March 30, 2020

What I wish I knew sooner.

This is a strange and very worrying time.  It is also a time for reflection.  So I decided to think about “what I wish I knew sooner”. This was a concept introduced by Neal Kravitz in this great blog post.  He wrote that he sometimes wished that he could go back in time to his younger self and provide advice.  Here is my version of “what I wish I knew sooner”. This is, of course, from a recently retired clinical academic orthodontist.

Be a clinician

It is evident that if you are going to research into clinical care, you need to do the clinical practice.  But you need to get the balance right. Throughout my career, I spent half of my time treating patients.  This was vital to understand and formulate clinical research questions.  You also need to “walk the walk”. There were times that I was tempted to reduce my clinical commitments so that I could concentrate on research, but I resisted this temptation. It was only in the last few years of my career that I realised that I was having to work harder to satisfy my clinical standards.  This informed my decision to stop clinical work.  So, remember to be a clinician but also realise when you have to stop.

Be as good a teacher as you can

You must be able to teach. This is not merely lecturing and putting a talk together. As a good teacher, you need to be able to teach everyone from student dentists to experienced specialists. This requires the adoption and development of several relevant teaching styles.  You should also not be surprised to be challenged on your teaching.  Always have time for student dentists, they are our future, and we need to put all our energy into their development. Never stop teaching, it will leave a massive hole in your life (but see below).

Work at presentations

You cannot do enough lecture preparation.  It is essential to prepare well for the small seminar to the sizeable international keynote lecture.  There are no shortcuts. Occasionally, I have thought that I could “wing it”.  This never worked.

Avoid the “show and tell “and masses of data. You should try to keep it simple. No one is interested in fancy graphics, slide transitions that impress no-one, pictures of your vacation home and your pets.  There is also no need to manically pace backwards and forwards on the stage. Only a few people can pull this off, and most people doing this just look strange.

Finally, know when to stop.  You do not want to be remembered as a rambling, uncoordinated person stumbling through their presentation.

Be polite

This can be difficult. There are times when discussions become heated.  This is particularly true for social media and email.  I have been guilty of some dreadful emails and exchanges. I have apologised for most of these indiscretions, I hope.

My best advice is to take your time before replying. Do not send the email/social media reply immediately. Just write it out and have a look at tomorrow. Then delete it.

In fact, I do wonder if it is best to not engage in social medial arguments. While you think that you may be making good points, there will always be people who disagree with you. In addition, some people are just plain insulting. This simply causes too much angst and wastes time.

You are not a master of the Universe.

When your career goes well, and you are a successful academic/clinician/practice owner. Remember that you have worked hard, but you also struck lucky.  You are not a Master of the Universe, and you need to have humility. When I was a newly appointed Chair of Orthodontics, I had grant income, published widely and was starting on the international lecture circuit. I went through a period of arrogance which I now regret. So remember to be humble and grateful for any success that you may have.

Be Mindful

Discover mindfulness early.

Have fun

This is straightforward but easily forgotten. Always try to have fun in your own way. You will make the differences that you want to make.

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Have your say!

  1. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    Orthodontics is a challenge and fun. The more you put in to understanding, the more you enjoy.

    No matter how good we think we are, we need to make sure our head does not outgrow our hat.

    • Ive been practicing since 1983. I love ortho, enjoy the comraderie of my staff, but most of all the patient/prent relationships over the years. I thought i would just retire, but i cant let go! Would LOVE be part of an academic life. Have alot to share.

