S1 E5: The power of connection

A practicing dentist and author shares ways to deepen relationships with patients, colleagues and your dental community.

Dr. Hung, Dental Sound Bites Episode 5

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Episode notes

How to build trust, lead with compassion and nurture yourself

As the holidays approach and 2022 is winding down, it’s a good time to reflect personally and professionally on how to grow the dental community and network more effectively. Guest Dr. Cathy Hung, a practicing dentist in New Jersey and an ADA Wellness Ambassador,  joins our hosts to talk about making more powerful connections with colleagues and patients now and in the year to come.

Dr. Cathy Hung head shot
Dr. Hung

As Dr. Hung explains: “If you carry yourself in such a way that your compassion shows, it doesn't matter if (your patient) speaks your language or you speak theirs, or if you practice the same religion or culture. It will come through.”

Show notes

  • Hung is passionate about making connections with her patients, especially those from diverse cultural backgrounds. She wrote a book on the topic: “Pulling Wisdom: Filling the Gap of Cross-Cultural Communication for Health Care Providers.” In this episode, she talks about her book and efforts to help fellow dentists focus on their relationships with patients, their personal wellness, and opportunities to expand their networks.
  • Originally from Taiwan, Hung was educated in the U.S. and some years after becoming a dentist wrote her first book, “Pulling Wisdom” focused on what she has learned as an immigrant to the U.S. trying to navigate the healthcare system. It also offers advice to health care workers who interact with patients from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • She is passionate about writing and connecting with fellow dentists at all stages of their careers.
  • Hung remembers feeling isolated after dental school when trying to find a community and encourages students to start building their networks now, so they have people they can stay connected with once they start practicing.
  • According to recent study, peer mentors, such as fellow students a few years ahead of you, can help students practice soft or non-technical skills, Hung says.
  • Finding ways to connect and build trust with patients is an essential part of being a good healthcare provider, according to Hung. Adjusting your demeanor when you meet a patient and leading with compassion is a good place to start, she says.
  • Mentors can help younger dentists not only build these skills but also grow their careers. Seeking out a mentor takes work, and like any other relationship, Hung says it should develop naturally over time.
  • Private social media groups for dentists are good places to start making connections, as well as in-person conferences and dental events. Hung says you can start making connections by asking specific questions to extract information from potential mentors.
  • Hung talks about advice in her book “Pulling Wisdom” dentists can use to connect with patients from different cultural backgrounds that includes asking questions, offering options, decoding non-verbal cues, and understanding how finances may come into play for patients with ties to other countries.
  • Another important part of Hung’s professional mission is to help dentists focus on their personal wellness. She is part of the ADA’s Wellness Ambassador Program.
  • Three things every dentist can do for their well-being:  rest, connect with the things and hobbies you enjoy and connect with the people who you love.




View episode transcript


Hanlon: [00:00:00] Hello, everyone. I'm Dr. Hanlon.

Wright: [00:00:02] And I'm Dr. Wright.

Hanlon: [00:00:03] And this is Dental Sound Bites, an ADA podcast, where dentists share solutions to challenges in life and at work.

Announcer: [00:00:12] From the American Dental Association. This is Dental Sound Bites. Created for dentists by dentists. Ready? Let's dive right into real talk on dentistry, daily wins and sticky situations.

Hanlon: [00:00:28] It's almost Thanksgiving. And with the holidays approaching in 2022 winding down, this is a great time to reflect personally and professionally.

Growing the dental community, prioritizing wellness, and managing careers

Wright: [00:00:35] Today's guest is going to give us some food for thought on how to grow our dental community, network more effectively. And she has some self-care tips to keep wellness in check as we manage our personal lives and our careers.

Hanlon: [00:00:50] Please welcome our special guest today, Dr. Cathy Hung.

Hung: [00:00:53] Hi. It's such a pleasure to be here.

Wright: [00:00:55] Welcome to dental sound bites. Dr. Hung, can you tell us about your background and your career path?

