The Joy of Giving
By David Campbell | August 01, 2017
by David Campbell, DDS
It is hard to remember what my practice was like before I began the journey of charitable service. I do remember the secular pressure to succeed with every patient in creating significant dental services. The secular pressure to focus on cosmetic dentistry and build an office that creates a cosmetic atmosphere with healthy joyful smiles from the first conversation through the recall. It is hard to remember the pressure to conform, since I have found the joy of serving the least and providing the heroic care as God calls. I even remember the faculty cautioning all students, "Do not be heroes!" without much definition. I'd like to address this concept. Are we as dentists to be heroes?
There are times in our practice when we feel as though the technical challenge is exceeding our abilities. More for some and less of others, but the professional challenges arise. We devise our treatment plans to stay within our competence and create satisfaction without risking failure or minimizing complications. In this sense, the caution against doing heroic dentistry is wise. We should have a sound judgement of the limits of our individual skills, especially as we practice within a community with immense resources, like here in the U.S.
Within a majority of practices, it is not wise to extend ourselves beyond our abilities. The nature of dentistry allows standard care for a majority of dental work. We have hygiene services for a majority of our world. Here in the United States, where oral hygiene is a part of the culture, we have very few people who require serious dental care. The mission world calls our community the minority world, while the poverty that oppresses the world still envelops the majority world.
As we venture out of the unlimited resources of the minority world, there are greater needs for us to apply heroic services. Again, we should not extend ourselves while there are public or private resources that provide for services that might challenge the edge of our competence. This is a professional responsibility. We must work within the resources the Lord provides. Yet, another world does exist. The majority world is vastly impoverished. There is a place to go where our resources and the community resources need to be stretched. Again, I want to be very cautious in mentioning these, because the idea that we would go into a short-term mission field with the intention of doing third molar extractions that we wouldn't do here in the states is still unethical. Yet, the heroics of providing multiple simple extractions for, let's say, quadrant extractions may be ethical and generous.
This requires prayer. The whole aspect of finding a venue for generosity should be bathed in prayer and humility. The legalities and ethicality of missions is a necessary discipline, and one the many in CMDA have spent their lifetimes pursuing. I will be the first to say that no matter where you go or how you practice, there will be challenges that need to be addressed prayerfully. As we evaluate our choices, it is also valuable to be sensitive to the difficulty in a way that humbly does not criticize other's in their choices as well. Always, the professional consideration of not being critical unless called to provide a full access to evaluation is the heart of professional wisdom.
Yet, this is about the "Joy of Giving!" I have loved what the Lord has done with my willing heart to serve. Open up to generosity in your practice. First, you should know what your role in the practice is. Associates should not give generous dental care without asking for permission to work off the clock. Owners should measure the capability of a practice to sustain the challenge of providing "free" care while others are paying in the same waiting room. A reputation for "free" care may hamper the staff efforts to ask patients to cover extraordinary costs for treatment plans. A normal practice is waiting for a dozen or so patients to save up for their care or the down payment on their care. The conflict of asking certain patients for extraordinary efforts to pay for their care can discourage the staff for respecting a doctor's charitable care in the same office.
Yet, this is about the "Joy of Giving!" My past decisions included an external faith-based body of believers that you respect to recommend free care. The obvious body is your local church. Responding to the request of the "elders" creates a respect for the decision process and clears you from the burden of hearing pleas from each patient who needs a break. You can provide guidelines to this independent body. Providing charity for one patient a year, if that would seem appropriate for your office. Many independent models for charity even in the secular world ask for this. California Dental Association, Joni and Friends and Pasadena's Young and Healthy all ask for this. You may want to start by connecting with the school nurses if there are candidates and have the PTA select from the opportunities. Share the work of selecting the patients, and expand after the process is established and working well. Often a limited scope of service can be offered, such as relief of pain or removable prosthetics or fillings. All this can amplify the joy of giving by creating sustainability.
My personal testimony includes a blessing of inheriting a skid row practice. Completely broke and hopeless, we scrambled for years and many tears were shed as we let go of staff and closed the practice, but the last year did include a little extra available time and connections to the community clinics in the area were developed. At that time, I was able to dedicate Friday afternoons to one patient a week. This actually ends up being a tithe of the traditional 40-hour week. The patients were selected by the local skid row clinics and created wonderful stories of rehabilitation. You will be surprised how central the dental restoration is to a story of rehabilitation from homelessness. While we are providing a few hundred dollars of "stayplate" services, the thousands of dollars that rehabilitation centers spend is largely ignored by the newly smiling formerly homeless clients. It's embarrassing. The truth is that dental care is central to their felt needs as they struggle to recover. The smile is the goal, for those whose life is absent of bare necessities. It may be a vain goal, but you will see the level of maturity is minimal and the vanity is understandable for them.
Years later after I closed that practice, the local missions were trying to manage a growing FQHC and approached me for my services. I started volunteering with them, but as fate would provide, they offered a part-time position that may frame a bit of my transition to retirement. Now, as this clinic is blessed to grow, my meager tithe is joining with millions of donations and charitable foundation grants to create something very special. The Los Angeles Christian Health Center is being rebuilt by God's grace in the next year. Join with this, some faculty recognition and leadership among generous fellowships within CMDA and I can honestly say, the "Joy in Giving" exceeds all other professional satisfactions for me. The hero is Christ who calls us, and we do and should emulate Him with our lives. So go ahead, in wisdom, be heroes!
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