Dr. Bob and the Importance of Professional Role Models

In this guest post, Alan Stern DDS, founder of Better, Richer, Stronger, shares a personal story about dental mentorship, and the importance of having professional role models throughout your career.

Dr. Bob, a very special man in my life, turned 93 yesterday. I was rejected from 23 medical schools when I graduated college. I was very down about it, as my grades and abilities were fine. Other students’ grades, though, were finer, and the competition did not go my way.

My pre-med adviser was not particularly encouraging, so I languished for two years while working in a retail store (a very humbling learning experience, by the way), wondering what to do with myself.

Fortunately, my best friend's father was my dentist. I remember spending one summer afternoon with Marc’s family at their swim club. Marc’s dad, Dr. Bob, asked me in a very brusque way, “So what are you going to do with yourself, Alan?”

I responded “I really don’t know, Dr. Bob, I’m kind of lost.”

It didn’t take Dr. Bob more than half a second to tell me in no uncertain terms, “Go to dental school, Alan. It’s a great profession. Come to my office, see what I do, and stop (fill in the blank)-ing around.”

As a child of the pre-fluoride era, I’d had a lot of “drill and fill” dentistry done. I really didn’t associate dentistry with anything pleasant, and never gave a thought to it as a career. But, since Dr. Bob was not the kind of guy who’d take “no” for an answer, and since he really was interested in me, I took him up on his offer.

Dr. Bob was an energetic, focused, loving practitioner. Watching him work, I got the clear impression (no pun intended) that dentistry was a labor of love. Dr. Bob loved not only what he did, but he loved the people he served. His office was a little community of friends. He worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and really loved his role in and out of the office. Dr. Bob was also a fantastic father, husband, and role model.

Be aware of your power and influence and use it well

After a few days observing Dr. Bob, I put together my dental school applications. A little more than 40 years after my trip with Marc to Dr. Bob’s swim club, I am a very happy dentist, husband, father, and, I hope, role model.

I’ve seen Dr. Bob a few times over the years, but it had been quite a while since we last spoke. So, I found his phone number and called him yesterday to wish him a happy birthday and to let him know how profoundly he affected my life. He got quite a kick out of my call, asked me a lot of questions about how I’m doing, what I’m doing, and mentioned he’s seen me mentioned on Facebook (a 93 -year-old guy on Facebook? Dr. Bob is no ordinary 93-year-old!). Dr. Bob told me he’s still exercising and hitting golf balls regularly, which did not surprise me one bit.

When I hung up the phone, I just paused, smiled, and felt a few tears in my eyes. A few words at a swim club from this unpretentious, loving man helped me to find my path to fulfillment. I was deeply touched by the awesomeness of the moment of our phone call. I know that my call to Dr. Bob meant a lot to both of us and, I will recreate that moment at least once a year as long as Dr. Bob and I are here.

Have you thanked your mentors, role models, and influencers? Have you gone out of your way to share your experiences to positively affect someone? You never know what a few words of encouragement can do for someone. Be aware of your power and influence and use it well.

I hope that I live to 93 — or more — and perhaps receive surprise calls from people whom I may have touched in the course of my life. Those are among the awesome moments I am living for. Thank you, Dr. Bob. There’s a little bit of you in me that I carry with pride and joy.

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