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Taken To Heart

The 2008 MDA President's Interview






On February 22, 2008, Northwest Dentistry sat down with MDA president for 2007-2008 Dr. Jamie Sledd to take a measure of the year so far. We discovered a dentist whose path has been anything but traditional, let alone predictable, and a woman who has employed an open mind and the willingness to pursue opportunity to great result.

The Editors

 

NWD: We traditionally begin with background information from our presidents: where you grew up, your family (any dentists?), education, and why you decided on a career in dentistry.

Dr. Sledd: I grew up in Topeka, Kansas — Tornado Alley. One vivid memory is June 8, 1966. A major tornado hit the town and almost destroyed it. We were sitting on the couch watching a Charlie Brown special on TV and we never went to the basement!

I am the middle child of five, and the only dentist in the family. I have strong memories of my dental experiences, and they were always very positive. I probably didn’t go to the dentist as often as I would recommend for my patients, but my parents did the best they could. After graduation from high school, I started college, but I just wasn’t mature enough. I literally wasn’t ready, and I failed, and dropped out. At that point my parents had moved to Minneapolis, the siblings were dispersing, and there I was with my grandma. [pause] My grandma was my best friend, and when I really dig down deep, she was the one who influenced me in dentistry. Grandma lost her teeth when she was 27, and teeth and smiles were of the utmost importance to her. It was always important to her that we had healthy smiles, healthy mouths. And she wasn’t allied to the profession at all.

NWD: So when did you aim for dentistry?

Dr. Sledd: When I was 17, I was going through ortho (a little later than most kids start), and I just loved my orthodontist, Dr. Paul Boatwright. In Kansas at that time you didn’t have to be registered or certified, so I started working as his dental assistant, and I was hooked! He was so good, and he taught me so many things. That was the real beginning of my dental career. I ultimately moved to Minneapolis, started working as an assistant in ortho, endo, oral surgery and general practice. I worked for a wonderful periodontist named Neil Covin. And I got to thinking, I can do this! Still not registered or certified, and thus very limited in what I could do, I thought, ‘If I’m going back to school, why not just keep going?’ I went to dental school, and here I am.

I have had so many good mentors along the way, so many wonderful people to support me. Take Neil Covin. When I was in dental school I could always call him with questions. Success always seems to include people who weren’t just standing in the distance trying to be good examples but who were there with their sleeves rolled up willing to help, and it doesn’t stop when you get your D.D.S. These people deeply touch our lives and don’t even realize how special that is.

NWD: At what point are you in your practice life?

Dr. Sledd: I graduated from Marquette in 1988, practiced in Milwaukee for four years, then bought my practice here in 1992. I’m a solo practitioner. I would love to have somebody join my practice in the next few years and help me move it forward. I’m not actively looking, but I would love to have someone to work with, to bring on. That would be a great experience. It’s a challenge to be a solo practitioner, but I’m so fortunate: I have a great group of endodontists across the hall, oral surgeons next door, perio upstairs, all a phone call or e-mail away.

NWD: How did you begin in organized dentistry?

Dr. Sledd: I love to be involved. I don’t know how to say no. But to me it’s more about giving back. If I can take the same enthusiasm and support someone gave me and give it to the next person, to me that is what the world is all about.

NWD: How did that bring you to the presidency?

Dr. Sledd: I was on the Scientific Session Committee for six years. What a great opportunity! Everyone says, “My goodness, you give so much” when you take on these roles, but I have to say, I got so much, honestly - so much it actually feels kind of selfish. I remember the last day I was SSC chair. I crossed paths with Tim Langguth, who was MDA president at that time, and he said, “What are you going to do next?” [laughter] I said, “Tim, you put me where you need me.” [really laughs] When he said “officer”, I was terrified. There was a lot of soul searching. I called my husband Tom right away, and he said, “Of course you do it.” I asked my brother Judd, and he said, “Of course you do.” And it just went from there: nothing but support. If you build a history of good experiences from taking on challenges, and you recognize the support that’s around you, it will work. Those are such big things. You can’t do it by yourself. I wish we could find the magic words that would help the membership at large realize really what comes from volunteering your time, from stepping up to the plate and saying, “I can help out”, because it makes so much difference. It isn’t the difference I can make, it’s the difference we can make. And it affects so many people. So here I am. I didn’t say no, and it has been a great experience.

NWD: What did you learn about dentistry as a life choice through these contacts?

Dr. Sledd: We all go through
phases in both our professional and our personal lives, and they weave in and out of each other. Right now I am coming to the end of a personal challenge. My husband Tom is an industrial electrician, and his work in support of the scientists in Antactica, McMurdo Station and other research facilities has kept him there since last September. This is his third trip to Antarctica, but the first since our marriage. Currently he is responsible for what’s called “heat trace”. Tom must insure any pipe carrying a liquid does not freeze. He is quite the adventurer, and I am very proud of him. The separation is difficult, but the support from the dental community has been overwhelming. MDA treasurer Todd Tsuchiya has been my greatest support; Tom Karn, my endo friend from across the hall, has been another. For anything, personal or professional, they are always just a phone call away. Tom took me bowling with him and his four-year-old twins! I am not a bowler. Thank heavens for bumpers!

NWD: We have to ask: How do you meet someone like an Antarctic explorer?

