When it comes to my own health, I have simple rules: work out hard three times per week, take an early morning walk in the woods with my dog every day, always look for meaning in my life, live and love as hard as I can, everything else in moderation. These simple rules take care of my physical, mental and spiritual well being. I’ve found that when I’m physically fit, I usually also feel mentally strong. Hard cardiovascular workouts have the ability to bring out brilliant ideas or sensible solutions to difficult problems.
I belong to a very mechanistic profession. I’m a dentist. Reduced to my simplest expression, I drill and fill teeth for a living. Not much meaning there… But because, like pediatricians and obstetricians, I see my patients more often than most other health professionals, I’m uniquely positioned to impact health. So a few years ago, somewhere between a meditative walk in the woods and a hard cardio workout, a wild dream was born: Shaping the Future of Dentistry.
A small group of five dentists and two professional facilitators now work at the nucleus of Shaping the Future of Dentistry on laying the groundwork for a journey to excellence for dentists and their teams in dialogue with one another, towards a higher level of engagement. We aim to help shift our awareness of health and of the nature of our responsibility in sharing oral health knowledge within and beyond our clinics. We convene in new ways that put a leader in every seat, we use well-crafted questions as containers for a collective higher purpose and we engage in conversations with an open mind and heart. The current project emerging out of Shaping the Future of Dentistry, “Dentists Leaders in Health,” is an effort to bring Art of Hosting methodologies into the profession of dentistry. I also have a dream of hosting a large scale participative leadership session using AoH methodologies at OSM, the annual Ontario Dental Association Spring meeting, one of the largest gatherings of Dental professionals in North America.
It all started when I responded to a general invitation for suggestions from the Editor of the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, John O’Keefe, himself a man with a vision. I sent him a piece I had written for the Debate and Opinion section of the Journal, “Prevention: Dentistry’s Legacy for the Future.” During the same period, I began hosting World Cafe Conversations on Leadership, Oral Health and Education for small groups (20-40 people) in my community. All sessions were three hours in duration except the last, which was a whole day event that began with a World Cafe, continued with Open Space after lunch and concluded with a circle. Combining World Cafe, Open Space and Circle is pretty amazing.
As a result of hosting and participating in meaningful conversations about health, I’ve noticed that my work style in the clinic has shifted from a surgical approach (drill and fill) to one of active prevention and risk management. My conversations with patients have changed. I am no longer afraid of saying that no matter how good my dentistry is, it will never match the engineering marvel that is a natural tooth. This type of upfront, honest talk needs to happen if we are going to effect sustainable changes in health systems.