northwest Dentistry titled “What’s a Dentist to Do?” I enjoyed every moment of it. To be able to serve a profession I love and people I respect and admire is an absolute privilege. I was never much of a parliamentarian or committee director, but I think I do know how to write. Of course, after 10 years of doing anything, one should get good at it.
Many of you may not be familiar with my column, but it was always written from the heart. I tried to get to the core of what it is to be a dentist. How we think. What we feel. What makes us tick, so to speak.
Of course, it is an ethics column, and what drives ethics is perspective. So I tried to expand and broaden our perspective. I eliminated case studies. I asked my readers to take off their loupes and look at the human heart, the human condition. For example, I asked my readers to think about the concept of perfection. We were taught in dental school that “perfection is the Great Motivator helping us to strive for excellence”. But as we gained practice experience, we found perfection lurking around every corner as the Great Tormentor, sometimes leaving us broken and feeling insufficient when we inevitably fell short. So I wrote how it is okay to be less than what we aspire to. There is no shame in that as long as we get up after each fall and try harder. I remember conversations with Pat Foy several months ago and how he said dentistry grants us Mulligans. That is, if something doesn’t work out, we can re-do it. A healthy outlook.
I wrote about foolish pride, negativity, the art of discernment, choosing joy in dentistry, the power of presence, shame, and fighting the good fight. I wrote of a friend who committed suicide, and one who inspired us. Dentistry is full of things to write about. There is no shortage of subject matter.
As many of you may have noticed, one common thread in my column was my faith. I believe our Creator, however you may see Him, loves us and accepts us as we are. In that simple fact there is great hope. I have tried to sprinkle that message throughout my articles because I believe if we are to expand our scope, if we are to broaden our view, we must include God.
You know, the great cathedrals of Europe were built by men who were largely unknown. They labored day after day offering personal sacrifice, building something they would probably never see finished. Their names would never be on the buildings they built. They took no credit. They are now in essence invisible, but their work remains.
There is one story of a builder carving a bird inside a beam that would be covered by a roof. Someone asked him, “Why do you spend so much time on something no one will ever see?” He replied, “I do it because God sees it.”
We too often work invisibly at great sacrifice — arriving early before staff to prepare for a day’s work, spending extra time on a tooth preparation that we know won’t really pay us any more, discounting someone’s fee without anyone noticing, attending alone countless CE courses, giving away our time and services to people in need, volunteering at Give Kids a Smile, Project Homeless Connect, or Mission of Mercy. We do these things not because we want to be seen, but because God sees everything.
When we do these things, God says, “I see you. You are not invisible to me. No sacrifice is too small for me to notice. I see what you did for that patient. I see you coming early and staying late. I see your disappointments, your struggles, your failures. I see your hard work. I see your victories.”
This invisibility may sometimes seem unfair, even like an affliction, but it is not. It is a cure for the disease of our self-centeredness, an antidote to our own pride. I think it’s okay people don’t see. I think it’s okay that they don’t know. Because really, if we broaden our perspective, if we truly understand, we don’t do these things for our patients. We do them for Him.
Just remember, you, in your own way, are building a great cathedral. So thank you again for acknowledging my work and for this kind award.
*Dr. Jim Westman is the chair of the Committee on Ethics, Constitution and Bylaws. Email is email@example.com
**Readers may also contact Northwest Dentistry Managing Editor Sue Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org
directly with ideas for upcoming articles