It seems like yesterday … I was a young man and future dentist with an unsure career direction and life path. Many long phone sessions, sleepless nights and heart-to-heart dinners later, I have developed into a so-called “mini-me” that Dr. Fleischman says he couldn’t be more proud of.
In the fall of 2015, I was a Chief Resident in the General Practice Residency program at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine focusing on implants and prosthodontics. Now, I am an associate in an aesthetic, family oriented practice called LêDowns Dentistry in Denver, Co. Where has the time gone?
Dr. Fleischman and I had discussed both short- and long-term plans for the two of us, with the ultimate goal of going into practice together. However, no matter how well you plan ahead, you never know whom you will meet or what opportunity you will be presented with.
That opportunity presented itself during the second half of my Chief Resident year when I met Dr. Bill Black, a retired Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon from Scottsbluff, N.E. Under the watchful eye of Dr. Black, I completed many wisdom tooth surgeries under IV sedation, as well as planned and executed numerous complex implant surgeries. During my time with Dr. Black, he passed on his knowledge of how to be a competent, precise and caring surgeon. He genuinely had a knack for teaching and desire for me to get to a level higher than I thought I was ever capable of.
All the hard work eventually paid off when Dr. Black asked me one day what my plan was for next year. He also asked if I was looking for a job. He proceeded to hand me a note with a date, time and restaurant on it that read, “If you have any plans, change them and be here to meet this doctor and bring your resume.” I called Dr. Fleischman right away and discussed these unexpected events. He said, “Go explore this opportunity and see what it’s all about with an open mind, but do not commit to anything”.
As a resident, there isn’t much time for extracurricular plans, so I showed up, very anxious, excited and open-minded. That afternoon, I met Drs. Jim Downs and Nickie Lê, the husband and wife team of LêDowns Dentistry. Come to find out, Dr. Bill Black and Dr. Jim Downs teach implant courses for the Dr. Dick Barnes Group in association with Arrowhead Dental Lab in Sandy, Utah. In addition, Dr. Downs teaches clinical hands-on, full arch reconstruction and everyday occlusion courses there, as well. Needless to say, dinner was a long discussion about my path into dentistry, where I came from and how I got to where I am.
I left this enjoyable meeting with a lot to think about. I felt like I was back to the same position I was in a few years ago, an unclear and undefined career path and future. Of course, I call my No. 1, Dr. Fleischman, and had the longest phone conversation in our eight years to date. After much discussion and numerous scenarios played out, I was at a crossroads. I was offered an associate position at LêDowns Dentistry, and I decided to take it with Dr. Fleischman’s utmost support. He and I felt, after much deliberation, that this was the right career path to travel down. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to learn, grow and excel in a private practice environment under close mentorship from Dr. Downs.
I started working Saturdays, doing hygiene while finishing out my Chief Resident year. My focus for the second half of that year had a more relaxed feeling, knowing I was in a position where I would continue to learn, improve, grow and, most importantly, help people. However, I realized I couldn’t coast through the rest of the year. I knew I had to work even harder, because I was stepping into a demanding and high-paced practice with expectations to fill. Thus, I continued to soak up as much as I could from Dr. Black, and he and I have forged a close friendship outside of the dental world.
In addition to finishing my cases, I completed a project that became a dental CE course with Head and Neck Oncology at UC Health Hospital entitled: The Collaborative Relationship for Patient Treatment Between General Practice Dentist and Radiation Oncologist. Upon finishing residency, I was asked to return as a faculty member at the University of Colorado Dental School as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgical Dentistry, where I teach twice a month in the Emergency Department and General Practice Residency Program.
Over the course of the past two-and-a-half years in private practice, I realized just how much I still didn’t know and that learning will occur until the end. You just have to be open to it. Dr. Downs still tells me to this day, “You don’t know what you don’t know, and just when you think you know, you get another t-shirt.” I have found that one gets humbled rather quickly. You think that with two years of residency and extra training that you know it all and can get through it in cruise control. In actuality, there was so much more to learn … so many situations presented that I didn’t know how to handle. It is forever an uphill climb to learn, grow and offer the best care for your patients.
The decision I made – again, with Dr. Fleischman’s support –to join LêDowns Dentistry and gain another tremendous mentor in Dr. Downs has taken my career and me to the next level. I added a plethora of knowledge, tools and predictability to my armamentarium, which includes recognizing and understanding how to prep teeth for success from everyday class II’s and crowns, to full arch reconstruction, the use a CO2 laser, TSCAN for occlusion and TMD and, most importantly, how to read and understand people and their personalities. One of the most critical skills is knowing how to navigate patients to improve case acceptance. I have learned that the dentistry is not what’s difficult. Rather, it is patient management.
To this day, Dr. Fleischman and I talk almost daily. The roles have somewhat reversed, which makes both of us extremely happy. Performing procedures and completing various cases, such as reconstruction, implants and The Chao Pinhole Technique, allows me to teach and explain to him my rationale, protocols and outcomes. His experience of over 35 years still trumps me at this point, which pushes me to continue striving for excellence.
As I look into the future, I don’t know what is on the horizon. I look to continue down my current road getting better each day, gaining all the knowledge and experience I can. What I do know is I have a tremendous group of mentors in Drs. Black, Downs and Fleischman motivating me because they see what I’m capable of and what I can be. I just have to accept the fact I will gain a few more t-shirts along the way and to not be so hard on myself when those situations present themselves. I have come to see that dentistry is both rewarding and fun, and as Dr. Fleischman once told me, “If you enjoy what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”
John Zalesky, DMD and Dirk Fleishman, DMD