After graduating from University of Missouri Kansas City School of Dentistry in 2010, Dr. Danielle Riordan of St. Peters, Missouri, had what many would describe as the perfect set up: a partner in an established practice. The catch? The seasoned practitioner who’d be her partner was her dad, Dr. Mark Zust. Many of the staff and patients had witnessed her growing up over the years. Would they take her seriously on her own merit?
On being the young dentist
“I know, it doesn’t sound like a challenge, but initially it was an uphill battle,” said Dr. Riordan. “I was met daily with patients who looked at me as ‘the daughter’ and still remembered when I had pigtails. I was often asked, ‘Are you old enough to be doing this?’ and have had a few patients throughout my career, even in school, who asked, ‘Are you sure girls are strong enough to do this?’ These comments only fueled me to exceed all possible expectations.
I wanted to make sure that my patients had full faith in not only my clinical abilities, but also in my knowledge, my empathy and my personality. I was determined to make my patients’ experience the best they had ever had in a dental office.”
To do that, Dr. Riordan began attending continuing education classes regularly, joined study clubs and became active in organized dentistry.
She also immersed herself in whatever reading materials she could find to help better herself as a clinician, entrepreneur and as a person.
“I found that in order to overcome what I saw as the negative stigma of being a young dentist, I was going to have to change my own vision and adapt to be the innovative, knowledgeable, empathetic young dentist,” she said. “Patients have come to know me as someone who cares about them and their total body health, not just someone who checks their teeth every six months. They know that I will educate them so that they see the value in maintaining a healthy mouth and body.”
On the value of relationships
“I have found through my practice career that patients value the way that I treat them as human beings more than anything else,” said Dr. Riordan. “Sure, they expect my clinical skills to be great, but they expect that from everyone. What my patients have come to anticipate is for me to sit down and talk with them, to listen to them, to respect them, and to educate them. Before I ever even pick up a mirror or sneak in behind them, I introduce myself, I shake their hand, and I find out information about them and who they are, not just what teeth need to be treated. In a similar regard, when I was first out of school I was worried about interactions with my specialists. Who was I to tell them what to do? However, what I have found is that the specialists I refer to value my input in my patient’s care. I am in constant contact with them and we work as a team to deliver the best possible outcomes for our patients.”
Looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“The challenges, the relationships, the hard work were all worth it.”