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Janet Hatcher Rice, DDS — Toward balance in life: The road worth traveling

Nov. 1, 2003
We continue our focus on women dentists. This month, WDJ features Dr. Janet Hatcher Rice, a cosmetic and laser dentist in Bristol, Va./ Tenn., and president-elect of the Academy of Laser Dentistry. Dr. Rice shares the successes and failures of her life's journey on the road to her dreams.

We continue our focus on women dentists. This month, WDJ features Dr. Janet Hatcher Rice, a cosmetic and laser dentist in Bristol, Va./ Tenn., and president-elect of the Academy of Laser Dentistry. Dr. Rice shares the successes and failures of her life's journey on the road to her dreams.

Life is a perpetual journey and learning experience. Along the way, you can get caught up in acquiring knowledge and skills, forgetting your dreams and losing your balance. I did. After years of stumbling through the learning process, looking for my way, my dreams resurfaced and were fulfilled. I'm here to share my journey — both the successes and failures.

© Tom Raymond
Click here to enlarge image

I grew up in the small border town of Bristol, Va./Tenn. I perceived that nothing ever really happened in Bristol, and I desperately wanted to live in an exciting place. I dreamed of being a writer or poet and riding my horse for inspiration, if not glory! At age 18, these goals seemed achievable, until I realized that writing as a profession might not provide me with the resources to own a horse and live in an exciting place.

After an enlightening year as an English major, I pursued a more realistic goal — a career in dental hygiene. My father, who was a dentist, had always spoken highly of the profession. With a two-year commitment, I figured I could be earning an income with time left over to develop my writing skills and ride someone else's horse, if not my own. But the unimaginable happened — I discovered I liked dentistry! I wanted to do more procedures than my hygiene degree allowed. Although I was taught expanded functions in hygiene school, state laws did not allow me to use all my skills (and still won't almost 25 years later). I knew I was capable of doing more dentistry, so I decided to go to dental school, then write and ride.

Dentistry was a natural choice. My father was a great dentist, both technically and personally, with a strong character and an enormous capacity to personalize his care and touch patients' lives. He has had a full, rewarding life outside of dentistry, so I knew I would be able to also, by writing that novel or book of poems and riding horses. My father mentored many young dentists. He wisely must have known that I would need more as Bristol had no women dentists. Dad wanted me to take over his practice and find my place. When I graduated from dental school in 1985, he and my mother went with me to my first American Dental Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

At the meeting, they encouraged me to attend a Wine and Cheese Reception hosted by the American Association of Women Dentists (AAWD). There, I saw attractive, strong, influential women such as Drs. Eleanor Bushee, Cherilyn Sheets, and Eva Dahl, elegantly dressed in long evening dresses with everyone (even male dentists) crowding into the room. It was different than anything I had ever experienced! Although I spoke to no one that evening, I could see myself being comfortable with this group in the future.

This was my first introduction to the AAWD, and I've been hooked ever since! Within a year, I traveled to Chicago to attend the First Conference on the Woman Dentist. Dr. Eleanor Bushee, president of AAWD in 1987, called and asked me to serve on the Board. She mentored me and encouraged me to get involved. Before I knew it — after 10 years of service — I was president. It was a great privilege to have known Dr. Bushee, who began practicing dentistry in New York City in the 1940s. She flew airplanes and loved life on the Mississippi River. She later taught at Southern Illinois University's School of Dental Medicine. After her death, I presented a plaque to the school honoring her with the first Federal Services Award for her visionary role in bringing representation of all branches of the Services into AAWD. I had the pleasure of seeing the Student Dental Award changed the year of my presidency to bear Dr. Bushee's name.

Jessie Griger, the trainer at Iris Hill Farm, with Dr. Rice's Thoroughbred stallion, "Magic Grades."
©Tom Raymond
Click here to enlarge image


For me, AAWD was about learning from other women dentists, sharing ideas, and finally feeling connected. It helped me understand that I could be both nurturing and rigorous as a dentist. I could be hardworking, feminine, and successful. During my years of service, I was exposed to a variety of leadership styles, practice styles, and lifestyles, providing me with role models to pattern my success in the profession and balance my personal life. AAWD inspired me to write a poem based on a dream that came out of a Strategic Planning weekend. It has since been published in a local arts magazine. AAWD led me to fulfill one of my dreams as a writer ... literally!

After taking over my dad's practice in Bristol, later relocating, going solo, and finally applying my own, personal touch, I am now proud of my practice. My staff is great. They supported me through all of these transitions and through the step of incorporating laser technology. I had already acquired skills through continuing education in implant, perio, and endo surgery, but I also envisioned successfully integrating lasers with these procedures to help me achieve even better results for my patients. Little did I know that this was only the tip of the iceberg!

To learn more about this new technology that wasn't even around when I was in dental school, I joined the Academy of Laser Dentistry (ALD). Through this organization, I have met some amazing people who gladly share their knowledge and expertise in laser dentistry, and I have made lasting, significant friendships. Because of my experiences with AAWD in connecting, networking, leading, and mentoring, I have also been able to substantially contribute to the ALD. Just like AAWD, after 10 years of service, I will assume the office of president in March 2004 at ALD's Annual Meeting in Palm Springs.

