Principle-Centered Vision = Preferred Future
By Paul A. Henny, DDS
1985 represented my second year practicing dentistry after Graduating from The University of Michigan. At that point, I had migrated back to Lexington, Kentucky where I had obtained my Bachelor's Degree in Biology. I was lucky in that I had landed two part time assistant professorship positions at the University of Kentucky Dental School right after graduation. This arrangement allowed me to start my private practice experience simultaneously, while providing some steady, albeit meager income.
My first private practice experience was an associateship in an insurance-centered practice. The doctor had just lost his partner whom had quit practice after six frustrating six years. Apparently, he had decided that selling Shakley Vitamins represented a brighter future. This was not a good sign, but it represented the only opportunity I could find in a heavily saturated market of dentists. I was told that the dentist to population ratio was around 900:1, a statistic that didn’t mean much to me at the time.
I loved teaching at the Dental School, but quickly learned to dread going to my position at the practice. There were too few patients for both of us to stay busy, so I sat around much of the time. And when I did have someone to work on, it was an uncooperative child or an adult who would tell me to my face that he hated dentists. This was clearly not the utopian version of dentistry that I had in my mind nor the respectful profession that I had grown up around in Michigan. My father and uncle were both oral surgeons, the later being one of the most well-known in the history of the specialty. Hence, there was a certain amount of pride and professionalism required to be a Henny in dentistry, and I was feeling none of that at the time.
During my all-too-often free time in the practice, I would hang out in the laboratory area as I offered to wax up and invest gold crowns for the owner dentist. While there, I noticed that there were a number of crown and bridge cases over a year old and that were still not delivered. When I asked Ron about them, he responded, “I don’t know why, but a lot of times they just do not come back”. (This completely confused me at the time, but later I learned it had to do with the fact that the patients did not want to pay anything for their dentistry. They felt that their insurance plan should cover 100% every time, and if this did not occur, they thought the dentist was gouging them).
This all left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and caused me to start looking for other employment options. That journey led me to meet a dentist by the name of Bob Muncy who was thinking about…but as it turned out …not quite ready to….bring in an associate. He was busy, seemed happy, and doing lots of full mouth reconstruction cases. I met with him a number of times and shadowed him on several occasions. He was using articulators on every case and was doing some pretty amazing things. I learned that he had trained at the Pankey Institute, was a client of Avrom King, had attended the courses of Omer Reed, and was using Sorenson. All of this was mind-blowing to me at the time, as I had no idea that this kind of dentistry was going on while I was just trying to find a way to fill my schedule with another amalgam filling.
In Bob’s private office, were binders full of Nexxus Newsletters, the musings of Omer Reed, Harold Wirth, and others. Bob allowed me to copy everything, all of which I still have today. I read it all on multiple occasions, trying to digest every detail of what they were discussing. Avrom King’s writing was always fascinating, and he commonly referenced Bob Barkley, another person toward whom I was philosophically drawn.
At that time I had a Franklin Day Planner, and in it I began to write down ideas about what I wanted to do in dentistry. This represented (although I had no idea what I was doing at the time) my Vision for my future practice. As the ideas came to mind, I would number them and put them on a page. This process took several months and was greatly influenced by what I was reading at the time as well as what I experienced at Bob Muncy’s office. When I was finished, there were 225 items, which varied from the training I wanted to pursue, to the exact details of how I wanted to design my office, who I needed to successfully staff it, and how I wanted the patients to feel when they were in relationship with the practice.
Later that year, I became aware of a satellite office that was up for sale in a small town about 45 minutes from Lexington. It had been unoccupied almost a year, had mostly old equipment, and was fire sale priced at $12,500.00. The opportunity fascinated me enough to go and check it out , and when I did, I found an old office on the second floor of a late 1800’s Victorian embellished building located on the same corner as the town’s only traffic light.
The town looked like the typical community which had boomed at the turn of the century, but had also been in steady decline since about 1950. The town also functioned as the County Seat and had a classic looking courthouse just down the block. Although I was fascinated with the place, I decided not to buy it, as it did not fit with my Vision for the future.
I drove away, never to return again.
A few years later, I bought a practice in Roanoke, Virginia with the specific intention of transitioning it into that which I had planned for years. It was a fairly small insurance-centered practice, from which the doctor was retiring. At that point, I started to take courses at the Dawson Center. One spring, I took my Care Team to the Hinman Meeting to hear a fellow named Bill Lockard speak on Leadership and team building. It seemed as though everything Bill said was in perfect alignment with what I wanted to do with my practice. And Bill's laugh, smile, and twinkle in his eye, put me at ease.
Upon my return home, I made plans to begin training at The Pankey Institute as I was finishing the curriculum at Dawson and was still struggling to transition a significant number of my patients toward accepting comprehensive care. I felt that there was something missing in my training plan, and Billl's confidence reassured me to press onward to Key Biscayne.
My training at The Pankey Institute clarified and catalyzed my previous learning. This in turn, allowed me to organize, consolidate, and focus on the creation of a more effective Mission and Purpose as well as to refine my clinical skills. In hindsight, this was all quite predictable as Drs. Dawson, Barkley, and many others were Dr. Pankey's students. And through those students, Dr. Pankey's thinking and Philosophy were applied, adapted, and then further propagated. For me, this experience filled in the puzzle.
Several years ago, while unpacking from a move to a new house, I discovered my Franklin Day Planner. And upon re-reading the 225 ideas that I had scribbled down many years prior, I was surprised to see that I had executed virtually every single one of them without ever referencing the list. It was at that moment I saw the incredible power a Principle-Centered Vision can have on shaping the future. (So, when I recently read Bill Lockard's contributions to this site on that topic I could do nothing but say to myself “Amen”)
And about that dental office I left behind in New Castle, Kentucky? After reading A Philosophy of Dentistry, I learned that it was Dr. Pankey’s first office, a place that had not fit in well his Vision for the future either.
Paul A. Henny, DDS is the Publisher & Managing Editor for Co-discovery.com. If you have personal stories which are inspiring, or simply just funny and would like to share them, please forward them to email@example.com