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David Wong is a periodontist, and what really sets his practice apart is its focus on team-building activities. From hot dog eating contests that attract the likes of Joey Chestnut to Periothons that run until midnight, the focus is on creating an atmosphere and building chemistry that results in a finely tuned operation.
It’s really important to me that we continually build those interpersonal relationships so that we work better as a team.
Food challenges such as hot dog eating contests may be commonplace at amusement parks or on the boardwalks of southern California beaches. But in a dentist’s office? Highly unusual.
And yet, that’s just one of the many team-building experiences David Wong, D.D.S., a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based, board-certified periodontist, shares with his staff.
“It’s outside everyone’s comfort zone,” Wong explains about the hot dog eating contest, or other activities such as go-kart racing. “Because we spend so much time together as a relatively small staff, it’s really important to me that we continually build those interpersonal relationships so that we work better as a team.”
A COOL JOB
Wong says his decision to become a dentist was an easy one. Growing up, some of his best friends’ fathers were dentists. It was the place he received his first paycheck, and where everyone was referred to as doctor.
“You become aware that they carry some respect and have some status in the community,” he says. “You see them interact with their staff, and it’s such a laid back atmosphere.”
He also had an opportunity for comparison after working in a hospital as a candy striper.
“I saw how those doctors interacted with nurses, and it was just a totally different environment (from a dentist office),” Wong says. “I thought the dentist office is just a way cooler place.”
His recollection of a hospital environment also influenced his decision to focus on periodontics. It was in dental school that Wong found himself stuck between periodontics and oral surgery. But when he shadowed oral surgeons the pace reminded him of hospital-based medical doctors. That wasn’t to his liking.
“Periodontics allowed me to do surgery but still be a dentist, as far as interacting with patients and staff, and setting my own hours.”
Many dental school graduates start their careers either as an associate at an established practice or working in a corporate office. Wong took a different path, choosing to build his practice from scratch. He says that put him in a unique position of being the owner, doctor and employee at the same time.
“That’s a difficult dynamic,” he explains. “Being a leader, manager and technician all under one roof.”
The benefit, though, was being able to build interpersonal relationships.
“Patients can tell that we genuinely like each other, and want to be there for the common purpose of helping them,” Wong says. “They sense it when they come in, and they express it with their comments and reviews.”
Fun events like hot dog eating contests aside, the practice’s team-building events also do a lot for charity. Each year the office holds a Periothon where Wong and his staff put in their regular 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours, take a break, then work from 5 p.m. until midnight, with the first $15,000 the practice takes in going to charity called The Little Lighthouse — a non-profit school that provides tuition-free education for children with physical and mental disabilities.
“I always preach about giving charities a meaningful gift; not $500 or $1,000, but something that they can actually do something with,” Wong says. “So, we came up with $15,000.”
But do patients actually schedule appointments for 10 p.m.? Absolutely. In fact, every appointment slot for the event that was held in October was filled three weeks in advance.
“These are just regular patients,” Wong says “They pay a regular fee; it’s not donated services. And they know [the money] is going to a good cause. I genuinely believe that people want to help people when presented with that opportunity.”
IT’S ABOUT BONDING
Another annual event Wong takes part in is a bonding trip with about a half-dozen of his friends. He recognized that as careers start to blossom and families grow, get-togethers with his buddies occurred less frequently. Despite the conversations of, “Hey, we should get together,” nothing ever happens. Not even a simple dinner.
That changed about five years ago when the group decided to mark off their calendars and engage in some unique experiences. No backing out. They take turns rotating ideas, and the first year embraced Wong’s suggestion.
“I said, ‘Let’s do something crazy. Let’s go alligator hunting,’” he recalls. “We researched it, and then we did it.”
Subsequent trips have included bird hunting, lessons in close-quarter knife fighting, and mixed martial arts. But Wong points out that, no matter how crazy the activity seems, it’s not really about the activity.
“It’s about six guys getting together and spending the weekend,” he says. “It doesn’t really interfere with family time. It’s just six guys catching up, sharing stories, and going down memory lane. The activity is really just on the side.”
And that’s part of Wong’s mantra. He points to professional sports teams that may have two great players, but if the players don’t get along, it impacts the entire team. He says that philosophy carries over to his dental practice.
“Periodontal surgery is definitely a skill set that I possess, and if I don’t have a good team around me, then I don’t perform well either,” Wong says. “And if [staff] don’t like their boss or hate their job, they’re not going to perform well. So I think bonding and chemistry go hand-in-hand with performance.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Wong acknowledges that he enjoys going to work every day, being able to help people, transform a smile, and give back to a patient the ability to chew. But he sees the bigger picture, and says a career in dentistry enables him to help entities like The Little Lighthouse, and to travel and spread the word about the importance of team building.
“[Dentistry] gives me a life that’s more complete,” he says. “I can share the purpose of improving people’s lives, not just their smiles.”
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