Hung: [00:01:03] Sure. I'm originally from Taiwan. I came to the U.S. when I was 18 years old for college. I started at Cal State, Fresno in California and transferred to UC Berkeley, and I decided that I want to be a dentist. Applied, got into Columbia and I moved to the East Coast. I started a solo practice in 2009 because I always see myself as a practice owner. I really did enjoy being in a solo practice, but I kind of feel like I was sort of living in a bubble at times. My parents were living very close by at that time. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He eventually passed in 2017. I had a lot of struggles sort of juggling between my practice and having two very young children. And we're first generation immigrants from Taiwan and through the whole taking care of him, at that time, I really wanted to tell my story and especially about the cultural part of it. You know, a lot of things are not being translated well. And I have to communicate with my late father's oncologist. So, you know, one day I just woke up and started writing. It was meant to be a memoir, but somehow turned into my book, "Pulling Wisdom, Filling the Gap of Cross-Cultural Communication for Health Care Providers". So it was not my intention to be a book that talked about cultural competency. But because of my life, I was moving around a lot and I learned English, you know, English as a second language. I came over here and I moved around from the West Coast to the East Coast. And there's just a lot of stories I feel like I should share with the world. Once I started writing, I felt like I couldn't really stop. So, right now it's becoming a hobby slash passion.

Hanlon: [00:02:56] That's awesome.

Wright: [00:02:57] What an amazing professional journey you have. Dr. Hung, you have so many years of clinical experience here of solo practice. You're an author and  speaker and on a really, really important topic, especially for health care professionals, which is a cultural competency. Recently we had a conversation with Dr. Joy Nisnisan. She was the vice president of ASDA for the 2021 to 2022 year, and she mentioned a reality for most of us, which is the feeling of isolation. And you mentioned that too. So, if you could, why don't you enlighten us on what we can do to prepare for that transition out of dental school and into the workforce?

The feeling of isolation in dentistry

Hung: [00:03:40] Isolation is definitely very real. I was in the class of 2000, so I consider myself to be D26 and when I went to dental school more than 20 years ago, our class would go out in groups and hang out and we were having a good time. But when my residency started, all that was gone and nobody prepared me for that. So, I feel like I was living in the dark and back in the days when the internet just started and there was no social media. So, I really felt like I wanted to connect with people, but I didn't really know how. I was the only one here and my parents were still back home. And so I would phone my good friends and family members to vent the stress. So, now things have changed quite a bit. I feel that social media really is a big part of many people's lives, and that's what a lot of people are leaning on for information and connections. So, it is not really a substitute for face-to-face interaction, but it does give us additional ways to make friends. I think the best way to deal with isolation is to be aware that isolation may come and it may come at different times, and that awareness is what can help you to brace for the impact, because you know that it's coming. It may come after graduation when you start a residency or a different time, but the career. So, I would start building that support system very early while you're in school and stay connected with people where you feel like you have a connection with.

Announcer: [00:05:14] Announcing the new ... wait. This calls for a drum roll. Perfect. Announcing the newly reimagined ADA Member App designed for dentists by dentists. It puts ADA membership in the palm of your hands with features like a personalized news feed, member chat groups, personal documents, storage, even episode exclusives from Dental Sound Bites, the new ADA podcast app into all the possibilities by searching for the ADA Member App in your App Store.

Developing non-technical skills

Hanlon: [00:05:52] Dr. Hung, I'd really love to know what non-technical skills you consider important to develop and what are the benefits of having them?

Hung: [00:06:01] Earlier this year, in January, I presented coaching and mentoring through the ADA Accelerator Series and there was one research article that I quoted. It was conducted in Spain as one of the dental schools in Spain, what's called peer mentoring. So in Spain apparently there are five years of dental school and the clinical year starts during the third year. So, what they were trying to investigate is could senior dental students mentor junior students in their clinical years to develop what's called non technical skills or what we call a soft skills? And the soft skills? Some people don't like that term, but mainly these are skills that are not clinically related and this can be social intelligence of verbal and nonverbal communication skills, listening skills, reasoning, problem solving skills, decision making or use of information to show self-confidence. And so they have found that there is a significant difference when the junior students are being mentored by senior students, there is an improvement of these non technical skills. And so this also serves a pipeline, building a pipeline of leaders, because when the senior students are ready to get out of school, a lot of them may stay behind as faculty. So, we are actually building a pipeline of educators. Yeah, I think that as far as non-technical skills, what is important is, it is in my experience that you need to connect with people first.