AAWD prepared me for this leadership position and made lecturing a natural progression. My involvement in shaping world opinion about lasers has become a reality! The ALD has given me the passion and personal knowledge to write. Among others, I have a published chapter in Dental Clinics of North America on "Laser Use in Fixed Removable and Implant Dentistry" (2000, Vol. 44). It is not the published work I had dreamed of, but it did grow out of my passion. (I have always heard that great writers will write about what they know and love.)

I met my husband, John Rice, through the ALD. Though not a dentist, he is a brilliant, fascinating man. He had already been involved in medical lasers for years, training physicians on endoscopic laser use and more. He was one of the original authors of the Curriculum Guidelines of Dental Laser Education, guiding the ALD for many years behind the scenes. After several years establishing our horse business, John has recently gone back into the laser business with Lumenis Company. He is contributing in three divisions, Opusdent dental, Accuvet veterinarian (yes, we use lasers on our horses), and the medical laser surgery division.

From the start, he supported my keen desire to learn. He validated the ability, drive, and capacity for growth that I didn't acknowledge in myself. Any contributions that I have made to the profession and to lasers have been with his considerable help. As my life partner, he has helped me to remember my dreams and make them a reality. He supports my involvement with AAWD and now ALD. He actively participates in putting my lectures together and seeing me through them. He nurtured my dream of owning and showing horses and fox hunting, but most important, together we raised my child, who is now a beautiful, confident, creative teenager. John took on the role of father to her as well as his four children, two of whom, as adults, make Bristol their home.

In addition to our fulfilling work supporting the advancement of lasers, my husband and I support the dream that has become our life — our farm. We have worked hard building a horse breeding operation. After five years, we are now breeding the "Appendix" American Quarter Horse line after acquiring a Thoroughbred stallion this spring. Our first foals of this breed are due to arrive next spring. My horse, "Add More Rouge," pictured on the front cover, is "Appendix"-bred — half quarter horse/half Thoroughbred. Since owning and loving her for four years, I have dreamed of breeding this type of horse. Outstanding in the quarter horse racing world, they are known for being courageous hunter jumpers and fox hunters.

Although I used to think nothing exciting ever happened in Bristol, I know now that my exciting life and life's work is what makes the difference. My husband grew up in New York City, the greatest city in the world. I love hearing his stories about growing up there, traveling all over the world on business, and being a naval aviator. I've done my share of traveling too. But John and I now think we live in the greatest place on Earth — one hundred acres adjoining the Cherokee National Forest, 30 minutes south of Bristol. We have something to marvel at every day: a herd of deer or flock of turkeys, an awesome sunset, or a star-filled night sky! Together, we explore Native American teachings, gaining an insight and appreciation for the sacredness of the Earth, the animals, and our closeness to them. We have learned that we are the caretakers for the short time we are here, and we believe it is our duty to leave the Earth better than when we found it. We feel the healing power of the animals, mountains, and sky — something that cannot be bought.

When I first came back to Bristol after dental school, I tried being someone different. I believed I had to have all the answers, to be in the right club, to wear the right clothes, and vacation in the right place. I didn't get close to or depend on anyone. But I found that this didn't work for me. I wasn't being me; I was being who I thought a dentist should be. I discovered that people wanted to know the real me. They felt more connected when I shared my heartbreaks: a miscarriage, a divorce, practice dissolution, and more. They supported me through these hardships and listened to my problems. They want to know about my successes, and they love seeing pictures of my horses and family, and knowing that I love irises and the color purple. They get excited about the different lasers I'm using and ask where I'm lecturing next or where I'm taking my staff on our next office adventure. Now I enjoy walking seamlessly from my wife and mother role, to my dentist role, to my horse-farm-worker role, and even to my small-town-gal-at-the-gas-pumps or grocery-store role ... I am who I am. I do not switch hats, because I have integrated each of these roles. I love each role now and believe that people respond positively to the genuine me.

Finally, I have learned to take time for myself. I work four days a week and take four weeks off a year. We even took a fifth week off this year and went on the AAWD Bermuda cruise! Even better, my staff became my team when I shared what my life was about and wanted to know about their lives too. My goals for my practice and my farm are shared. My team is aware of how much we need to produce each month, and they receive bonuses if we produce more. I let them know what my personal goals are and when I plan to retire. When I envisioned doing only the procedures that we do best, referring the rest to specialists, I shared these ideas for a more productive practice with my team ... and they got on board! All it took was one glimpse of how the practice could grow. I empowered them to do the rest and rewarded them for the growth with bonuses, travel, and mutual respect. They take pride in the practice and make workdays more cooperative. My practice is fun so far; I am not burned out.

I don't have all the answers; I have had my share of office problems. But my goal in sharing is to encourage you to break out of your shell, to begin life's journey by sharing your hopes, dreams, and maybe your heartaches. Remember why you went to dental school and start rediscovering your dreams by becoming involved with AAWD or other professional associations. Organizations can provide you with opportunities for growth, enrichment, and service. Don't be afraid to reveal your inner soul to your partner, patients, team, and colleagues. I promise that the more you give of yourself, the more you will get out of life and the closer you will get to your dreams. Then it will be the road worth traveling for you, your family, and your patients.