Patti Dowling, DMD
As a child, I knew that whatever work was meant for me as an adult would involve working with my hands. Giving me good practice growing up were crafts, sewing, building things, you name it. The entrepreneurial spirit hit me early as I would pick oranges, load them in my red wagon, and sell them from house to house.
My dental career began at dental hygiene school in Pensacola, Fla., but in my heart I knew my schooling would continue beyond that point. Hygiene was a great job that allowed me some flexibility, as well as funded my education. While working on my baccalaureate degree at the University of Florida, I worked for a great boss in Gainesville. My daily routine included working hygiene in the morning, attending class at lunchtime, and then returning to the practice to finish patients in the afternoon along with attending night classes. This schedule would change from semester to semester, and my boss was generous enough to work around my schedule. I will always be grateful to him for that. Today, I find myself trying to emulate him by supporting my staff members and their endeavors. I finished my B.S. degree and prerequisites at the University of Florida and then applied for dental school.
The University of Florida College of Dentistry is where I met my husband, Alan. We seemed to always end up in the same group, and we studied together. We were great partners then and still are today in our practice. We got married in our third year of dental school. Both of us had the desire to specialize. I was originally interested in periodontics because of my background in dental hygiene, but after doing my endodontic rotation in dental school, I found my niche. The fine workmanship and attention to detail suited my personality. The endodontic department at UF was supportive and encouraged me to pursue my interest. I also did some research in endodontics and presented the findings at the IADR in Montreal, Canada.
Alan decided to specialize in periodontics, not realizing that when we eventually would start a practice, endodontics and periodontics would be complementary. Today, our lives intertwine our work and the practice, with continual discussions about ideas, cases, and patients. Because of this, our children benefit from hearing conversations about running a business and caring for patients. As a result, they have an interest in dentistry, too.
The overlapping of these two specialties has had its benefits. For instance, a patient may need a root canal on a tooth where crown lengthening may be necessary. Alan is there readily available for consultation. Or perhaps Alan may have a patient who will undergo a periodontal procedure and may need root canal treatment. We are fortunate to have a group of dentists who refer to us because of our specialties and the convenience of our practices being in the same office.
We are fortunate in that we share the same philosophy about how to run a dental practice. My forte is in daily staff management, OSHA compliance, paying bills, etc. Alan’s strengths are in running the practice’s business aspects and accounting. Most of our team members have been with us for several years, and a few from nearly the beginning. We are so fortunate to have great people who want to work as a team. Together we realize that as a specialty team, patients are referred to us for special care and that the referring offices have confidence we will provide excellent, positive, state-of-the-art treatment for their patients.
My husband and I focus on raising our two children - Micah, 14, and Scott, 12 - within a strong family atmosphere. We may not have home-cooked meals every night, but we all do sit down to a family meal. Whether it is in a restaurant, takeout, or at home, we eat together and talk about the day and its challenges. The kids are sports-oriented, so we are busy with whatever the sport of the season is. As a family we also like being outside. Whether it’s daily events or vacations, we always seem to migrate outside for our activities. We take advantage of living in Florida to do all the “Florida things” - golf (our main sport), tennis, swimming, water skiing, hiking, the beach, or surfing.
One of my hobbies includes flying small general aviation planes, like the Cessna 172, 182, and a Diamond DA20. My passion began while in hygiene school in Pensacola when I flew with some friends to New Orleans, where we had lunch and spent the day. When the opportunity to take flying lessons fell in my lap over two years ago, I jumped at the chance. I got my private pilot’s license and have flown to places like the Bahamas, South Carolina, and all around Florida. It has been a great challenge and a lot of fun. It’s wild to be able to fly into small towns like Cedar Key, radio ahead for the taxi where we are picked up at the tarmac and dropped off in town, stroll around, and do lunch. Before leaving, the cooler is filled with fresh seafood for the journey back home, all in an afternoon. Without flying, it would take an entire day to do the same thing. I am now working on an instrument rating. Flying is like anything else - there is always more to learn and you can never learn too much.
Being a member of the American Dental Association, Florida Dental Association, Central District Association, Dental Society of Greater Orlando, American Association of Endodontists, and the Florida Association of Endodontists, I am a great advocate for organized dentistry and giving back to my profession. I also hold an affiliated clinical associate professor position at the University of Florida where I volunteer clinical coverage and teach at the Apopka Community Health Center for the GPR graduate students. This interaction with students, giving them tips on techniques that have helped me in my practice, is extremely satisfying.
This year has been a turning point for me because I turned 50. And, like everyone else at this stage of life, I look back at what I have done, and look ahead at what I still want to accomplish. Age has never been a limitation for me, but more of a timeline. I do what is available to me with the understanding of the time, commitment, and willingness it takes to accomplish the task at hand. Life is what we seek out to accomplish and how we contribute, rather than sitting back and having it just happen.
The practice of endodontics has changed completely since I left school in 1991 - instrumentation, irrigation, and philosophy. Obturation appears to be the next change that we will see. Consequently, continuing education and staying abreast of the field is a goal. Focusing on my kids and getting them through high school and preparing them for college and life is a goal. I will continue to fine-tune my piloting skills and have a great time doing it, seeing places I never dreamed of traveling to. And finally, I am most grateful for a great husband and family who have accompanied me and supported me through all of my endeavors. ■
Patti Dowling, DMD
Dr. Dowling received her dental degree from the University of Florida and completed her endodontic residency at the University of Nebraska. She has had a practice limited to endodontics in Orlando, Fla., for 15 years in association with her husband, Alan Dowling, DMD, a periodontist. She can be reached at [email protected].