On January 27, 2020, Dr. Dick Barnes, a friend and mentor to many in the dental industry, passed away after a short bout with pneumonia. As those who knew him were coming to terms with his passing, the world was soon blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. In short order, dental practices around the world closed, highlighting an existential threat to the industry unlike anything before.
In times of upheaval, we look to those who have influenced our lives for good. For many people in the dental industry, Dr. Dick Barnes was just such a person, and the legacy he left behind is now more relevant than ever. For the next three weeks, we will send you three stories on Dr. Barnes’ most important insights. Here’s the first one:
See the World Differently
Dr. Barnes was naturally interested in people—whether other dentists, patients, or team members. It didn’t matter if he met you at a large seminar that he was speaking at or by a chance encounter in an airport terminal. As a dentist, his keen interest in how you were doing and the struggles you were facing came naturally to him because he had also struggled as a young dentist.
In a February 2019 article in Aesthetic Dentistry magazine entitled “Looking Inward,” Dr. Barnes wrote, ”Early in my career, I was having a difficult time making ends meet and finding the level of satisfaction that I had envisioned in dental school. I just couldn’t understand why things weren’t happening for me. I had graduated from dental school, put in the hard work, and was ready to reap the benefits. I forced myself to stop what I was doing and ask myself, ‘What kind of dentist do I want to be?’”
“I forced myself to stop what I was doing and ask myself, ‘What kind of dentist do I want to be?’”
Dr. Barnes consciously took a step back from his everyday tasks to examine what was working and what wasn’t. He said the process taught him the importance of “seeing the world differently.” Dr. Barnes ardently believed that the act of seeing the world differently wasn’t a passive one. He believed it required conscious effort to stop falling into the familiar, repetitive patterns that can blind people to the potential that lies just below the surface.
For him and the dentists he later taught in his Dr. Dick Barnes Group seminars, this meant presenting the best treatment possible to every patient, regardless of their perceived ability to afford it. He understood that his initial dissatisfaction with dentistry was due largely to a fear of rejection. This fear relegated his dentistry to not much more than “supervised neglect.”
Upon realizing he had allowed fear and a preconceived standard of care turn him into a “wait-until-it- breaks” dentist, he chose to actively implement a higher standard of care, which he called “comprehensive” dentistry.
Sometimes, this new direction led to direct and uncomfortable conversations about what was needed for a patient to achieve optimal dental health. But to his surprise, Dr. Barnes discovered that a great majority of patients responded positively to his direct and unbiased counsel. Dr. Barnes learned that nearly all his patients wanted the best outcomes that dentistry could offer, and they were willing to find ways to pay for it. With patients accepting his treatment plans, Dr. Barnes also made sure that he developed a skill set that would enable him to deliver the kind of dentistry they wanted. Simply relying on what he learned in dental school was not an option. Dr. Barnes constantly questioned if there was a better way of doing things.
“Dr. Barnes learned that nearly all his patients wanted the best outcomes that dentistry could offer, and they were willing to find ways to pay for it.”
By taking the time to evaluate his work as a dentist and compare it with a new vision of dentistry, Dr. Barnes was able to see things differently and act to make a change. In one of his final public appearances, he said, “I invite all of my colleagues, regardless of where they are in their careers, to pause for a moment and look at their world differently. If you find that you are not where you want to be, or that there is something more you want out of dentistry, start moving in a different direction.”