Resilience and change — the key to recovery

Mark W. McDonough talks about resilience and willingness to embrace change if practices are to cultivate strength.

Resilience is often defined as the “capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” During the past year, we have all had a chance to reflect on our current experience, and many have predicted that this year will be a defining moment in our lives. I feel a key to our recovery is both resilience and change if we are to overcome these difficulties quickly and successfully.

We quickly realize that previous generations have been very resilient. My grandparents were born in the 1890s, and I was blessed to have them living only two blocks away. I have been reflecting on their experiences lately. World War I started when they were teenagers, and my grandfather fought in WWI in France in 1917 until the end of the war that killed an estimated 22 million people. During the 10 weeks that our office was forced to close, beginning in March 2020, I read the love letters my grandmother wrote to my grandfather while he was in France. No complaints in any of the 100-plus letters — only hope for the future. My grandparents were married after the war only to live through the Spanish flu in 1918. Not a word was ever spoken of this pandemic tragedy that killed 50 million people. They experienced the Great Depression from 1929 to around 1934 with 25% unemployment. This period was followed by World War II (1939-1945), which killed 75 million people. The Korean War (1950-1953) killed 5 million, followed by the Vietnam War in which over 3 million people lost their lives. The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (1964), Senator Robert Kennedy (1968), and Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) occurred as well as the race riots of the 1960s, which took place in the town adjacent to where my grandparents lived.

As a child in the 1960s and 1970s, I experienced my grandparents as a wonderfully happy older couple who drove me to school and sports practices and would comfort me when I had a tough day at school. Never did they complain about their difficulties. I remember their joy at everyday meals, going for a swim in the ocean, and the joy they had for their family and friends. Previous generations have endured terrible problems and came out of it stronger and more resilient with a great view of what is important. We can do this.

A willingness to change is another trait that has been valuable this past year. Our team began last June to examine every aspect of our practice and to decide what needed to change. As orthodontists, we all have a defined idea of how our office should run, how to obtain a good result, and what success will look like. This past year we have learned that the key to a successful recovery is to be very flexible with our patients and our team members while making appropriate changes.

Some of the changes we have implemented are simple, such as using a self-etching primer for our clear aligner attachment bonding, which reduced an aerosol step, and there has been no change in success but an increase in efficiency. Our HVAC system was upgraded to kill 99.7% of bacteria and viruses, which has increased the comfort level for the team and patients while contributing to a decrease in team members’ sick days. We have embraced texting as our primary method of communication with our patients, and we received quicker responses than our previous email and phone calls. Virtual consultations have enabled patients to be properly scheduled for ongoing treatment or even the timing as to when to come for initial consultations. Our team members have had to be flexible in when they can come to work due to young children who are still not in school full time. This has forced a new level of efficiency, so we still have been able to treat a similar number of patients with fewer team members each day. Once we have a full team, this increased efficiency will translate into practice growth.

The bottom line is that this past year has been a blessing, since it has forced many changes that we will keep as we recover from the pandemic. As the business man Jack Welch once said, “Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.” We must embrace this willingness to change if we are to have strong practices. I wish each of you the gift of resiliency while embracing the changes necessary to be successful.

Besides resilience, Dr. McDonough says increasing efficiency also is an important part of encouraging practice growth. Read his article, “Efficiency by Design,” here:

Mark W. McDonough, DMD, is an orthodontist who has been practicing in Pennington, New Jersey, since 1994. He earned his dental degree from the University of Pennsylvania, completed a General Practice Residency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and received his Certificate in Orthodontics from Albert Einstein Medical Center in Phildadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been a part-time clinical instructor at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia since 1995. Dr. McDonough is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics and past President of The Greater Philadelphia Society of Orthodontics as well as the Mercer Dental Society

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