By Mark S. Schreiner, DDS
Last summer, I had the opportunity to go to Dover, England, and swim on a six-person relay across the English Channel from England to France (see sidebar). A patient of mine, Major Tim Lawrence, had been stationed in England for the past few years and had made three unsuccessful solo attempts on the Channel. On Sept. 4, 1999, Tim became the first active serviceman to complete a solo crossing.
When Tim came home to Iowa during the last three years, we would swim together. He eventually asked me to come to England for the relay prior to his solo attempt. During the course of my stay, I met several Channel swimmers and the swim became a significant event in my life. Approximately 4,400 swimmers from 44 countries have attempted solo swims. Only 600 of those efforts have been successful.
The experience changed my life. Not so much because we were successful, but because of the people I met, the knowledge I gained, and the fun I had. How does this pertain to the practice of dentistry? Let me explain. What became crystal clear to me as the events of the swim unfolded was the apparent difference between a champion and a competitor.
Shares information vs. withholds information
Of the six swimmers on our relay, four had made successful solo crossings. This included world-record-holder Alison Streeter, also known as "The Queen of the Channel," who has completed the solo 38 times. Alison and her mother, Freda, welcomed me with open arms as soon as Tim let them know I was a friend.
Their advice and guidance (along with help from Tim and our good friend, John Conningham-Rolls, who was a relay member) helped make the crossing successful. They shared information, such as the need to shave prior to swimming in salt water. If you don't, your "5 o'clock shadow" will abrade your shoulder during the salt-water swim. Had they withheld this information from me, I may not have been a successful contributor to the relay. Maybe I wouldn't have completed my leg of the swim and disqualified the entire relay.
How many times has a colleague or competitor withheld information from you? Has it ever happened to you? Did you like it? Have you ever withheld information from a patient during treatment-planning so he or she is more likely to proceed with the more expensive (but not necessarily best) treatment? If it were your tooth, would you put a crown on it rather than a conservative three-surface restoration? An argument can be made for either course of action.
The true champions in dentistry who share information are the instructors in dental schools and continuing-education courses who give us information freely.
Beat your best effort vs. beat others
Although I am a lifelong swimmer, just the idea of a Channel swim was a huge stretch for me, especially with very limited access in Iowa to open water in which to train.
What drives you in your practice? Do you have to be the highest dollar producer in your area? Is that how you measure success, or do quality and client fairness play an important role in the equation?
Be equal vs. acting superior in order to intimidate
The relay members made a point to level the playing field. Although a swimmer such as Allison Streeter was far superior to my skill level, she treated me as her equal. She knew that arrogance and intimidation would reduce the chance of success.
Intimidation can be an ugly tool. Have you ever used it to get your way or make your point? Is your staff intimidated by your personality? Is it easier to beat your staff's morale down rather than raise it up?
Roll with the punches vs. blame others
When we left the harbor at 3:30 a.m., I was dismayed that the boat pilot did not have the boat gassed up. We lost more than 30 minutes! I was worried we were going to miss the tide. However, none of the swimmers said a thing. There were no complaints.
I can only imagine if my fellow swimmers had been dentists, let alone specialists! First, we would have collectively confronted the pilot and then bought his boat and had an unsuccessful swim!
As a profession, dentists have a very high level of expectations for their staff and their practice. We operate on a scheduled day and we delegate to and direct others as a normal course of work. Have you ever blamed the lab for an ill-fitting crown when perhaps the impression you sent was less than satisfactory?
Learning to roll with the punches — both in our professional and personal lives — can be a challenge, for us and all those around us.
What is possible vs. loss of imagination
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would have the opportunity to swim the English Channel. The sky is the limit!
Most general dentists are in solo practice. It's easy to stay within our comfort zones and do things the same way they have always been done. We tend to be a rather analytical group of perfectionists; this alone limits imagination. We don't need to make changes without reason; however, we need to stay open to new ideas and new modes of operation. Terrific suggestions can come from anyone in the office, not just the dentist. Ideas feed off one another. Different perspectives and experiences can all help shape the workplace.
During the course of every day, we all, at some time or another, act as competitors and/or champions. Sometimes acting like a champion does not assure us of first place. Unfortunately, I have done all the things listed that describe a competitor. I have tried to do all the things listed that describe a champion. Hopefully this article will remind each of us to act like champions. I dare not close without my favorite motto, "Champions don't make excuses."Dr. Mark Schreiner Says:What's the one product you are really attached to in your office?"The ESPE automixer for Impregum and poly vinyl siloxane. It's a great product."
What one series of products do you think has improved the most since you began practicing?
"The latest generation of bonding agents is great. I currently use the Prompt L-Pop. There's no contamination and it's a wonderful product."
What is on your "product wish list"?
"I'm looking at light-curing units. It would be nice to have computer terminals in each operatory."
Of course, there was much more to it than that. A rigorous training schedule and learning more and more about Channel swimming were in store for Schreiner between his Thanksgiving encounter with Lawrence and his part in the July 5 relay swim across the Channel. "Most people think they can train in a pool or simply go to England and conquer the Channel, but they're not prepared at all," Schreiner said.
Wave chop and frigid water temperatures are the two things every person attempting to swim the Channel must prepare for. They have put an end to many Channel tries. "More than 500 boats per day go through the Channel, and these aren't fishing boats. There are tankers, big ships, and ferry boats. The amount of waves they put off are incredible," Schreiner said. "When the waves aren't coming, the cold will go right through you."
Wave chop and frigid water temperatures are the two things every person attempting to swim the Channel must prepare for. They have put an end to many Channel tries.
"More than 500 boats per day go through the Channel, and these aren't fishing boats. There are tankers, big ships, and ferry boats. The amount of waves they put off are incredible," Schreiner said. "When the waves aren't coming, the cold will go right through you."
The water temperature was 57 degrees on the day Schreiner and his relay team took to the Channel. Each of the six participants would take two one-hour shifts of swimming to complete the relay.
"During the first hour swim, I tried to remain focused. I knew I was with the best people in the world, and that nothing would happen to me," Schreiner recalled. "I thought of my family and sang songs to myself. When it came time for my second swim, I had been in the boat five hours waiting. When I was done with that one, I thought, 'Hallelujah.'"
Each of the swimmers jumped out of the boat and joined the final participant in the last 100 yards of the swim. When they touched the French shoreline, it was time to celebrate. "We all swam in behind the lead swimmer. Just as we came in, the sun came out," Schreiner said. "We finished on a beautiful beach that had remnants of a World War II bunker. I scooped up some shells to give to my 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, as well as some other people back in Waterloo."
As for future swims, Schreiner said the possibility of another Channel trek is slim. "Training takes a lot of time, and I really enjoy being around my family," he said. "But, hey, the Channel will always be there."