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‘The Yoda of Dentistry’: New, seasoned practitioners work together to support new dentists

January 11, 2021

By Tera Lavick, ADA New Dentist Committee director

Photo of NDC Zoom call
Teamwork: Dr. Seth Walbridge (center) participates in discussion on the Dec. 18, 2020, call with Dr. Paul Leary, Dr. Daniel Hall, along with his son, Wesley, and ADA staff. 
At 8 a.m. in Chicago on Dec. 17, 2020, the Zoom notification chirps and the guests start joining the call.

Dr. Paul Leary is the first to come on. Dressed in monogrammed blue scrubs, and joining the call between patients, Dr. Leary is commonly known as a general dentist who practices with his daughter in Long Island. As the ADA District 2 Trustee, he is also known as an avid supporter of organized dentistry and the profession. But lesser known is his eloquent speaking style and sometimes poetic phrasing, even in day-to-day conversation.  

“Dr. Leary is like the Yoda of dentistry,” said Dr. Seth Walbridge, with a laugh, his voice echoing from his car’s blue tooth speaker. Dr. Walbridge, who serves as vice chair of the ADA New Dentist Committee, was heading to see family with this wife, a critical care doctor, their two-month-old baby and family dog, the day following the Pennsylvania snow storm which dumped more than a dozen inches on the area.

“Some people talk, and like to talk a lot, but you, you speak,” says Dr. Daniel Hall, chair of the New Dentist Committee, of Dr. Leary who serves as the ADA Board Liaison for the NDC for the 2020-21 term.

Dr. Hall convenes this weekly call with Dr. Walbridge, Dr. Leary along with pertinent staff to discuss the current issues that new dentists face. It’s not surprising that COVID-19 once again rises to the topic. This week, the trio discuss the needs of new graduates during the pandemic.

“Can you imagine it?” says Dr. Hall. “Just graduating, having all that debt and not knowing when COVID will ease. It’s stressful.”

Dr. Leary said new graduates might naturally be concerned about finances, “but you feel the real heat when you’re chairside not when you’re talking to your banker.” The clinical support is important, he added.
 
“I’m a long-time associate myself, so I’m always thinking ‘How does this impact the associate?’” said Dr. Walbridge, “What can we do to help associates who have less volume due to COVID?“

“Yes,” added Dr. Hall. “How can we show all dentists that we care about them and reach each other in every practice setting? They need to know that there are resources available, including the option to talk to a therapist in private if you need that. People would use these resources, if they knew it was safe.”

Dr. Leary chimed in: “We need to keep throwing the rafts out there for people jump on. If we do that, and if you can show that vulnerability in yourself by offering your hand, by giving that raft, you can help someone.”

The New Dentist Committee has provided input to the Crest + Oral-B grant which was provided to the ADA in spring 2020 to help new dentists and their teams recover from the impacts of COVID-19. The focus of the grant funding will be on overall wellness with programming to address mental health, physical health and financial health challenges new dentists may be experiencing.

The NDC outreach programs, like ADA Success, can also help students and new graduates by equipping them with high-quality and real-world information during the pandemic. ADA Success offers a series of one-hour modules, now virtual, for free to dental students and residents.

“We cover topics like debt and finding a job, and others,” says Dr Hall, the things you really need to know.

Dr. Walbridge agrees that mentorship and guidance from the ADA and peers will go a long way now, especially when their time during the dental school clinic may have been cut short or limited due to pandemic restrictions. “I offer to help out a lot of new dentists right now who just don’t know what to do,” he says.

Dr. Leary agrees and stresses that we need to try to reach as many students as we can.  

“If we can go in there and throw a blanket over the whole school and make you all feel warm,” he added. “The more that we can talk to students and new graduates, we can show that we’re not wallpaper, we’re carpet, you can stand on us. And this is the true colors of the profession you’re entering.”