Dr. Sledd: [laughs] He was a patient! Right before he went to the South Pole the first time, I did his whole dental exam and gave him a clean bill of health. A year and a half later he came back prior to his second trip. Another year and half, another exam, and when we were done he said, “Would you like to see pictures?” We went to dinner, looked at pictures, and the rest is history.

NWD: What does it mean to be a dentist now compared to when you started out?

Dr. Sledd: I think about how I’ve gained more knowledge and maturity from when I graduated to today, my start as an associate in group practice, the transfer to solo practice. My dentistry has certainly changed, and is hopefully more comprehensive. One thing I always focus on is that I’m not treating a tooth, I’m treating a person, an individual who has a heart, and that is very important to me in how I work. It’s about the relationship with my patients, and with the wonderful women with whom I get to work. I have to say, we have a ball! I’m “Jamie” at the office, not “Dr. Sledd”. Some of my dearest friends started as my patients. That’s what I enjoy about my work: getting to know people for who they are, their values, what gives them joy and passion.

NWD: Once you were on the officers’ ladder, what did you have to learn that was outside your own practice or life experience? How did your personality fit, or not fit, the office?

Dr. Sledd: I’ve never had a fear of public speaking, so that part has been fine from the start. However, I am not a political person. I’ve had to pull many resources to teach me along the way. One thing I have learned is that I don’t have to know it all. There are others who have greater strengths in given areas than I do. It’s about all of us coming together to move forward in the best interest of Minnesota dentists and our patients. You have to be open and willing to put your own agenda aside for the well being of all Minnesota dentists. Being MDA president is a job, absolutely. But it comes with the vast knowledge and experience of someone like Dick Diercks — wow! He’s amazing, and he makes me look good. He is the resource. Then there is the diverse group of trustees we have, and what a luxury it is to get to work with and discover these people. There’s a great synergy that gets going.

NWD: What kept you motivated for those four years on the officers’ ladder?

Dr. Sledd: The support you get from everybody. I never had the sense that I could fail because there are so many people rallying around me to share their knowledge and support.

NWD: What had you observed other presidents, officers, or members do that impressed you along the way?

Dr. Sledd: My predecessors, Pat Foy, Jim Zenk, and Dick Wiberg, were all very strong and passionate about their convictions, and worked very hard to take the Association to the next level, following their integrity to what was best for our association and our patients. I so admired their ability and willingness to work as hard as they did to do the right thing.

NWD: What are your own areas of special interest?

Dr. Sledd: The officers’ ladder and Board of Trustees was tremendous preparation for being president, and immediate past Director of Meetings Dianne Blake was a great support. When I began this, I asked her, “What is my strength? What do I have to bring to the table?” She said, “You’ll figure it out.” And I have.

This year it is communications. I have worked really hard to broaden and expand communications to the membership so they can truly have a sense of what’s happening. I want them to know every step of the way, not just at the last minute. One of my goals is to have somebody say to me, “Quit sending me so many e-mails! I get it!”

We have developed a wonderful website that’s full of information. Northwest Dentistry is an award-winning journal that provides fabulous information and gives people new ideas to follow and consider. Then we have our legislative alerts and “News and Views” so the membership not only has an understanding of what is going on but can act. It is a whole process of “layers of ability” in the communications this association can provide. That’s a full-time job in itself. We have wonderful staff and support, a great team.

NWD: Let’s look at the Association issues, initiatives, activities, and programs we have at midpoint in your year as its president. What is on the legislative agenda?

Dr. Sledd: We’re currently working very hard with the legislature to move our issues forward, to provide better access for the underserved. That’s the issue that is never going to go away. Other issues we’re working on include a single-payer system for dental health reimbursements through the state. We are looking to expand the loan forgiveness programs to include internationally educated dentists and dental hygienists who practice under collaborative agreements and who agree to serve in under-served communities. We’re certainly looking to continue to develop the Collaborative Agreement program with hygienists. We had another successful Give Kids a Smile program in February, and we want to nurture that. I sincerely want to thank everybody who took part. And we want to develop grassroots initiatives in every part of Minnesota so that everyone’s voice can be heard. That is a vital part of the communications picture – ideas have to flow in both directions. We want to hear about what is important to our members.

NWD: What comes after the presidency for you?

Dr. Sledd: That’s going to be a tough one. I will very much miss these relationships. They’ll continue, but in a different way. I’m sure Tom and I will take a vacation – perhaps the Boundary Waters – at the end of September. I’m very involved at the Pankey Institute; I’m part of the visiting faculty. It will be fun to increase my level of involvement with them again. There are so many opportunities to give back, both at the MDA and elsewhere. I have learned that you can’t plan every step, every detail. Let the ripple effect work for you: Do something, and opportunities open up. I would love to convince people how well that can work. But it takes time to become comfortable with that process.

NWD: In closing, what would you like to tell the MDA’s members?

Dr. Sledd: I would like to thank every member for being part of the Association because the MDA is about you, the members. And for every one of you who has said yes when we’ve called and asked for help, thank you. I really appreciate the input everybody has. I especially want to thank all of the officers, both current and those who paved the way, and to thank Dick Diercks for everything he does. Deep appreciation goes to all our staff members - I wish I could name every one of them.

To our members, I want to reiterate that we are working very hard on your behalf, and we will continue to do so. Thank you for your support.




Copyright 2008. Minnesota Dental Association

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