Some neighborly advice from a true southern gentleman hits home in Georgia.
Step into the practice of Dr. Donna Thomas Moses and you’ll find that you’re not just stepping into an office. You’re becoming part of a home with a nearly 100-year-old tradition of love, laughter, and friendship.
It’s fitting that a practitioner who has based her practice on taking her time with patients and building relationships would locate in a restored home built in 1909 where the kitchen is still left intact from its previous owner. If, as the old saying goes, the kitchen is the heart of the home, this kitchen is a reminder that this home-turned-practice is filled with compassion and understanding for its patients.
“We did nothing to the kitchen except put a fresh coat of paint on it,” Dr. Moses said. “We wanted that area to be the remembrance of the home and the people who once lived here. We hold our morning huddles and have our meals in that kitchen and it exudes the same warmth as it would if you were sitting in Grandma’s kitchen.”
If it sounds like Dr. Moses has a soft spot in her heart for the house and its former owners, well, that’s because she does. Her current office is 15 steps away from her first office in the small town of Carrollton, Ga., some 45 miles west of Atlanta. With the previous office being that close to a home, she knew her neighbors quite well. When she wanted to add on to her former practice site, she asked her 96-year-old neighbor, Ed Copeland, if he was OK with her building a second story on her practice. Surprisingly, he said it wasn’t OK at all, and that refusal began a wonderful series of events for Dr. Moses.
“At first, (the refusal) surprised me, but then he asked me to come over to his house so he could explain,” Dr. Moses remembered. “When I walked in, he asked me if I would be willing to purchase his home. He wanted his home to have life in it again. He had watched my practice grow next door for 11 years and he had a plan that someday, I would move my practice to his home.”
It was a solution that pleased both parties, and soon Dr. Moses and her husband, Ralph, (who is the president and CEO of MWC Construction Company) were hard at work turning the 4,900-square-foot home into a practice that felt like home. After many months, the metamorphosis was complete. Dr. Moses’ husband had built 3,500 square feet of new space within the home that would house the practice’s eight operatories, while the older part of the home held the waiting room, front office, and the doctor’s private office.
“There’s no way we could’ve meshed the old and new parts of the office without my husband and our architect,” Dr. Moses said. “I know dentists who do so much research on what they want in their offices. My husband knew my goals for the practice and made it reality. This office really is his baby.”
Included in those goals is Dr. Moses’ philosophy of the patient being a person, not just a name. In her practice, which is limited to periodontics and implants, Dr. Moses builds extra time into each appointment so she and her staff members can talk with patients and make sure they understand the condition of their mouths.
“All of our operatories have doors on them. These doors allow us to have one-on-one time with our patients,” Dr. Moses said. “Patients know that when I’m with them and that door is closed, I am focused on them and their needs alone. I treat my patients as individuals and I take time to listen and answer questions fully. It is an amazing feeling when a new patient hugs my neck and thanks me for my guided discovery of his or her own oral health.”
Dr. Moses makes sure that her staff is a part of this philosophy of practice as well. She and her staff agree that patient education is key to their practice goals.
“Each one of our staff members is trained to listen to patients. They sit down, find out what is going on with patients, and explain to them what their exact needs are,” Dr. Moses said. “When you can look patients in the eyes and help them understand, they will learn so much more than when just watching a video.”
Dr. Moses says it takes a special kind of person to work at her practice. If you don’t care about people and are just coming in each day to earn a paycheck, don’t bother applying.
“We get to know the core values of applicants before we hire them,” Dr. Moses said. “We want to know their values and that they will be on the same page with the rest of us when it comes to patient care. Each staff member must know my philosophy of dentistry and hold the same values of care for patients. Whatever is going on in the practice or our personal lives, each one of us who works here believes that when a patient is in our office, no one matters more than that patient.”
Dr. Moses’ goals spill over into several roles outside the dental office where she is an advocate for dentistry and dental patients, including serving as the vice president of the Georgia Dental Association and president of the Georgia Society of Periodontists. Practicing Monday through Thursday, Dr. Moses spends many Fridays in meetings involving state and national dental organizations.
Her dental commitments keep Dr. Moses busy, and her home life is not exactly slow-lane material, either. She and her husband live on a 150-acre farm with beef cattle, situated six miles from her practice. Dr. Moses, once a girl who participated in rodeos, now finds herself owning horses, but almost too busy to ride them.
“We have John Deere tractors with cabs and lights on them, so we’ll work after we finish at the office,” Dr. Moses said. “Saturday is our farm day as well. We own horses, but my career prevents frequent riding. I now find fulfillment in grooming and caring for them.”
So when does Dr. Moses unwind? Around her home, Sundays are a day of worship and rest.
“That’s the day my husband and I concentrate on each other,” she smiled. “If my friends try to get me to do something on a Sunday, they have a hard time talking me into it. My husband and I need our time together.”
While such a hectic schedule might wear down some people, Dr. Moses says it energizes her to keep up with her commitments and lifestyle.
“I have energy and I keep running,” she said. “I love dentistry and I want to be involved.”
That love of dentistry has been a lifelong love. At the age of 2, Dr. Moses announced to her parents she would be a dentist someday. For subsequent Christmases, she received doctor’s kits that her parents had modified into dental kits.
“My daddy has really helped me see my vision,” said Dr. Moses of her father, whose best friend was a dentist. That influence made a huge impression. “He has helped me see my vision for being a specialist and even my vision for a new building. He always shook his head and asked me why I was putting state-of-the-art equipment in an old building. Now we have a new clinical facility that matches the level of our technology and equipment.”
Included in the technology is digital radiography and wireless communication among staff members. For her new location, Dr. Moses purchased 80 percent new equipment with optimum function.
“You must give your patients the best of the best, and that includes technology,” Dr. Moses said. “It signals to my patients that their health and comfort are critically important to me. They must be assured that no limits will be placed on the care they receive through diagnosis and treatment. My goal is not to surround my patients with technology, but rather to surround them with optimal care. I don’t want them to walk away talking about our technology. I want them to remember how we treated them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
That physical, emotional, and spiritual connection with her patients is one of the reasons why Dr. Moses wakes up energized each day.
“I’ve found the most fulfilling career for myself,” Dr. Moses said. “I never feel labored coming into this practice. Honestly, I don’t go to ‘work’ every day. I am able to spend time with my extended family, my patients.”
And that feeling of “family” has brought life back into the home, something that makes the house’s former owner extremely pleased.
“My husband and I visit him regularly,” Dr. Moses said of her former neighbor, who now is 98. “He knows what is happening with the home and the practice, and he’s very happy.
“My dental office is a reflection of who I am and what I represent to my patients. I believe that through the details of my office, I demonstrate to my patients how important they are to me. When I open my home to my friends, I want them to feel comfortable and at ease. I want them to know that by accepting my invitation, it becomes important to me to go to great efforts to prepare for them. Well, in a sense, that is exactly what I am doing every day in my practice.” ■