It’s been 38 years since Dr. Walter Higgins started his practice in Brunswick, Maine. He began the practice with a simple philosophy - be a straightforward, patient-centered general practice. That ideal has been as steadfast as his patients who withstand the ever-changing Maine winters each year.
While Dr. Higgins may have started his practice in this town of 25,000 people, it certainly isn’t where he planned to begin his work. After getting his fingers wet working in the Air Force, Dr. Higgins received an offer from the physician who had delivered him when he was born - come back to Brunswick and the rent would be free.
“It was really an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Dr. Higgins recalled. “It was a deal that we did on a handshake. He believed I would come to Brunswick, and I believed he would give me the free rent. Three months later, he came into the office and saw my reception area was very busy. He asked if I thought it was time to start paying rent.”
The success that Dr. Higgins found during the early part of his career has stayed with him through the years. In fact, he often has trouble finding enough hours in the day to fit in all of his patients.
“I will often get calls on weekends for emergencies. There is a lot of familiarity that comes with living in a small town, including the fact that people know I stay around on the weekends,” Dr. Higgins said.
While Dr. Higgins enjoys his home state of Maine and what it has to offer, he has found the allure of Maine is not as enchanting to some of the younger dentists who have come through his practice.
“We are facing a shortage of dentists here,” he sighed. “Most of the younger dentists want to practice in larger cities. I have had two associates who have left because they wanted to practice in larger urban areas.”
While some of his associates may have left for the bigger cities, Dr. Higgins has two assistants who have found a home at his practice. Sandra Raymond has worked with Dr. Higgins for 12 years, and Laura Fraser has five years in the practice.
“I’m very fortunate to have a very capable staff,” Dr. Higgins said. “I’ve really never had a problem with hiring. I always look for people skills. I believe that I can teach a person about dentistry, but I can’t teach someone how to have a good personal presence in the office and around patients. I also always look for people with a good work ethic and recruit them to come and work for me.”
It didn’t take much recruiting for Raymond to come to work in Brunswick. Her father was a dentist and she worked in his office until he retired. When things didn’t work out with the new owner of the practice, her father recommended his friend (Dr. Higgins) to his daughter.
“It started out as a 30-minute commute from my house to the office, but it’s now an hour because I moved further away. It’s worth the drive to work here though,” Raymond said. “Dr. Higgins has lots of patience and loves to teach. There is no question you can ask him that is stupid. Over the last 12 years, we have gotten to the point where we can go through a procedure and I will know exactly what he wants before he even asks me.”
A self-proclaimed “clean freak,” Raymond has found her personality brings a balance to the office.
“I am a very detail-oriented person. I am also a person who has to have everything clean and neat and Dr. Higgins lets me work that way,” Raymond explained.
She also brings another feature to the office - an enormous love for animals.
“Living in Maine, we have a lot of hunters and trappers who come into the office, so Dr. Higgins has to warn the patients not to talk too much about that around me,” she laughed.
While Raymond was brought up in a dental office, Fraser was looking for a career path when a position opened at Dr. Higgins’ practice.
“I really thought dental assisting sounded interesting,” Fraser said. “When I interviewed with Dr. Higgins, he didn’t make me nervous and put me right at ease. I got a call later that day asking me to come to work here, and I was thrilled.”
The same sense of ease that Fraser felt five years ago is one of the practice’s enduring qualities, she said.
“So many of our patients know and trust him (Dr. Higgins),” Fraser said. “Those who are new to the practice quickly are at ease with him. This is a laid-back practice that has a lot of laughing and joking. When it’s work time, we work. When it’s not, we’re having fun. This is a good office to work in, and a lot of it is because of the attitude of Dr. Higgins.”
Dr. Higgins credits part of that attitude to balancing work and fun. His five-operatory practice is open from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. four days per week. Mixed into that schedule is a 90-minute lunch, a time that Dr. Higgins used to devote exclusively to squash.
“I found that playing squash helped me to not stress out,” Dr. Higgins explained. “When I came back from lunch, it was like a whole new day. I know a lot of my counterparts work through their lunch hours, but I really think life is too short to do things like that.”
Another hobby that has helped Dr. Higgins balance his personal and professional life is photography. He picked up the craft 25 years ago and now belongs to a study club made of four individuals in the Brunswick area.
“I’ve found that photography gives me a chance to work in something other than millimeters in someone’s mouth,” Dr. Higgins said. “When I travel for educational purposes, I like to stay an extra day just to see the area and take photos. I’ve shot in London, Paris, Vienna, and Rome, but most of my pictures are local. Maine provides a wonderful setting for photos. There are Saturdays when I can just get in my car and drive and see what is out there to be photographed.”
The walls of Dr. Higgins’ practice hold many of his photos, giving him a constant reminder of the world outside his practice and giving his patients a sense of the practice’s philosophy of comfort.
“My office reflects a Maine lifestyle geared toward a mix of comfort and technology where we provide patients with the quality care they need,” Dr. Higgins concluded.
Dr. Walter Higgins is a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, has served on the Northeast Regional Board of Dental Examiners for 26 years, instructs local anesthesia for dental hygienists, and is on the board of directors for Northeast Delta Dental. For more information, he can be reached at (207) 725-4311.