Often something I read or hear will trigger a cascade of retrospective thoughts about friends, team members, patients, family, teachers, and mentors who have touched my past and present. These memories are constantly shaping my future.
Within the past month, I experienced the third session of a six-session Pankey Virtual Study Club on “A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry_v2.0.” As a small group, we reviewed the timeline that each of us had created on Dr. L. D. Pankey’s personal story and the timeline we had created on our own story.
As the decades pass, I find this process keeps revealing insights for me and others, and the process is connected to other things as well. Once again, I became more aware of events in Dr. Pankey’s story and the one-on-one conversations we had over twenty-plus years.
Dr. Pankey would often invite us to better understand the depth of processing involved by saying, “It can take fifteen years to get a philosophy into our tissues.” Some in his tutelage received that statement with some despair and others with relief, as they honestly looked at themselves in their mirror of life and celebrated their slower understanding, in bits and pieces. Years have demonstrated there is a lot to chew on and begin to digest, through experience.
Another one of his favorite statements was a Dr. G. V. Black quote, “No dentist has a moral right to be anything but a continual student.” One of Dr. Black’s many roles was Dean of Northwestern University Dental School. As a dental student there, I saw that statement written in many halls and heard it in many lectures. It took me a while to understand it as an encouragement for a lifetime of living and learning…hmmm…Isn’t that interesting?
My most recent reflections on Dr. Pankey’s timeline and the conversations we had brought me to the realization that his formation of “A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry” began long before he started talking about it in 1947.
He graduated in 1924 when he was soon to be twenty-three in July. In eighteen months of budgeting his cash flow, he had paid back his school debt and the total cost of his practice debt (new equipment and all). By then, he had received a letter from his mother congratulating him on his success and telling him about the treatment she had received from one of his classmates. She wrote that she hoped he was not doing the same to other people’s mothers and removing all their teeth.
He shared in a conversation with me that he had never been able to talk with his mother about those dental events! Her letter impacted him deeply and caused him to create a Vision Statement, which included “saving people’s teeth and never removing another tooth” for the rest of his life. To me, that is a true Vision Statement because, at that time in dentistry, the process of helping people keep their teeth for a lifetime had not been clearly identified.
Dr. Pankey continued to learn about many things throughout his life, which shaped “A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry.” Even though he started talking about it for the first time in 1947, it was twenty-two years in the making and more years in the refining. Hmmm…