Wright: [00:07:34] Yes.

Building trust with your patients

Hung: [00:07:34] When you see your patients, they don't know how good you are in making a crown or in doing your canals or extractions. So, building trust is really important because so many people are afraid of the dentist or will be telling you, I hate dentists. I didn't have a good experience. So in order to build trust, non-clinical skills are really essential because your patients don't really know about open margins, but they will know and remember how they're being treated.

Hanlon: [00:08:02] Totally agree.

Wright: [00:08:03] Exactly. I try to tell my team all the time that there's a person connected or attached to the teeth or attached to the gum disease or the situation. And so I feel like you just kind of have to meet the person where they are and then you provide that excellent clinical skill. So, yes, I totally agree with that 100%. So from your perspective, in your experience, can you tell everybody what we can do in our day-to-day to cultivate those stronger and better relationships, either with our team, with the patients one another? What are some of those things that we can do to cultivate better relationships?

Hung: [00:08:37] One of my patients came into the room and he saw I have a wall with my diplomas, and he saw that I was a psychology major in college. And he asked me, what does psychology have to do with dentistry? And I wanted to tell him, you know, everything.

Wright: [00:08:52] Yes, everything. Oh, my Gosh.

Hung: [00:08:54] Yeah it's everything. Because we are treating a lot of people's fears. And it is your demeanor, you know, that affects your patient first. It's not your clinical skill. If you carry yourself in such a way that your compassion shows, it doesn't matter if they speak your language or you speak theirs, or if you practice the same religion or culture, it will come through.

Developing mentor to mentee relationships

Wright: [00:09:17] Now, I remember Dr. Hung, being in dental school and there were D2s where the older students would have like a younger student. And at our school it was called a big little system, right where we would have like a mentor-mentee type of relationship. Can you talk to us a little bit about what a good mentor-mentee relationship looks like from your experience?

Hung: [00:09:44] I think that a good relationship is never forced, just like any other type of relationship, and you should develop naturally over time. So, you can't just claim somebody and say that should this person be my mentor, it has to come organically. So this relationship can be really on a personal and professional level at the same time. So, psychological safety is a big element of that because if you don't feel safe, you won't share. If you don't share, how do you benefit from it? Somebody who's a mentor usually is older but may be more experienced in certain areas, and a mentee is somebody who is seeking advice and mentor is somebody who is giving advice. So, a big element of a mentor-mentee relationship is about giving and receiving advice on a personal level based on your past experiences. So, I think that if I were the mentee and I want to benefit, I need to be very specific about my queries. You know, I think that it is very important to do your homework first. So, if you're interested in something, you can just go to a person and say, I want you to be my mentor and tell me, give me secret sauce and just tell me all the secrets. It doesn't work like that. You have to do your homework first. So, for example, if you're interested in applying for oral surgery, instead of asking somebody who you consider to be a mentor, I want to do surgery. This sounds interesting. Do you think I should do it? I don't think that that's a very specific question, because nobody can really make that decision for you. You'll have to make the decision for yourself. On the other hand, if you have already done some of your homework and asked your mentor, he said, I've been shadowing all these different places. Here's where my grades stand, and I'm also in OMFS club. What else do you think I can do to be a better candidate? That would be more of a specific question. Being a mentee really is about how to extract information from your mentor by asking specific questions.

Wright: [00:11:42] Yeah. For everyone listening to this podcast, I do want to encourage you to download the new ADA member app. And while you're there, I want you to take a look at the 1-to-1 chat feature. There you can build more connectivity with other dentists in your area. You can find a mentor. You can just connect and build more relationships, which is what we're talking about today.

Connecting with your dental community and finding mentors

Hanlon: [00:12:07] Dr. Hung, how did you find your community and your mentors in dentistry? Where did you search them out or did they just present themselves and help you along the way?

