The Unfinished Dentist
Dr. Barnes frequently remarked that he never felt that he had attained a level of skill where he could “sit back and coast.” Instead, he was a believer in the idea of “The Unfinished Dentist.” In an August 2019 Aesthetic Dentistry article of the same name, Dr. Barnes defined this concept as, “a practitioner who is constantly learning and working at the edge of their comfort zone on a daily basis.” He said, “I have met dentists who have been out of school for more than 10 years and have never prepped more than four units in a single session.”
An “unfinished” dentist is “a practitioner who is constantly learning and working at the edge of their comfort zone on a daily basis.”
Dr. Barnes continued, “I have also met dentists with more than a decade’s worth of experience practicing dentistry who still take more than an hour to prepare a single tooth. Experience that isn’t constantly building towards higher levels of skill is a manifestation of the conscious or subconscious belief that one has enough knowledge to ‘get by.’ The concept of the unfinished dentist refutes such a mindset. The Aristotelian motto of ‘the more I know, the more I don’t know’ is the mantra of dentists who are truly dedicated to practicing the art of dentistry.”
Dr. Barnes was unapologetic when it came to the topic of dentists who deliver sub-optimal outcomes to their patients. He disregarded the much-used excuses of insurance limitations or a lack of patient acceptance leveraged by many practitioners.
In the quest for success, Dr. Barnes believed that the difference between productive dentists who are profitable compared to those who struggle is simply their mindset. He said, “The dentists who produce at the highest levels are generally practitioners of the ‘unfinished dentist’ philosophy.”
More than 10 years ago, Dr. Barnes said, “If you believe that at some point you will find the secret of success and arrive at the apex of achievement, your career will end in either disappointment or mediocrity. Success is an unending journey towards something better. It seeks to push the boundaries of what has always been, in search of what could be.”
“Success is an unending journey towards something better. It seeks to push the boundaries of what has always been, in search of what could be.”
Three months prior to his death, I sat down with Dr. Barnes, discussing what would be his final article. He told me, “There is still so much to do and learn, and even though I don’t see patients anymore, I feel it is my responsibility to share what I am discovering about being the best dentist possible.” True to his philosophy, he was an unfinished dentist to the very end.