Dr. Joe Crowley's core values are close to home
October 21, 2017
Dr. Crowley: He will be installed Monday before the House of Delegates as the 154th ADA president.
How many people are lucky enough to love the place they've called home since they were born? Lucky enough to grow up knowing the neighbors because they shopped at your dad's store and later, knowing them as their dentist — and finding that being called "Joey" by patients who've watched you grow up made perfect sense.
"I am uniquely 100 percent Cincinnati," says Dr. Joe Crowley when describing himself and lovingly describing his home neighborhood of Monfort Heights. He had one major life excursion away from Cincinnati — to The Ohio State University in Columbus — returning home after dental school there. "I still live in the community. I participate in that community, in its activities; I shop with the people I work with; I go to church with the people I work with; I attend functions with them, and it's never felt unnatural to me."
Dr. Crowley will become the 154th president of the American Dental Association on Monday when he is installed before the House of Delegates during the 2017 ADA annual meeting in Atlanta. With his years as a volunteer in organized dentistry (state and local leadership, 7th District trustee, ADA president-elect) he knows that combining dental practice and Association activities demands time and more time, hard work and commitment. It also demands energy, which he radiates when talking on any subject, such as the life lessons he learned as a child.
"My family were hard-working people. My mom was primarily a stay-at-home mom, but also helped out at the family grocery store. Her father and my dad were partners in the business. As children, especially my older sister and I, we worked at the store," he recalls. There were also times when he wasn't eager to be there, like Saturdays at 6 a.m. when he was supposed to have a day off and his dad came in to let him know he was a last-minute sub for an employee.
"Being the child of the boss, it got a little tough, but it really gave me a core set of values," he said. It also led him to dentistry. His father worked long hours in spite of health issues related to Type 1 diabetes. "His vision was for us to be college graduates. It was one of my dad's and mom's dreams for us. My dad picked out dentistry for me. And it stuck in my mind."
Dr. Crowley said his father painted a picture of dentistry as being a profession where you had the best of every world: you could own your own business, be a professional, but still have time for your family.
"My dad came from the perspective of working 14, 15, 16 hours a day and he viewed medicine in that same light. He saw dentistry as a profession where you could control your own destiny."
His father's words stayed with him, and his relationship with his family dentist, Dr. Norbert Ranz, was a further influence. "He was just a dynamic man: well-rounded, a people person and an excellent dentist." Dr. Ranz, now age 90, advised him "to just treat people as you would want to be treated, one of the good old rules," and success would come. "That means you're fair, you're honest, you talk with people, you engage them, and then you be the best you can be at dentistry," he said, saying the advice has held true in his life since he started his practice in 1976.
He finds dentistry a profession that is uniquely challenging and misunderstood: "I don't think anyone outside of the profession knows how hard it is to be a dentist. Physically it's a tough job; emotionally it's a very tough job because of what we do. There aren't very many professions that violate people's personal spaces like we do in dentistry, and it takes a unique person to do it."
Dentists challenge patients through physical proximity, and that is stressful for both patient and dentist. "I don't think we sometimes get credit for the role we play in helping people do what's good for them," the president-elect said. "Fear is still one of the reasons that people don't come to the dentist. We've improved treatment in so many ways, but people can still be fearful. You still hear the jabs: if somebody wants to do a comic take on a very uncomfortable situation, they say, 'It's like getting a root canal.' In my 41 years as a dentist, the improvements in our profession supporting our ability to deliver quality care are incomparable. The intention of providing good care to patients has not changed, but the availability of new techniques and materials has made tremendous outcomes possible."
Dr. Crowley and his wife, Pauletta, have three adult, married children (son Joe and wife Karyn Crowley; daughter Colleen and husband Andy Wagner; and son Kevin and wife Jenna Crowley) and seven grandchildren. "I've been asked, 'What are you going to do when you leave this thing?' There's a sudden cutoff of activity after you stop being ADA president, but being able to watch my children and their families grow, to be able to participate, that is the best and coolest job in the world."
And he's ready for that transition, having sold his practice to another dentist, Dr. Andrew Bartish. Like Dr. Crowley, he's a neighborhood resident, and Dr. Crowley sees history repeating itself. "He walked in and 60 percent of the people remembered him as a little kid." While he has stayed on during transition with an employment contract, Dr. Crowley said most of his time is spent on ADA business.
His duties as president-elect and soon, president, mean that his golfing and motorcycle riding days are memories, at least for the time being. 'My whole life changed dramatically as I got more deeply involved in dentistry. I would have to say my No. 1 hobby is organized dentistry, because hobbies are things that are for time away from your main job, and my main job was clinical dentistry. There's a 2000 Harley Heritage Softail with 11,000 miles on it that may just be for sale, because I'm not sure I'll be riding it again."
Before being chosen as ADA president-elect in 2016, Dr. Crowley served four years as trustee of the ADA's 7th District. He was also formerly chair of the ADA Council on Government Affairs, chair of the ADA Audit Committee and a member of the American Dental Political Action Committee Board of Directors. He is a past president of the Ohio Dental Association and the Cincinnati Dental Society. He is a member of the American College of Dentists, International College of Dentists, Ohio State University College of Dentistry Alumni Advisory Board, L.D. Pankey Institute Alumni Association, Pierre Fauchard Academy and the Academy of General Dentistry. His many awards include the Ohio Dental Association Distinguished Dentist Award, the ODA Achievement Award, the Cincinnati Dental Society Meritorious Service Award and the Ohio Pierre Fauchard Distinguished Dentist Award. He graduated from The Ohio State University College of Dentistry in 1976.
Dr. Crowley was interviewed by Judy Jakush, ADA News editor, during the summer.
What got you interested in organized dentistry?
In my era, when you came out of school it was an expectation; you just joined the American Dental Association. Someone asked if I was coming to a Cincinnati Dental Society meeting. I went. I started with a study group in my community. There'd be 250 member dentists at a monthly meeting of the CDS. I was friends with a patient who at that time was in the political scene in Cincinnati and became mayor, and I was asked if I could bring him to a dental society event. I was not involved on any committees. From there, it became just one little thing at a time. I never planned on being president. It was never my dream to be here, but it's certainly my dream to do my job well.
What is your best memory of dental school, and what's your worst?
I really don't have a bad memory. Was there a highlight? I think being able to give the speech as president of my class at graduation was probably a highlight, and being able to go back to Ohio State and do that again has been a highlight. One of the best things I do now is going to dental schools and meeting our future. Faculty and student engagement is strong, and we have a strong relationship with the American Student Dental Association. I believe we have a lot to offer to new dentists, but I think they have a lot to offer us too.
The majority of students at over half of the country's dental schools don't practice in the same state where they were educated — something that has changed since you were in dental school, Dr. Crowley. How is the ADA helping dentists with the licensure process? What should they expect from the Dental Licensure Objective Structured Clinical Examination (DLOSCE) initiative? Its aim is to create a national exam that state boards of dentistry could use to assess a dental licensure candidate's entry-level knowledge, skills and competency without the use of live patients.
We have studied this, and there is data to support the DLOSCE concept. This is something used in other professions and in dentistry in Canada. There are many issues surrounding the current use of live patients in the exam process. Our challenge is to develop something that proves to be valid and reliable and which can show that an individual has all the skills to be a licensed dentist. We will then offer it to the legislative and licensing bodies for adoption. We are putting resources into developing this exam, which is a lofty goal for us but also a very reachable one.
Part 2 of the interview appeared in the Oct. 16 ADA News