Rebirth of a new dentist: Learning from failures and a crisis

I can remember my return to new dentist status like it was yesterday. Eighteen months ago, I was sitting on the steps of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. I turned to one of my best friends, my mentor, and someone that I very much look up to, and asked for help. I asked him, “Why have I been such a success in organized dentistry but an utter failure in business?” With a smile, he replied: “It’s simple, you have us.” This was Brett and my new friend named Hope. Although I had just met her, together they breathed the newfound hope back into my career. At that moment I understood exactly what my problem was, and the solution instantly came to me: The power of the team.

Photo of Dr. White

Dr. White

I have never been a person who lacked work ethic, discipline, or drive. These characteristics powered me through my undergrad career, the dental admission test, and ultimately got me to dental school. I relied on these characteristics to achieve success so heavily that I never bothered to buy into the “group” or the “family” aspect of education.

As soon as I graduated from dental school, I was lucky enough to fall into success. I took over two practices because I was willing to work harder and longer. I immediately started enjoying what I thought was success: monetary profits. Over the next 14 years, the practices continued to thrive, as did my ego. I truly believed that I was the root of success for these businesses. What I didn’t understand was that I was merely the driver of the vehicle. My dental team was the engine, the gasoline, and the wheels that kept the car moving forward along the road to success.

Up to this point, I had been focusing on other areas of leadership development. I seldom spent the time to understand the ins and outs of operating a dental practice. This crucial mistake brought me down a different road that led my practice to lose the staff members that had gotten me to that point, sequentially dooming my business. I finally had to ask for help, which made me uncomfortably vulnerable.

At this point, I felt I was experiencing my rebirth as a new dentist. Although I was reborn, my core values were the same: discipline, drive and work ethic. What was different this time around was that I was humbled and laser-focused on creating a team. Leaning on my network of dentist colleagues for guidance on my new journey. I took it upon myself to learn everything that I possibly could about Dentrix and dental operations. Letting go of my ego and pride along the way, I became unafraid to admit that I did not know what I was doing and asked for help when I needed it so that I could become better.

Over these last 18 months, I have discovered the power of a group and the power of vulnerability. Through these, I have learned more than I ever did in my previous fourteen years of practicing dentistry. Up until February of 2020, my team and I were gearing up to have an amazing year.

Then, unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across our globe. Nobody planned for such a devastating event, not even Ray Dalio, a hedgefund manager and philanthropist who is known for navigating the financial downturn of 2008. He admits that he did not understand or prepare for this pandemic. He overlooked history and explains that this was something that he could have prepared for. What impressed me the most was that he did not focus on who was at fault. Instead, he emphasized how he could have predicted a downturn. As well as what ways he could do a better job in the future. Witnessing such an amazing leader admit his fault reminded me that even the greats fail greatly. Even in failure, they remain opportunistic and choose to grow and learn from each mistake, no matter how big or small. It is with these failures that we can achieve greater things. Like us, the greatest of all times needed help along the way as well. Just like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant needed Phil Jackson.

Many dentists in our country will revert to new dentist status due to this pandemic. God forbid, but some will regrettably lose their practices as well as miss out on potential opportunities that they were once on track to have. It is only through the power of the group or tribe that we can get through this. Now more than ever, I am proud to say that I am a member of the American Dental Association. During this difficult time, they have been a beacon of hope, inspiring opportunity and communication throughout the association and I have never been more impressed.

For now, it is not business as usual. Only time will tell us where we are going. Ultimately, everything is going to change in the world of dentistry. There will be those that choose to fixate on the past, yearning for things to be the way they once were. On the other hand, there will be those that recognize that we do not have the time for wishful thinking. It is a new day, and through this crisis, we must come together as a team. A new world will emerge and within it, a new set of leaders will reign. They will be innovators, creators, and cultivators, helping to pave the way and guide other dentists along the new normal. I look forward to this. I too am a dentist that may suffer the ultimate consequence of losing their practice during these times. Fortunately, I made peace with this possibility 18 months ago. Because of this, I feel my purpose is to help others avoid this at all costs.

As the chairman of government affairs in Nevada, my job is to make sure that as many practices survive even if mine does not. I understand the power of the team and hope to spare as many practices as possible from suffering what I endured not long ago. As we continue down this road, we must channel our inner Mamba mentality and understand that we cannot do it without Phil. I truly believe that we will adapt, prevail, and be better off in the end. However, the silver lining to all this is that by banding together as a united front of dentists, we will all unleash the power of the team through The American Dental Association.

Dr. David White is a general dentist who graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and currently practices in Nevada. He currently owns two private practice general dentistry offices. He is past president of the Nevada Dental Association and currently serves as the vice chairman of the ADA Council on Government Affairs, and is chairman of the Nevada Council on Government Affairs. In addition, he holds adjunct faculty positions at the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine, where he works with Pre-Dental Students and Admissions. He has enjoyed participating in the ADA Success program for years and has always been passionate about mentoring. When away from dentistry he values adventurous outdoor activities with his young children. He welcomes any and all of your questions/comments and can be reached at whitedav@umich.edu or visit davidwhitedds.com.

6 comments

  • Steve Geiermann DDS

    David…thank you for your honest, candid and transparent insights. All things do work out for the good, but there is strength in numbers, both within your immediate circle and within organized dentistry. Thanks for being a leader within both circles!

    Steve G.

  • Your story was part of my morning devotional today. Blessings to you, Hope and the rest of your team. We’re all in this together.

  • Regina Feliciano Guisti

    So Many are taking a Deep Breath and realizing how hard it is For so Many!! You Have got this!! I think you are an Amazing Dentist and Person!! Thank you for all your kind words after Dr Yup passed, meant a lot to me… This too Will Pass, Wishing you the Very best;)

    Regina Feliciano

  • Bravo! Just what we need.

  • Thanks for your Leadership

  • Awesome response, such wisdom learned through the process many of us went through without ever dealing with a pandemic like this. Hope, determination, and surrounding yourself with people who are willing to dig deep and row through the storm is for all of us to find a way out. With an attitude like you display, so glad to be on the same team with you! God Bless and best to all who share this journey.

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