  2. Thanks Kevin,that is probably one of your best blogs and I hope you don’t take offence to that sentiment!

  3. On writing letters …
    Shankar Iyer was one of my clinical teachers who I hold in great regard and affection.
    One day he said, “Now Richard! Be careful about writing letters to colleagues. Well, you can write them but it is often better not to send them. There are quite a lot of letters I have written and then torn up. It is often better that way.”
    It was one of the many important things he taught me …

  4. Feeling tears in my eyes. Thank you for the “out of box” thinking very much.

  5. Always brilliant!!!

  6. Very thoughtful and very well written
    You have the knowledge combined with experience to produce a generation of wise orthodontists
    My hard luck that I never had the opportunity to be your student.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful message Kevin. I have also just recently retired after almost 50 years of teaching and clinical practice. We both agree that our most important role in being teachers Is is to have humility and to always try to treat others with respect.
      The only thing I would have emphasized differently if I had written such a piece is to tell our fellow clinicians that if they believe in an idea, they should not abandon it just because others criticize it, but rather keep following your initial judgement while evaluating available information from the literature and clinical experience as objectively as possible. But always be ready to admit when a concept you believed in turned out to be less successful than you had initially believed and why you have changed your mind.

      • What I wish I knew sooner is the value in having role models, both professionally and personally.
        Bob Boyd personifies the characteristics you aspire to Kevin. Always positive, polite and humble when others were “unbecoming”, essentially curious, perpetually learning, generous to those “beneath” him, dedicated to our specialty and profession and ubiquitously fun. He managed the balance between research and clinical work, that you point out above is incredibly difficult (I actually think rather impossible as in my observation people tend to be biased 1 way or the other, few are excellent at both). Thank goodness that when you guys “retire”, you don’t really mean it, but you keep on contributing. Good luck with your research efforts Prof Boyd and thank-you Kevin for reminding me how serendipitously lucky I have been….Vic West, Stephen Richmond, Robert Ricketts, Pat Turley, Art Dugoni, Shelly Baumrind… I wish I knew sooner the bounty in finding role models and learning both what you want to emulate, and also what you don’t.

  7. Kevin
    Brillant soul searching… So well put!
    I couldn’t agree with you more, yes we do realize the ‘real’ sentiments rather late in life
    Guess that is Gods way….. Then perceived value far Greater as we hane seen the other side of these….
    Keep do such blogs…

  8. Following your advice I almost didn’t respond but I waited all of ten seconds,then I fired this out to you. Wonderful words of wisdom, you have become pretty smart over the years . Stay well and enjoy your retirement

  9. Totally agree Kevin, especially about posting on social media, Facebook in particular, on any subject not only orthodontics. I have probably had more Facebook “bans” than most and am even enjoying one as we speak! Enjoy your retirement as I am.

  10. A very considered reflection. I have forwarded this to my son and daughter who are at the inception of their careers and of public speaking and lecturing, whilst I am heading towards the finishing line. I hope that I will spot the moment at which I need to cease the clinical work!!

  11. Brilliant and simple!

  12. Thanks, Kevin!
    You continue to inspire me.
    Best wishes,

  13. Thank you for sharing your science and for inspiring us with your wisdom.

  14. Thank you Kevin,
    Reflection and humility seem so rare in the world and in our profession at the moment You make a powerful statement.

    Looking in from the outside there is one trait you have harnessed where most fail. That is finding a voice and vehicle for it which is truthful, open, and transparent.

    So much professional communication is controlled organised spin or “online communities “ occupied by intellectual slum lords and patrolled by gangs of the self opinionated.

    Finding the voice you have in this blog And sharing it generously is rare enough to warrant its own entry.

    Thank you
    Paul Beath

  15. In fact, I do wonder if it is best to not engage in social medial arguments. While you think that you may be making good points, there will always be people who disagree with you. In addition, some people are just plain insulting. This simply causes too much angst and wastes time.

    You seem to like to post your blogs on different social media forums. Isn’t that the goal of engaging on social media, to fuel discussion and engage with your audience? Yes, some will disagree. But why only post your opinion and not listen to your followers? Seems to me like in that case it is only about getting likes and thumbs up.

  16. Could you post the references for the top of the pyramid systemic reviews (top of the pyramid) on the effectiveness of mindfullness or is this just a case study (bottom of the pyramid). If it is anything less than top of the pyramid stuff is it approapriate ot be reccomending it?

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