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The recently installed president of the Academy of General Dentistry initially discouraged his children from a career in dentistry. He told them dentistry is a difficult field, and the only reason you do it is if you love it, and feel you're going to make a difference in the community where you serve. The result? Three of the four have followed in his footsteps.
When Manuel Cordero, DDS, CPH, MAGD, informed his father that he had graduated from dental school, the reaction was unanticipated.
“You did what?” his father asked.
In retrospect, Cordero really wasn’t surprised by the response. Cordero attended Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and explains that “… most of the graduates end up going to medical school or law school.”
But during his sophomore year, Cordero developed a severe toothache. Since he was at Haverford on scholarship, the college sent him to a dentist in nearby Bryn Mawr. In less than one hour, he recalls, the dentist examined, diagnosed, treated and resolved his problem. Cordero was blown away.
“I saw an office that was my image of what a physician’s office should be,” he says. “I was raised by two brothers-in-law who were both surgeons. However, my perspective as to what I wanted to do in life changed in that moment.”
Today, Cordero walks into his practice in Sewell, New Jersey, each day and says, “Thank you, God, for putting me on the right path. Because this is what it’s all about. The entry point to health is the oral cavity.”
Cordero, who has been in practice for 34 years, has actively been involved with the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) for more than 20 years, and last November was installed as the organization’s president. He says that being part of AGD changed him from a good dentist into an exceptional one.
“In the beginning (of a career the AGD) is going to empower you with knowledge you don’t have,” Cordero explains. “If you’re in the middle of your career, it’s going to continue to expand your horizons and make you more successful. If it is at the end of your career, it’s going to make sure that you prepare for a good retirement in a way that you still enjoy your profession and you can see a financial reward at the end. So, every single stage of your life is improved.”
That’s why Cordero has opted to “pay it forward,” becoming actively involved in the organization to make certain it continues doing for others what it did for him. And when the AGD went global about five years ago, those benefits reached an even larger audience.
“Our goal is to continue training people in other countries so that they can also improve the quality of oral health in their communities, and, as a result, overall health,” Cordero says.
GOALS AND CHALLENGES
Cordero knows that as president of the AGD he can’t change the world in one year. But he does want to change the perspective that the world has of the AGD. More specifically, he wants members to understand the AGD is there to serve them; to make sure they’re successful, and thereby impact the health of the general public.
“The goal is to make things better for everyone else,” he says.
There are also challenges: increased competition in the form of corporate dentistry; raised standards but lowered remuneration from insurance companies; and increased government regulations. Cordero wants to make certain AGD members have the tools and abilities to face these challenges, while at the same time increase the quality of care they provide.
“Our focus is not going to change,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the politics of the world or the economy; we are focusing on one thing and one thing only: empowering through education. We want to empower through education. We are the graduate school for all the dental schools in the world.”
On the education front, Cordero says that students attending dental school graduate with greater debt than any other profession — and that includes medical, legal and engineering. As such, the AGD is focused on helping with student loan repayment and student loan forgiveness.
“There are many programs that allow them to work in underserved areas and get credit toward their debt,” Cordero says. “We want to make sure that we’re there from the very beginning for those students so that we can help them with their own educational pursuits while they’re in school, and then when they graduate.”
Cordero says that, in addition to his experience as a sophomore in college, one of the factors that turned him from a career in surgery to dentistry was the issue of balance. He saw his brothers-in-law either always at the hospital, or being on call and disappearing suddenly. That’s not what he wanted for his family.
“I wanted to raise my own children,” he says. “I wanted to raise my own family. Because the most precious thing in my life is my family.”
Walking the walk, Cordero started his career in a home-based practice. Eventually, he expanded and opened a second office because he was “becoming a little claustrophobic” with no place to go. That helped him achieve a proper balance.
“The one office was super busy and crazy, and it was in my house; the other one, remotely, was just as busy, but I was doing it just to serve,” he says. “There was no financial reason for me to be there, but it gave me so much back, because it gave me back my cultural connection that I had lost. And so my balance between my family life and my professional life was fulfilled that way.”
And the apples have not fallen far from the tree. Cordero and his wife Harriet of 43 years have four children — three of whom have followed him into the dentistry field. That makes him proud, but he says he’s more excited that he was able to carry on his parent’s message.
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” he says. “These kids are focused on making a difference. And that is more important to me than the fact that they want into dentistry.”
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