Hung: [00:12:20] I started really with social media. It was very blind to see I was sorta looking for more connections and there are some private groups, sometimes I was invited into and I didn't really know what it was about and so I would just accept being invited into some kind of private group. This can be a support group for dentists or various. There's so many of them on different things. And when I joined, people started talking to each other and I started giving advice and some people like that. And so I started to discover social media aspects of support groups and befriended people that I never met with in person. But I have a lot in common. So, I think that the beginning of that first group helped me to realize the power of social media. My main thing is Facebook. I do have a Twitter account which I rarely use, and I do use Instagram professionally. I use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is my favorite for professional connections, just because you can really cut out that personal part. So, I can't tell you that there's one single way or particular way that I found my people, but they just come at different times, you know, through different activities. And this can be even through an actual conference or convention that I attended, a C course, and then somebody is sitting right next to me. I just started a conversation, maybe asking for something. So, a lot of these relationships come unexpected. I wasn't really looking for somebody, but when you actually have questions and you want to better yourself through maybe even reading books, you know, signing up for courses and you have questions and you start to ask people, people answer you back. That type of connection, it's very basic. It's no different than if you were in elementary school or a kindergarten and even, you know, trying to make friends. Then it just becomes a domino effect. It just rolls bigger and bigger and bigger, right?

Key elements of bonding with patients

Wright: [00:14:32] Chatting with people, having just genuine conversation and then the relationship develops in an organic way. Now, in your book "Pulling Wisdom," you mentioned some key elements of bonding with our patients, which is super, super critical to what we do all day. Can you give us a sneak peek into that topic?

Hung: [00:14:52] I just love the word wisdom and I use the acronym of it as sort of thought back to my past experiences have made that into a section of the book, so that W stands for Weave and that means weaving all the pieces of information together by asking questions. So, what I like to do in my office is just to look through the patient's charts and the questionnaires that they fill out. You can be health care information, you can be their demographics. And I tried to piece together and try to make sense of it. Then I stands for Initial Conversation. So, aside from reviewing their medical history, I do make small talk with them, which I sort of think is a skill that developed over the years because in my culture we don't really do small talk. It was very uncomfortable for me at first, but I learned to become very comfortable and interested in my patients' lives. In this part of New Jersey where I live, there are a lot of first immigrants from all over the world, and that makes it really interesting to make small talk. I like to eat, so I actually get tips from them. Where can I buy ethnic supermarkets? When? Where can I find a restaurant? That kind of stuff. S stands for cultural sensitivity and that is the awareness that we are different. If you are aware that we are different and we accept that we are different, then you will be more likely to want to learn about the differences. And that's the beginning of building cultural competency. The D stands for decode. So, decode, nonverbal cues or body language. We don't have to speak the same language, but if you walk into a room and see that there is a patient curling up in a chair, you know that they're a scared and you can tell by how they look at you, how they express themselves, you know, to see what kind of emotion they're in, regardless of language. And that's very important. O stands for Offer Options and Resources. So for example, if you are not able to provide them with the services that they need, can you suggest someone else who could or, you know, if they're not able to pay their a copay, are there different ways you can offer them? Sometimes you need translation to convey that concept. So and that M stands for the money factor. And that has to do with how a lot of the first generation immigrants have access to separate health care system. One in their home country and one in the U.S. And a lot of times patients will compare their co-pay. You know, they'll go with whatever co-pay that may be lower and a lot of the time that will be in their home country. So if I can pay less and, you know, go to a doctor that speak my language, why should I pay more to us doctors? So, a lot of times the explanation will be focus on continuity of care. If you have a procedure done overseas, you know, in your home country and there's a problem, there's no continuity of care and it's really hard to communicate. So, the wisdom stands for these factors. And of course, you know, definitely check on my book if you're interested in knowing more.

Wright: [00:18:07] I love it. While right now we have a special treat for our listeners, you guys, you need to check out the bonus content from this episode and it's only available on the ADA Member App. You're going to find details on how to get a special gift that you can redeem by January 31st, 2023, while supplies last.

