Lifelong Learning Part 1: Change & Process 

March 22, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Learning begins from our first moment of awareness as our eyes open and we have a response to something external to us that is brand new. That experience and all the ones that follow until the moment awareness leaves us to shape our reactions to and our actions in the world. 

Experiential Learning 

The brain is a dynamic and ever-changing organ, constantly adapting to new experiences and knowledge. 

When our youngest daughter Katie was a child, I was cooking dinner one night–my turn–and Katie was sitting at the island where the stove was. I turned around to get something from the cupboard and heard a loud inhale followed by a whimper. Upon turning quickly, I saw her move her hand rapidly behind her back. No more sounds came forth, but I saw a tear and I asked her what was wrong. She said in a wavering voice, “Nothing,” and then looking at the stove burners, “Mom told me those were HOT and never to touch them.”  

I gently took her hand from behind her and saw the blisters rapidly forming on her fingers. She started crying and said to me, “Please don’t tell mom.” I’m certain she never felt the need to verify the information her mother had given her again. THAT is learning. 

All of us have experiences like that every day. Some are memorable and become part of us, embedded in a manner as yet not fully understood inside our brains for almost instant access. Some “learning” seems to fade quickly or never even get recorded. I “touched” a lot of biochemistry information over the years without burning much of anything into my brain. Maybe I should have been touching the stove at the same time. Learning is not simply having an experience of something and then being able to view the recording later.  

The Definition of Learning 

In nearly all of the definitions I have located in my research I see that CHANGE and PROCESS are prominent parts of learning. For example: 

  • A change in disposition or capability that persists over time and is not simply ascribable to processes of natural growth. 
  • Relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience. 
  • A transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we’ve experienced previously, changes what we know and what we do. 

Choice & Focus 

My personal experiences have shown me that a big part of lifelong learning is what you believe about it and how you embrace it. It’s driven by some measure of choice and focus. 

Cheryl and I have sought out new ideas in dentistry wherever they took us. One of my friends in dental school, a wonderful man whom Cheryl and I still hold close, took a different path. Sometime around the 10th anniversary of our graduation we were visiting, and he told us that he had been able to get all the continuing education he needed without traveling.  

I discovered that his feelings around need and learning as it pertained to dentistry meant satisfying the requirements to stay current with licensure. He is NOT a bad dentist, but like many of the dentists I have come to know in the last 48 years, a hunger for dental learning changed once school was finished.  

A Drive for Learning 

I am reminded of one of the most original and influential thinkers on the creativity process, Robert Fritz, who believed you can create your life in the same way an artist develops a work of art. He said, “If you limit yourself only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want and all that is left is a compromise.” 

As a philosopher and scientist-physician, Dr. L. D. Pankey intentionally observed processes and their results (change) with the goal of becoming better at helping others. The embodiment of compassion, he was highly curious and actively sought ways to alleviate the sufferings and misfortunes of patients and colleagues. He traveled long distances to learn from others’ experiences. He inspired others to know themselves, their patients, and their work on a continuous road of mastery. As a lifelong “leisure” learner, he was interested in a wide range of subjects outside of dentistry as well. Through reflection, he often discovered he could apply this outside learning to his work. 

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Gary DeWood, DDS




Your Patients Want to Know… All Team Members Care About Them

January 31, 2020 Deborah Bush, MA

Every one of you knows from your own experience with care providers that you want to have complete trust in them before accepting their recommended treatment. Your dental patients are no different, and that trust is affected by their entire experience with everyone on your care team. The dental experience in relationshipbased practices increases this desire, because listening well to others is one of your priorities. Patients become at ease confiding their concerns with you and celebrating high points in their life with you. In your dental practice, listening well and acts of kindness generate positive emotions and positive memories of their dental experience.  

The Golden Rule 

Under daily situational stress, personal psychological stress, and oftentimes lingering physiological stress from the day before, preoccupation with internal concerns gets in the way of being truly present for the patient. The benefits of discussing this occasionally within team meetings foster a continuing positive culture of everyone striving to intentionally apply the Golden Rule with patients 

When that aspiration is sustained and everyone on the team “takes care of” patients by “treating others as you would want to be treated, the emotions experienced by patients are positive and support treatment acceptance. And, the genuine care you give others has a way of stepping down your own stress with the release of oxytocin.  

I’m speaking to all team members from the front to back when I say, “Practicing being truly present for patients until it becomes a natural habit is one of the greatest things you can do for them, yourself, your fellow team members, and the business. 

A Few Extra Minutes  

If appointment times are increased by five to ten minutes, the clinical care team has more opportunity to converse with patients without stress developing, and in just a few more minutes a lot can happen. Conversations between care team members and patients help establish trust. These conversations also disclose patient feelings, concerns and unanswered questions. The sharing of this information with other team members can be used to create an optimal patient experience in this and future appointments.  

It takes just a minute more to share this information appropriately in handoffs to tee up the doctor-patient conversation about treatment and to support scheduling the next visit before the patient leaves. By the latter, I mean the business team at the front and the patient always need to be prepared for the end of the appointment when the follow-up treatment fee is presented and scheduled. This preparation includes communicating the why behind the treatment and true concern for the patient’s welfare.  

Same Page, Same Language 

Patient confidence grows when every team member is on the same pageis aware of the patient’s expressed goals and concerns, supports the treatment plan with why it is recommended and enthuses about the expertise of the practice. Using the same language helps too.  

In a relationship-based practice that focusses on these details, this is possible, and more treatment is accepted. If team members stop occasionally to ask themselves, “How was that handoff,” you will discover ways to improve how everyone “takes care of” patients through shared knowledge, empathy, and language. And knowing the Pankey community as I do, I see in my mind’s eye care teams around the world coming together at the end of the day to say, “Nailed it!” 

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Deborah Bush, MA

Deb Bush is a freelance writer specializing in dentistry and a subject matter expert on the behavioral and technological changes occurring in dentistry. Before becoming a dental-focused freelance writer and analyst, she served as the Communications Manager for The Pankey Institute, the Communications Director and a grant writer for the national Preeclampsia Foundation, and the Content Manager for Patient Prism. She has co-authored and ghost-written books for dental authorities, and she currently writes for multiple dental brands which keeps her thumb on the pulse of trends in the industry.