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Southern Alameda County Dental Society encourages all our members to get involved in leadership.  We have several Board positions, and committees to suit many different interests.  Time commitments vary by position and committee, and SACDS makes every effort to ensure the time spent volunteering for one of our Board positions is meaningful and rewarding. 

To learn more about our Board and Committee opportunities call 510-782-5316 or  Contact Us

Hopes for Dentistry

In a new web series SACDS members and leaders will share their thoughts & ideas about what it means to be a dentists and how being part of our SACDS community has helped them grow in their professional & personal life. Check back here for updates and new perspectives each month. 

I Don’t Belong Here

Steve Chan, Past SACDS President

It was hard getting started.  I went to a private school – so I was deeply in debt when I finished.  Doing three more years of post grad training – seemingly -- just delayed – finding a job -- where I could support my family.  

But despite being in a recession where the big industry in town just closed, despite double digit interest rates to borrow money, despite the prospects of getting associateships within a 40 mile radius -- drying up, and despite intense hostile competition in town for a new dentist – it was time for us to start a practice.

We were starting from scratch.   We didn’t know anyone in the area.  The local dental society seemed like a good place -- to start meeting people – especially as a new specialist in town. 

I looked forward to my first dental society dinner meeting.  I came early.  I walked into the room.  I saw someone that I met recently for lunch.  Specialists do that kind of thing.  He was pleasant and smiled.  Then he turned and continued talking to a group of people he was with.

I wandered around the room a few times.  There weren’t too many seats – that seemed -- not saved or taken.  I found a seat at a back table.  I introduced myself.  People to the left of me turned and continued their conversation.   People to the right were talking about their kids’ soccer game. 

I didn’t know anyone else in that room.  I read those flyers at the table -- from the vendors sponsoring the dinner – again, and again.  I felt like that room was getting bigger and bigger.  Maybe I should just go home.  I could be home playing with my kids.  I don’t belong here.

Maybe if I volunteered to the dental society, I could meet a few people.  I volunteered to help -- for what I found out – was an almost dead – dental health poster contest.  But it was a chance to meet the merchants in the community.  I had a lot of time on my hands.  It was a chance to meet other dentists – for more than Steve Chan trying to get referrals. 

That poster contest caught the attention of some of the leaders of the dental society.  They asked me to serve on the Board. 

A leadership conference was coming up in the state capitol.  But I was starting my practice from scratch.  I had to see if I could afford to go.  I made $600 that week.  I made enough to pay my rent. 

All I would need to make – is another $600 to pay my dental assistant.  There were two weeks more in the month. I still had to make enough – to pay my school and practice loan payments for that month. 

I was going to take a chance and go to this leadership conference.

I would get a chance to meet some important people – people whom I read about.     I was going to learn the secrets of leadership.

The headline speaker came to the podium and opened with,

I don’t know why the young people aren’t joining us.  It can’t be the money!”

The color just rushed out of my face. 

I was only three years out of my graduate program.  There were no dues reductions for new grads back then.  The dues were $1000.  They wanted it up front. 

My school loan repayment just ramped up.   My monthly loan payments now included repayment of the principal as well as the interest.  I had two young kids.  I couldn’t find another associateship.

I was sinking deeper into the chair.  If $1000 in dues were not a big deal -- for people in that room – I was very, very embarrassed.  I’m not even -- in the same class of people. 

I started to get up and leave.  Maybe I could go back to the office and wait for a call for a patient to come in.  Maybe I should go home.  I don’t belong here.

I went to my first House of Delegates.  People came -- from all over -- the whole state.  This would be like going to the Congress!  There were lofty speeches and eloquent people giving passionate pleas.  I wish I could talk like those people.

One night, there was a big Gala.  People were dressed up.  One ticket was more expensive than what my wife and I spent -- for the both of us – when we treated ourselves.  No one else from our dental society was going.  But here was a chance to meet some famous people.

It looked like most of the tables were reserved – with the names of different dental societies.   Other tables had people who were on the same state councils or committees.  They were waving at others coming in that room – saving seats for them.  They looked like they were old friends.

As the event got started – we looked for our table.  We circled around nearly twice.  There it was -- in the very back of the room.  The stage seemed miles away. My wife and I sat down.  

There were eight other place settings.  There were eight other empty seats at that table. We sat there – for a very, very long time.  No one else came – to sit at our table.  This big Gala – was about to start. 

We looked at each other.  Maybe we should just go home.  We don’t belong here. 

The State Trustee for our county saw us.  You could tell he was pretty important.  People kept coming up to him to talk to him.  They came to him – one right after another.  Even the famous people in that room came up to him.

He and his wife came over to our big dark empty table.  His wife must have been pretty important.  She was the Chairperson of something called a reference committee.   She was at another table with her committee members -- near the front stage.  People kept coming up to talk to her too. 

They left their reserved tables -- at the front of the ballroom.

They left their friends -- and other famous people in the state.  You had to be pretty important to sit in the front of the room.

They came -- and sat with us. 

This was the third turning point in my professional life. 

It was the third time -- where I almost quit. 

Our path – in this profession – would have been different. 

They reached out and touched our lives.

It was a powerful lesson in leadership.

Maybe it’s not – just -- about an exhibit hall where you can see rows and rows – of the latest new toys for the office – and pick up a few freebies.

Maybe it’s not -- just -- about getting malpractice insurance.

Maybe it’s not – just -- about getting continuing education credits.

Maybe it’s not – just -- about fighting insurance companies.

Maybe it’s not – just -- about standing our ground with the government.

Maybe – it’s more than that.

Steve Chan is the immediate past President of the American College of Dentists, the national honor society for this country.  He is a past President of the California Dental Association and the California Society of Pediatric Dentists.  Governor Brown recently appointed him to the Dental Board of California.