Personal wellness and the ‘ADA Ambassador Program’

Hanlon: [00:18:27] Dr. Hung, part of the importance for many people of building connections is for support in one's own personal wellness. Can you tell us about the Wellness Ambassador program? What is it about and who's it for?

Hung: [00:18:39] The Wellness Ambassador Program is a program that's designed to share information with more dentists to improve their wellness. And I'm very excited to be part of the first cohort for the Wellness Ambassador program, which is part of the Council on Dental Practice. ADA recognizes the importance of wellness to dentist health, and this is a new initiative for everyone. So, you can find this information about a wellness ambassador or program on ADA.org. As ambassadors we do not serve as therapists to offer clinical advice, but we will serve as entry points on the local and state level to facilitate connections with clinical professionals and other resources. There will be monthly meetings to learn about wellness related topics, including, but not limited to stress management, suicidal prevention, substance abuse, work life balance, etc.. So, I'm very excited. Again, this is a train the trainer motto. So going forward, we're going to be expanding the network.

Wright: [00:19:45] Perfect. Thank you. Thank you.

3 things every dentist should do for their personal well-being

Hanlon: [00:19:47] Dr. Hung, what are three things that every dentist should do for their well-being?

Hung: [00:19:51] So, number one, I think the most important thing is to allow yourself to rest as we're being glorified for working all the time. We're hamsters on the wheel all the time. Resting is just as important for your body and mind as to recoup as working, so block your schedule out to rest. What I say is that I date myself. I would block out, schedule a say on a Saturday for a couple of hours and take myself out for a date. I'm going to eat what I want to eat. I'm going to go to a bookstore and read the books that I want to read and maybe even watch a movie. I will do a personal retreat a few times a year. I have a really good understanding with my husband. He knows that he didn't really understand that concept at first, but now he really understands where I'm coming from. So, I would maybe book out a weekend and just go away by myself. Not talking to anyone for an overnight weekend that works for me. So you. We want to allow ourselves to rest. Number two is to connect with your essence. And what do I mean by that? Is that when you were young, maybe there are some hobbies or interests that you love that you really enjoy. And this can be a talent as well. Some people are talented musicians. Some people do arts and crafts, and some people are really good at knitting or cooking or playing guitar, anything like that. So, these are things that you can fall back to when you have stress. And so, you know, when we get really busy with dental school, we may forget that, right? Or maybe we don't have time for that. But you want to connect with your essence because that's what gives you the sense of yourself, who you are on a fundamental basis. And number three is to connect with people that you love so your friends and family, of course. And you can definitely meet new friends through social media. And there are some people that I have never met in person, but I feel like I connect to them and talk to somebody if you're in trouble and don't bottle everything inside. And if you need professional help, go get it.

Hanlon: [00:21:58] You know, Dr. Hung, I couldn't agree more. I do think that we always have to start with ourselves first, because, quite honestly, if you don't love yourself or you don't care for yourself, who is going to care for you? Nobody can care for us better than ourselves. So, I couldn't agree with you more. Thank you for that insight.

Announcer: [00:22:18] On the next Dental Sound Bites.

Hanlon: [00:22:20] Dentistry can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. We all know that during this busy holiday season, we've got resources to help you care for yourself in stressful situations, in the laboratory and in life. Plus, our special guest, Dr. Alex Barrera, shares his best wellness advice to keep you healthy during the entire season.

Wright: [00:22:43] Thank you so much, Dr. Hung, for your time today and sharing all of these wonderful gems. I know that this episode is going to inspire deeper connectivity and mentorship and help our guests learn how to lead in the field of dentistry.

Hanlon: [00:23:00] Thank you so much for being with us.

Hung: [00:23:02] I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to be here to speak to everybody. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Wright: [00:23:08] If you think this episode can help another colleague, please share it with them. Subscribe to this podcast wherever you're listening so that you can get our latest episodes. And we also encourage you to rate and write a review so that we can continue bringing you amazing content.

Announcer: [00:23:25] Thank you for joining us. Dental Sound Bites is an American Dental Association podcast. You can also find show resources and more on the ADA Member App and online at ADA.org/podcast.